Almost every red-blooded female in the United States and much of the male population is passionate about chocolate. We love it, crave it, covet it, hoard it, nibble it, gobble it, and dream about it. We describe ourselves as chocoholics. Chocolate is one of the decadent guilty pleasures in life. Perhaps it eases our collective consciences a little to know that scientists now say there are health benefits to dark chocolate.
There is probably no one in the United States, however, as passionate about chocolate as Alan Patric McClure, who owns Patric Chocolate. He and his employees make craft chocolate in Columbia, Missouri.
Patric’s chocolates are artisan creations in the true sense. He imports the cocoa beans, roasts them, and creates chocolate from the finest raw ingredients. When McClure founded the company in 2006 there were no true craft chocolatiers in the U.S. He has filled that niche. His stated goal is to “work as hard as possible to make the best chocolate imaginable and expose the most Americans to it”.
His enthusiasm and love for his craft, as well as that of his four full-time and one intermittent employee, comes through in the excellence of his chocolate and the recognition it is receiving. Patric Chocolate won the National Good Food Award in 2011 and 2012, and has been featured or mentioned in magazines, including Forbes, Feast, and Food & Wine; as well as newspapers like The Kansas City Star, the LA Times, The New Yorker Online, and the Dallas Observer, among others.
As is the case with many small business owners, McClure came into the business world in a roundabout way. He was always interested in food and cooking—the first book he bought himself was a Mexican cookbook. He loved to experiment with recipes and ingredients and cooking was always a hobby. He worked at restaurants in high school and college as many people do and then spent a year in France during college where he says he developed a finer appreciation for food.
Patric said his degree in Religious Studies was good for developing research skills, but not so great for finding a job. Making chocolate became his hobby and he decided to look into making chocolate for a living. In March of 2006, with the help of Virginia Wilson of the Small Business Technology & Development Center (SBTDC) and a SCORE counselor, McClure filed the paperwork for Patric Chocolate. It took almost a year before he produced his first batch of commercial chocolate.
McClure says his business plan was the most critical thing in opening a successful business and that he learned it should constantly evolve and state reasonable goals. When he started the process, he says he was “naïve.” He didn’t have the tools he needed to run a business—no business experience, no knowledge of how to price, and he knew nothing about sales. He’d never really managed people. He didn’t even know where to buy cocoa beans or where to find the equipment he needed. As with many first time entrepreneurs, he had underestimated the amount of money it would take to open his business.
Along with help from the SBTDC and SCORE, McClure also took out an SBA Express Loan in 2009 and a 7(a) Guaranteed Loan in 2011. He credits The Bank of Missouri and the local business community with providing him good advice and support.
When asked about the process he uses to come up with his decadent creations, McClure said it is a collaborative process. He and his employees meet to discuss what chocolate bars they’ll make in the coming year. Everyone comes prepared with ten combinations that sound good to them. They read off the combinations and if anyone doesn’t like a combination, it’s crossed off the list. Only a handful of combinations sound delicious to everyone. Then they look at the feasibility of creating the flavors into a chocolate bar. They always like to consider some combinations that are not currently available on the market.
While McClure gives some direction, his company tends to operate by consensus, and his employees often know what he wants before he even asks. He says all of his employees need to understand the entire business. His salesperson understands how chocolate is made so she can better sell the product; the production staff knows about marketing and how the quality impacts sales. To be successful, he says, they must understand how interrelated their jobs really are.
When asked if Patric Chocolate will branch out into other chocolate products, McClure says they plan to start offering hot chocolate mixes in the future, and for next Valentine’s Day plan to offer chocolate covered truffles.
As for growth, Patric lets the market set expansion, while trying to acquire new sales and to venture into more markets. They forecast based upon previous sales so they can project when they will need to add new machinery or personnel.
McClure is passionate about his craft and active with the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, Craft Chocolate Makers of America, and Slow Food USA, which helps educate children on where food actually comes from and the joys of eating food that is natural and unprocessed. He has raised money for Slow Food to go into local schools and talk about “real” food.
