December 9, 2023

It is a big decision for many chocolate entrepreneurs to decide to move their company into a retail space. Brooke Willis, an Ecole Chocolat graduate from B Cocoa Artisan Chocolate, has celebrated her first anniversary since moving her chocolate business to a retail store! Brooke Willis has shared her experience with us before. You can read about her journey to build her brand and her business from scratch: part 1.

We asked Brooke about her decision to move her brick-and-mortar shop from her home and the lessons she learned. Did we mention that Brooke is a mother of two, and she also homeschools both of her children? This woman shares her story about taking the next step with her chocolate business.

B Cocoa Artisan Chocolate…first a little history

My chocolate journey began after my family moved from England to Texas. My initial plan was to continue practicing all I had learned in Ecole Chocolat and eventually get to a place where I could start a small business. The chocolate demand grew much faster than expected. I started my business in my kitchen. I managed this madness for almost three full years (I have no idea how I made so much chocolate out of my home).

I sold my products at pop-up shops, small retail spaces, and special events. I was able to make money and sell without having to pay a lot in overhead. It helped me start B Cocoa. You can imagine how difficult it is to carry your delicate chocolate treats around if you live in an area that’s hot or has a warm climate. I got tired of constantly lugging half my kitchen and all the chocolates around and needed a babysitter to attend every daytime event.

B Cocoa became more popular, and I began to get asked about wholesale orders as well as selling in my local coffee shop. I knew I had reached the “cottage laws” wall. There is only a certain amount of success you can achieve by working from home.

It was the day everything became clear

I remember sitting down at my dining table, which was now the packaging table, and losing it. It’s all about the ugly cry, pity parties, and loss. IT! I knew I was at a fork in the road, and I was terrified to death. I had two choices: 1) give up completely or 2) work in a commercial kitchen.

I knew that I could not keep up with the pace I was at and still be sane, but I was afraid to move forward because opening a retail store can be risky. I also don’t want to fail.

He is always there to keep me grounded when I’m at my lowest points as an entrepreneur. We both knew that I needed to be 100% committed if I wanted to invest in retail space, so I prayed and thought about whether I really wanted to go on this journey.

Find a retail store

I began asking local businesses for kitchen space and drove around to find an open kitchen. I understand that each business owner has a different story and that many of us begin in our homes. For me, my main reasons for running B Cocoa from home were:

I homeschool but can’t find a place where my kids will be comfortable.

I decided to focus on my kitchen and not the retail space. So I could leave my kitchen and make as much chocolate as I wanted. When I was searching for kitchen space, all these factors helped me narrow it down:

While I was writing these things down and looking at storefronts, it occurred to me that there used to be a beef jerky shop that I frequented before my son’s class in martial arts. I remembered they posted on their website that the store had suddenly closed for personal reasons. When I arrived at the location, I looked out the window and saw that it was empty. It was obvious that if they were making beef jerky, the kitchen had to be up-to-code and MAYBE even contain some equipment. I called and spoke to the owner immediately. It was ready as soon as possible, and yes, the office, retail space, walls, floors, and all other specifications were met. I had a lucky break! I was still unsure of my decision, even with the jackpot.

It was a well-known shopping area, one block from the main strip. This cut the rent cost in half. The rent was still higher than I would have liked to pay, and I knew that I had to find another way to supplement it. G Pops was the first company I encountered. They are a gourmet popsicle company that uses all-natural ingredients. They needed to rent a bigger kitchen. They didn’t require a lot of space, and the room I was renting out was perfect for them. Their busy season is spring and summer, and mine is fall, winter, and spring. It was there. G Pops had moved in. Our new journey began when we signed the lease.

Preparing our retail and kitchen space for opening

I have 1500 square feet of space (and it’s starting to feel small). Our space is about 1500 square feet. We have 500 for retail, 200 in the office, and 700 for the kitchen, plus dry storage.

This includes paint, flooring, retail displays, and kitchen supplies. It provides color, flooring, retail displays, and kitchen supplies. You will need all NSF-certified appliances and surfaces once you have a commercial kitchen. We purchased two stainless steel tables, a new microwave, and a used fridge and freezer. We spent a little money on paint and flooring for the retail space. I bought the cases and displays from the owner of my building and found a great couch on Facebook for only $150.00. The previous owner spent $25,000 on bringing the kitchen up to code with new sinks, walls, and floors. We were able to save a great deal!

We were ready to start on September 22nd, 2017. We began with a limited retail schedule because I was not sure if I wanted to do full retail. I preferred to use the kitchen as a place for orders. By the end of October, I had hired my first employee. We were now open from Wednesday to Saturday. Our retail has exceeded our expectations with four employees.

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