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While there’s no denying everyone loves confectionery, whether or not people buy it can come down to how it’s presented to them. Catrin MacDonnell, director at Papadeli in Bristol, knows catching the eye and drawing customers in is essential to selling.
“Buying in a whole range of chocolate helps, rather than buying one bar from one maker, and another from a different one, as the impact is stronger. For example, the whole range of Land chocolate bars looks really lovely together and we’re most probably designed to sit together on the shelf.”
It’s an important point when it comes to confectionery. Confectionery is all about taste, but that begins with the visual.
“Many of our chocolates are local and British made,” says Catrin, “so they have a great back story. For instance, Chocolarder are from Cornwall and use gorse flowers in their chocolate. This really appeals to many of our customers who love Cornwall. We put this information in a shelf talker, giving background on the chocolatier.”
This idea of making the act of buying confectionery into an experience for the customer is perhaps more important now than ever. In tough times, we all want a treat, but we are all, also, mindful of costs. Balancing these two opposing things is a tricky tightrope to walk, and creating an experience can be the thing that tips the scales in the favour of sales.
“The theatre of fudge making is front and centre in each of our shops,” says Richard Parson, marketing and communications manage at Fudge Kitchen, “allowing customers to feel a part of the process, while also giving them unbridled insight into the process, ingredients, and a lot of skill that goes into making our iconic slab fudge.”
It’s an approach echoed at MELT where demystifying the process of creating and allowing customers to feel a part of it, can help to build an experience and drive sales.
“We have our open kitchens at the back,” says Neus Torreblanca, “so customers can see how their chocolates are made, right in front them. They are then surrounded by all the delicious smells coming from the kitchen. This is something that customers like to see, as it also introduces the concept of fresh products.”
Neus has even found that an experience can not only help to sell confectionery, but can be a saleable item in itself. “We offer chocolate classes and people seem to value, and are willing to pay for, an experience rather than a box of chocolates, and obviously it’s a great way to bring people to your boutiques too.”
But for some confectionery shops the visuals start even before customers enter the shop, and the experience IS the shop. At Domea Favour in Plymouth, Nicholas Kittle takes customers on a journey and creates a story through the setting of the shop.
“My shop is set up like an old-fashioned, traditional chocolate shop, with warm lighting and classical music playing. The first thing people see outside the shop is a milk churn with my logo on and this sets the tone. As you enter there’s an old French dresser displaying products, another display unit is an upcycled Singer sewing machine, and the chocolate bars are displayed in an old pigeon-hole cabinet. Much like my chocolate, the displays are thoughtful, unique and creative.”
Involving the customer is an immediate aspect of selling at Fudge Kitchen, as Richard explains.
“Immediate customer interaction with a friendly greeting and the ability to listen to what they really want with 100% attention and focus, is important. In our shops we use samples of our products to help open the conversation and give the customers the chance to ‘Judge our Fudge’. And then it’s about choice. But not too much. Too much choice leads to confusion and will often mean the customer makes no purchase at all.”
Offering samples is a tried and tested trick that really does work. For Neus this tempts customers to buy, and it also works to upsell products when customers come in for something specific.
“We include tastings and the majority of customers end up buying at least one of the chocolates tasted. Giving people an opportunity to try our products, with tasters, also helps to upsell.”
Display also plays a big part in upselling, as strategically placed and priced items can prove tempting.
“Creating a big display of only chocolate on one side of the deli looks great in terms of visual impact and really attracts people,” says Catrin. “Staff have tried most of the chocolates so they really gush about it and customers trust them to be able to recommend.”
Counting the costs
Sian Holt, managing director at Fudge Kitchen, has to balance all of this with the current cost of living crisis and rising prices.
“We took a deep breath and had a complete rebrand at the end of 2021 and launched our new wholesale range at the start of 2022 when we adjusted prices slightly on some elements of the range. We moved from four and six slice selections to three and five slice selections, retaining the same weight and size of each slice.”
At Domean favour, Nicholas is a little more philosophical about the immediate future.
“I suspect chocolate and sweets in general will take a hit this winter because they aren’t a necessity, but if a business can offer a good quality product at a sensible price, they will see that repeat custom.”
Moving forward hasn’t been so easy for MELT, where costs mean pressing pause on projects and looking at ways to save money in the business.
“We wanted to refurbish one of our boutiques this October, right before Christmas,” says Neus.
“We were quite excited about it. However, with the current situation we have decided to leave it until next year. We are also cutting back on any new equipment or electricity costs where we can – our coffee machines now gets switched off during the night which we never did before, for example.”
Cutting costs in business like this also goes a long way towards reaching sustainability targets. As the two things go hand in hand, it seems the one pushes the other along.
“Following an environmental plan to reduce, re-use and recycle will help,” says Sian. “This is all very much part of our sustainability plan. Our internal ‘Green’ teams are encouraging everyone to think about the little things – switching off lights, being mindful of waste of raw materials and water and reusing whatever they can.
“We’re also working to try and increase our average wholesale order size, encouraging customers to order monthly instead of weekly for example. to reduce freight costs whilst also cutting the carbon footprint.”
A community of confectionery
When it comes down to it, at Domea Favour it’s all about people, and the theatre of selling.
“There’s no substitute for passion and knowing your product,” says Nicholas. “Ultimately, you can buy chocolate from anywhere, but 99% of my customers tell me they come to the shop for me – I’m the brand! I feel this comes down to authenticity and being nice to people. I treat loyal customers well, perhaps popping a fresh croissant in with their purchase, or a bonbon to go with their hot chocolate. Don’t be afraid to show personality, charisma, and your love for what you do.”
The idea of the selling an experience, rather than just a product, through people and a community, can be carried as far as the surroundings allow, and even when done in a small way, it can create that desired buzz.
“In our shops you can always make your own chocolate box by selecting the bonbons you would like inside,” Neus says. “This is what customers usually go for, but we do have pre-packed assortments for people that might be in a rush. Another great technique is having available just 2 or 3 sizes at the time and never the smaller size, that way the customer will most likely go straight for a medium or large size box.” It can even be done remotely, in online spaces.
“Taking that theatricality online, we’ve worked hard to cultivate the same great experience our customers expect in-store, into the digital space,” says Richard. “It’s important not to think of potential customers as passive ‘followers’ through social media but instead as a truly invaluable community who will often champion your product.”
When confectionery is theatre and customers are the audience, the show always goes on.