Patric’s sells to wholesalers, distributors, retailers, chefs, food and beverage manufacturers and also online to the public. In St. Louis, you can find Patric chocolates at Whole Foods and Local Harvest Grocery; in Columbia, at Clover’s Natural Market and Natural Grocers; and in Kansas City, at The Better Cheddar and Dean & DeLuca. Website purchases can be made at http://patric-chocolate.com/ or call 573-814-7520 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the SBA, contact your local SBA office or visit http://www.sba.gov/. The St. Louis District Office can be reached at 314-539-6600 or http://www.sba.gov/about-offices-content/2/3124. For more information about the Missouri SBTDC, visit http://www.missouribusiness.net/sbtdc/index.asp. To find a local SCORE counselor, visit http://www.score.org/ or contact your local SBA office.
One of the life lessons you learn as a Soldier is that there is no such thing as failure. You adapt and overcome. You are part of a team, and that team depends upon every member. That means you can’t personally fail, because your team fails. And in the Army, failure can be a matter of life and death.
Christine Zika of CZ Concierge Services is a former Staff Sergeant of the Missouri Army National Guard with 13 years of experience as a Military Police (MP). She served in Saudi Arabia, Kosovo, Germany, and here in Missouri. Failure is not a concept she understands.
Zika started her business much as she went into her career as a Soldier—as a matter of happenstance. She joined the Guard two years into college after her parents told she’d better find a way to support herself because they couldn’t pay for college anymore. She was taking a Military Basics course while studying Public Relations in college so she could learn to rappel off a building. To finish the course she had to talk to the Major in charge of the program. Her friends told her he would try to recruit her. She responded that she was a tree-hugging pacifist who would never join the military and she needed the “A”. The Major told her about the GI Bill, Student Loan repayments, and bonuses, and since she was about to leave college she listened. She went to see a Guard recruiter. Zika laughs and says, “The recruiter told me the Guard wasn’t stressful and they never see action.” That was in May of 1990. In June she was in Basic Training and she was back home in November. In December she was activated, and in January of 1991 she was in Saudi Arabia guarding prisoners with an M16 in hand and a .45 at her hip thinking it looked a lot like war. (She was later on the other side of that fence as a recruiter. A friend’s son wanted to join the Guard but his mother didn’t want him to see combat. In one of life’s ironic twists, she recruited him into Field Artillery but the Guard later made him an MP.)
Zika happened into the business world in much the same way. She was working for the Shriners and her position was eliminated after 7 years. . She had never even worked in the for-profit world and had no desire to start a business. She and her aunt were having “what if…” conversation. Her aunt was joking about starting a business where women could fool their husbands into thinking they were doing more at home than they were actually doing in a day. In order to do that, they figured they would need an errand runner. That conversation sparked an idea with Zika and within a week and a half she was in the Veterans Business Resource Center’s (VBRC) Bootstrap Program. (The VBRC is partially funded by the SBA and is one of SBA’s resource partners along with SCORE, the Small Business Technology Development Centers, and the Women’s Business Center.) She attended classes for several hours two nights a week for six weeks. During that program she put together her business plan and less than a month later she was in business.
Zika is an enthusiastic supporter of Darcella Craven and her staff at the VBRC. She speaks of Craven’s passion for the Veterans she serves. Zika says she wouldn’t have the business she has if it wasn’t for Craven and her staff. They not only taught her how to write a business plan, but how to hire employees, how to handle business finances, licensing, and other information. They consult with and mentor their clients.
So what exactly does Zika’s company do? She says they are “that extra pair of hands everyone needs” and that “no task is too big or too small”. They create time management solutions, plan and execute special events and projects, assist with work/life balance, provide relocation services, do research, or just about anything else you need done. If your business or your employees have an issue, Zika can handle it. To paraphrase Ghostbusters, “Who you gonna call? CZ Concierge Services.”
