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Hotel Chocolat co-founder offers his ten steps towards chocolate heaven

Hotel Chocolat co-founder shares his top tips for starting a sweet business

    View from the company hotel in St Lucia
    View from the company hotel in St Lucia

    Peter Harris co-founded the luxury chocolatier in 2004 and has watched it grow from one store in Watford to 74 shops worldwide, a boutique hotel and a cocoa plantation in St Lucia — with a revenue of £63 million last year. Speaking at a Norwood dinner, he told guests:

    1. Forget research
    “If we had researched I don’t think we would ever have started. We were making corporate mints and one hotelier said: ‘Could you do a little box of four chocolates with our name on it?’ We made a mock-up and went back. He said: ‘That’s exactly what I want, could I have 5,000?’ Suddenly we found ourselves in the chocolate business.”

    2. Start right now
    “When we started I had just taken on a massive mortgage, my wife had given up work and our son was one. There’s never a good time, you can’t wait until the planets align. ”

    3. Never work alone
    “A business partner is a way to remotivate. A problem can seem severe but when you start thinking it becomes smaller. When you have someone else there, that process happens quicker.”

    Peter Harris
    Peter Harris

    4. Test out a partnership
    “People share flats and months later they are no longer friends — business is similar. My partner and I spent a year working together in a different business. I respected his ability to sell and he hopefully respected my ability in finance. Working together is like one plus one makes three.”

    5. Sell together
    “I’d get orders from people like Ford and British Airways and he’d have the Dorchester Hotel, Vauxhall — we competed. Both selling created camaraderie and shared responsibility.”

    6. Go without
    “We didn’t spend money until we’d earned it. We probably didn’t have the most sparkling clothes or meals-out but weren’t any less happy. We were motivated by what we were doing.”

    7. Pay yourself
    “When we started, we lent our business £5,000 each and paid it back to ourselves at the rate of £500 a month. It gave us a goal, if you worked for the month you actually got something at the end of it, although it was your own money.”

    8. A financial class helps
    “When I was in the computer business I raised £250,000 completely unsecured. I don’t know anyone who has raised that. I was a chartered accountant so the bank thought investing in me was worth a try.”

    9. Seperate bank figures
    “Have two sets of figures: the figures to motivate your staff and more moderate figures for your bank.”

    10. Seek out Opportunities
    “A member of our chocolate tasting club sent us a book on cocoa production — which we read. We could have left it there. Instead we found an estate in St Lucia and went over. I made appointments with four out of 12 cabinet ministers — I wanted to know the industry wasn’t about to be nationalised. We came back with a signed contract. It was mad but it was our hearts.”

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