The IOEE last met Richard and Angela Barker, founders of Grasmere Chocolate Cottage, back in 2015, when they’d only just reached the end of their first year of trading, supported through the IOEE’s mentoring programme. Fast forward to today and the business has skyrocketed; still staying true to its idyllic rural charm whilst also becoming suppliers for the likes of luxury hotels and retailers. We chatted to Richard to find out about their journey so far, and their exciting confectionery plans for the year ahead.
Richard and Angela both worked in education before they ventured into chocolate making, with their jobs taking them over to Germany and Richard setting up a number of educational training programmes for the Ministry of Defence. When they returned to England they were located in Somerset, but wanted a change of pace and to begin a new chapter in their native Cumbria. They looked for businesses for about a year before finding the empty premises that would be their new venture. At the end of 2013, Grasmere Chocolate Cottage was born. Richard says:
“We’d looked at various shops and pubs, but nothing felt quite right. We spotted the potential of these empty premises, and then I literally sat on a wall outside it for three days to count the footfall. So, we knew there was a lot of passing trade, and we had these empty premises, but then we had to decide what to put in it! Angela had always been interested in confectionery and catering and is very creative, and we thought it was the perfect place for a chocolate shop, with the Lake District attracting so many tourists and holidaymakers.”
Richard and Angela went to train in their new craft in Manchester, undertaking a variety of courses where they learnt all about the art of chocolate making. When they opened Grasmere Chocolate Cottage, Richard and Angela were the sole employers, initially creating eight unique flavours and selling around 500 chocolates per week, but the last few years has seen the business flourish and evolve, with sales soaring and new staff being employed. Richard says:
“We weren’t quite sure exactly what to stock in that first year, but we’ve grown so much. We now have 28 unique flavours and are making over 5,000 chocolates per week. We’ve got three part-time staff and are taking on a couple of full-time staff soon too. We’ve developed a website and sell our products online, and we’re now also stocked in a couple of luxury retailers and several high-end hotels. With sales and production rapidly increasing, we may even be looking at developing into larger production premises soon. It’s been a very busy few years!”
Despite the success of Grasmere Chocolate Cottage, Richard explains that setting up a new business hasn’t been without its challenges:
“I think our teaching background has actually helped with aspects such as being on your feet all the time and being customer-focused, but yes - it’s quite a different career to the educational industry we were in before! Getting used to the Lake District has been an adjustment too, as it can be very quiet, and we’ve had to learn the high and low points of the tourist seasons.”
Looking to the future, Grasmere Chocolate Cottage is showing no signs of slowing down, and 2018 will see the business create more partnerships and develop its range of chocolates even further. Richard says:
“We’ve been working with Lancaster University over last few months whilst its business students have been putting together a marketing strategy for us – this is due to come off soon, so it will be amazing to see what they’ve produced. We already know that we want to enhance our online presence and overhaul the website this year - our website has slowly developed already, our online sales have increased five-fold since we began, and one area of real surprise has been the popularity of our vegan chocolates, which we send as far afield as the USA and Sweden.
“We’re looking to add a variety of new luxury products to our range too, and so we’re enhancing our branding and packaging to align with that, and will hopefully move into another couple of high-end retailers and hotels. We also have a project in the pipeline to develop a range of chocolates alongside someone opening an upmarket alcohol shop this year, so we’re looking to launch some specialist alcohol-flavoured chocolates later in 2018.”
Richard says that one of the biggest challenges in the business has been ‘sticking to their guns’, and for all of the growth and expansion of Grasmere Chocolate Cottage, he and Angela are passionate about staying close to the business’ roots and not veer too far from their countryside community spirit:
“It’s difficult to get the right balance when it comes to price point for a luxury product, because ingredients can be expensive and all of the chocolates are handmade, so it does take time. We use Belgian chocolate alongside local produce wherever possible, such as cream from local farms, so we have to charge for what we make, but we don’t want to go into mass production; our ethos has always been quality over quantity. People keep telling us we’re living the rural dream, and we are – but it’s hard work! We want to continue to grow and expand, but we don’t want to be so exclusive that we lose the essence of the shop. We live only a few minutes’ walk from the shop and the new premises, and that idyllic rural charm is what drew us here in the first place, so we’re going to hold onto that.”
To find out more about Grasmere Chocolate Cottage, visit: http://www.chocolatecottage.co.uk/