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Whether you are starting or expanding a business, preparation is key. This is true both for the success of the business, and approaching a lender for financing. The Secret Chocolatier in Charlotte, NC is one such example. The chocolate shop is owned and operated by Andy and Robin Ciordia and Robin’s parents, Bill and Karen Dietz. This family of chocolate artisans began their business in 2008, selling their confections at various farmers’ markets and specialty shops around town. They sold both retail and wholesale. They specialize in handmade truffles, enrobed brownies, cakes (including wedding cakes) and all types of favors.
After two years of operation at different markets, the company sought a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan to build its first retail location. They wanted to increase their professional look to match their products and to grow professionally, personally, and as a family.
Andy observed that potential landlords and banks focused on minimizing risk. They took a good look at their operation and did just that. Before applying for the loan, the company waited until it demonstrated two profitable years of operation, it kept meticulous records, retained the professional advice of an accountant, acquired the proper licenses and brought in experts for advice and feedback; including an MBA, a chocolate consultant, a former building contractor, capital equipment leasing specialist, and an industrial production manager. He also met with Charlotte SCORE counselor Chuck Sawicki. Andy worked with Chuck to expand his one-year projections to five years.
In 2010, after a year of creating a business plan, the firm got a $99,000 SBA Express loan from SunTrust Bank. With about 60% of this loan, the family leased space to open their first retail location. They used the remainder of the loan for equipment and expenses. With funding in place and a signed lease, the company turned its attention to getting building permits so that the contractor could get to work on its Providence Plaza shop.
Andy says “it was our success with the markets and retailers that proved to the bank that our chocolate had a niche and our management team had the mettle to pull off a retail location of our own.” The Secret Chocolatier through local distributors created wholesale and retail opportunities that will improve their potential for success.
The family is “incredibly excited” about being able to open a location that will be the base of their operations. They hope to add more employees to the team, but want to take it step by step. “We really desire a long lasting and healthy business” says Andy.