How I Became a Chocolate Merchant

| July 21, 2010

I like chocolate.

Twelve years ago I landed in Brussels airport on a stopover and treated myself to a small box of Belgian chocolates which were absolutely wonderful.


I enjoyed them so much that I didn’t want to wait until next in Brussels to enjoy them again. So I kept the packaging and upon my return to Australia telephoned the company, Neuhause, and asked if they had a local stockist in Sydney.


Delighted to hear the chocolates could be found in the Elizabeth St David Jones Food Hall, only a few blocks from my Chippendale office, I promptly trotted down there one Saturday morning for a stash.


Whilst appearing identical, much to my disappointment, they just didn’t taste the same.


I rang the factory in Brussels again to enquire what the difference might be. The chocolatier asked what sort I had chosen, to which I told him “cream centre” and he conceded that those particular chocolates had quite a short shelf life and perhaps they had been a little bit past their prime.


Being a manufacture and wholesale operation the factory was not particularly interested in my request to accept my credit card details and direct post a personal supply of my new favourite chocolates half way around the world. Obviously and understandably scale mattered.


My new tactic was to ask, “Would you like to sell more chocolates to the Australian market?” Well, that was a non-sequitor, what small business wouldn’t like to increase their export sales?


And so I countered with the suggestion that they appoint me the Neuhause Chocolate Ambassador to Australia.


A few weeks later, after some toing and froing, a formal contract arrived in the mail detailing my new role as the company’s representative in Australia with commission to be paid exclusively in chocolate.


I visited small Australian chocolate factories, distributors and specialty stores, I even went back to Davis Jones and negotiated for them to stock more. Quite soon we had a brisk trade.


When each shipment arrived to fill the Australian orders, there was a bonus 10% of the volume sold for me.


This arrangement bubbled along happily for years. All the while as I was gradually, and ever so slightly, inflating in size; bringing my friends, family and neighbours down with me.


Along the way, French Nougat and Almond cakes were added to the portfolio and what had began as bartering grew into a viable business.


Alas the good times came to an end. A few years ago when diagnosed with type 2 diabetes I did not feel strong enough to maintain the steady supply of temptation and so the time was right to move on.


In case you are wondering when I will get to the point, the moral of this little story is supposed to be to illustrate that a new business came about all because one day, in an airport, I ate a piece of chocolate that I liked. This business developed despite a number of obstacles, most notably the initial response of no interest from the partner, the issues of importing a food product from a foreign country, an existing local supplier and many people being comfortable with the existing set procedure.


Most start-ups stumble early because the individuals involved do not realise that they don’t always have to accept what is given. Getting a “no” for an answer in the beginning is not the end.


Incidentally, my doctor still permits me the odd chocolate and there is an outlet at Sydney Airport stocking the Neuhause ones I like in case you would like to try them.