NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Sometimes, less is more.
Jessica Spaulding, the co-founder of Harlem Chocolate Factory, learned that principle over the last seven years in business. It helped her grow the chocolatier from a small shop into a national brand.
Jessica always loved chocolate, and as a kid, it was the only sugary item allowed in her mother's house. She went on to pursue the chocolate business while studying at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA.
"I took one semester, I took my refund check and started a chocolate company. No business plan, no sales strategy. My thought was I was just going to give away a bunch of chocolate and people were going to fall in love with it and just order it for me," she said on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.
The original business fizzled and was the first important lesson in Spaulding's journey. Over the next several years, the chocolate-lover finished her education and learned marketing and supply chain management along the way. In 2015, she revived her dream business and opened a shop in Harlem where she was born and raised.
"When I really literally felt like I had nothing else, I was like, alright, why don't we go back to the drawing board about this chocolate thing that I wanted, like I've always wanted to do, and that's when I finally started," said Spaulding.
Harlem Chocolate Factory quickly developed product after product. At one point, it sold 45 different chocolate products. When the pandemic hit, Spaulding realized that in order to scale, she needed to do more with less.
"It may feel like a lot to have 10 customers in your face like, 'Where's that product I really love?' But when you look on the paper and you're looking over the past like four or five years and realizing, okay, we've only sold $3,000 worth of this product... We were able to create an equation for how we keep products, and I think that that is probably the most valuable thing that could have ever happened to us."
Supply chain issues forced Spaulding to innovate her packaging. She eventually found a supplier that could handle volume at scale, which helped her improve her margins.
"We used to order like stock packaging because we could just, one, between space and money, we could never just buy a shipping container worth of packaging to last us for the whole year," she said. "So, we have to find a packaging that is good enough to kind of like display all of our luxury elements and our premium elements while at the same time being affordable enough to not put us out of business every quarter when we need to do reorders."
Spaulding told WCBS 880 she spent years learning about different types of packaging and how it impacts sales and the quality of chocolate.
She also turned to Intuit QuickBooks to manage her business' accounting and payroll.
"We took a real hit to our business due to supply chain and inflation, and QuickBooks' various features and tools enable us to accurately track all of our finances and create a better path forward," Spaulding said.
Despite being in a crowded field, the quality of Harlem Chocolate Factory stood out to several hotels that contacted the business.
"It's always something we wanted to do, but we never felt like we were in a place operationally to handle it," she admitted.
After performing well with the first hotel, others started calling.
"When you service one person and it goes really well, they likely have a colleague that may not be in the same business as them, but within the same industry and they will tell them about your business," Spaulding said.
While she believes word-of-mouth has been the most effective marketing tool for Harlem Chocolate Factory, she often brings three team members to trade shows, which she grew up attending with her mother.
"One person's there for education, one person's there for sales, one person's there for partnerships," Spaudling explained, adding, "Each person has a specific task, they're given a task, and that entire day, that's the only task you do because it can be completely overwhelming."
Her advice is to focus on genuine connections rather than exchanging business cards with a large quantity of people.
You can see more marketing and sales lessons and advice on the Small Business Spotlight video above.