One thing that really motivates me is hearing real life success stories from entrepreneurs. Especially men and women who have turned handcrafted products into successful brands and thriving businesses.
I am starting a monthly interview series on my blog as a way to educate myself AND anyone else who is reading (not many at this point but I'm keeping my fingers crossed), on the ups and downs of starting a handmade business. I'll be focusing especially on the beginning phases of starting a business.
My first interviewee is my friendly neighbor and owner of Jer's Handmade Chocolates - Jerry Swain. You might have seen his boxes of scrumptious chocolate covered peanut butter balls at Whole Foods, online or even featured on the Rachel Ray show! Obviously I counldn't take too much of Jer's time so if you want to learn more about his chocolates and his company - visit his website.
Jer's One Pound Gift Box
Here is my interview with Jer:
Name: Jerry Swain
Business: Jer’s Chocolates
Year business launched: 2001
1. What was the most important thing you did in the first year to establish yourself and gain enough momentum to persist? [Jerry Swain] spend time writing a plan and researching the industry. Since I did not come from a food or chocolate industry (I came from high tech), there was a lot I needed to learn about the industry. I spent a lot of time writing out a specific plan from which much of the data and ideas came from learning from industry trade shows and conferences.
2. Of the following 3 things, which has been the most important to your business and why? [Jerry Swain] C – for us, it is important for us to stay innovative. Our goal is to create products that differentiate, not “me too” products.
b. putting in many, many hours
c. coming up with innovative ideas
3. What were you doing before you launched your business and why did you want to leave?[Jerry Swain] I worked in high tech. My career started with IBM and then I was in Telecom before I left to start on my own. I was fortunate to gain great experience from my previous jobs and all of it led me to want to create a company from a concept/idea. Since I was a young boy, I had always been motivated about “creating” business and opportunity from scratch and seemed to have the energy to see something through. My first entrepreneurial love and experience was trading baseball cards from the time I was 9 years old.
4. What has been the most unexpected challenge that you’ve faced so far? [Jerry Swain] Wow, there are sooooo many. Well one was during the week before I got married. The Food Network aired a piece on our company and it turned me upside down. We had expected it to air in October for the first time and it aired in April (week of my wedding). I spent the week building 1100 boxes of chocolates, sending out internet orders and returning hundreds of calls (then made time to get married that Saturday -: ).
5. If you could go back to the beginning and do something differently, what would you do?[Jerry Swain] Spend more time planning, researching and setting up the foundation for the company. Although I thought I did significant due diligence, I would have spent more time seeking out individuals to interview to find out more. However, if you asked me if I’d change anything, I’d say no! I’ve loved the journey thus far!
6. How long did it take before you felt like your business was successful in terms of having a strong, recognized brand, and in feeling financially comfortable? What helped you mentally persevere to get to that point?[Jerry Swain] Probably over the past 3 years when our brand started showing up in more stores and we did not have too much of our business in just a few chains and customers. Regarding what mentally helped, I surrounded myself with good friends who were positive, and my wife, Mariella, was and is very supportive.
7. Name 3 things that you think a creative business must have to be successful. [Jerry Swain] Good people, the ability to plan well and execute the plan, and be funded for growth