Zika has a network of service people at her fingertips. If your plumbing is backed up and you have to be at work, she’ll get a plumber to your house. If Fluffy needs a walk, and you have to work late, Fluffy will be walked and the pooper scooper will be used. If your dry cleaning or your library books need to be picked up she’ll make it happen. If the cable installer is coming, someone will be there to let them in. If you need your shopping done, she’ll do that. If you need a birthday party planned for your child she can do a great party. She can also do a fantastic corporate event. One company had seven executives come into town for several weeks. She found them housing, picked them up at the airport, made sure they got lunch delivered daily, made sure they were transported where they needed to go, and kept them within the company’s budget. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and anyone who works for her better not be either. She is willing to tackle any job. She frees a company’s employees up to do the jobs they need to do. She takes on tasks within the company or within the employee’s lives that are distracting them from what they need to focus on at work. She’s like a combination of the shoemaker’s elves and a fairy godmother—although you do have to pay her! One’s mind spins at the distasteful tasks that could magically be done. In a cost/benefit analysis, there are some things that are not worth personally. Imagine handing off those tasks!
Zika is also a huge supporter of St. Louis. She loves the area and considers it home. Those out-of-town executives noted how enthusiastic Zika is about St. Louis. She told them all about all the great things to do in the area while they were here. She gives back to the area by volunteering to do all the social media for the Shriners Hospital Ride (a 75-mile motorcycle ride to benefit the Shriner’s hospital). She plans to do more in the future and has done more in the past, but her hands are full since she’s the only business concierge service in the St. Louis Metro Area and one of her employees just went back to school full time. And yes, Zika did finally finish college, even though it took her 16 years. Remember, she never gives up! And if you thank her for her service, she’ll tell you she is thankful for the opportunity and for what she learned while serving.
St. Louis has one of only 15 VBRCs in the country. The VBRC can be reached at www.vetbiz.com or 314-531-8387. SBA’s St. Louis District Office can also put you in touch with the VBRC, the WBC, the SBTDCs, or SCORE. You can reach the St. Louis District Office at 314-539-6600.
When you think of tool companies, green doesn’t generally spring to mind. One tends to think of dirt, grime, and the smell of oil. US Tool Group, formerly known as U. S. Tool Grinding, and now commonly referred to as US Tool, is putting the color green and the smell of money into the equation.
In this disposable age, US Tool is bringing back the concept of repairing and reconditioning. The average drill and boring tool can be recycled four times. The environmental impact is the equivalent of four million pounds of raw material each year. The reduced mining, smelting, and grinding, creates a substantial energy saving, along with preserving natural resources. Additional transportation savings are gained because the tools don’t have to go through as many stops to get to the end user. Pollution is reduced. The earth itself is just a little greener.
But all that wouldn’t make much difference in the corporate world if it didn’t save businesses money too. After all, businesses want to maximize profits. There are clear cost savings to reconditioning tools. These savings can be realized as profits, expansion, advertisement, or just staying afloat in tough economic times.
The quality has to be there, too. US Tool couldn’t stay in this business, supplying aircraft manufacturers along with other businesses if they weren’t producing quality products.
US Tool has received some assistance along the way. They’ve received a couple of SBA guaranteed loans. They took out a 7(a) loan that has since been paid back and they currently have a revolving line of credit. A lot of extremely successful businesses have received similar help and gone on to do great things. US Tool is well on its way to great things, too. The SBA’s programs are there to help small businesses like US Tool.
US Tool performs so well in this and other aspects of its business that Mr. Bruce Williams, President and CEO, and Mr. Brent H. Williams, Vice President of Operation, were recognized as SBA’s Region VII Small Business Subcontractor of the Year during National Small Business Week 2011. The Daily Journal covering St. Francois County wrote up their successes May 21, 2011 edition. After all, US Tool is based in the small southeastern Missouri town of Desloge. With approximately 475 employees, they’re big news, as well as a big employer, down there. Maybe some of the “waste not, want not” values of our grandparents are maintained in that small town. They’ve definitely found a way to make a profit from re-using what is available.
So, the newer concept of being green merges with the older concept of using what you already have. The end results are the green that pays the bills. So, now when you think of tool companies, maybe you’ll think of a greener earth and the green of good old cold hard cash. And a successful small business in Desloge, Missouri, called US Tool…