SCORE Mentor, Other SBA Partners Help Couple Position Chocolate Shop for Growth

Dan and Elizabeth Donoghue at the Chocolate Caper's Counter

Situation

Ellen and Claude Marendaz started selling their distinctive praliné chocolates at Madison’s famous farmers' market in 1983. By the mid-1980s, they established The Chocolate Caper in nearby Oregon and became a Main Street staple. Fast forwardto 2013, when Dan and Elizabeth Donoghue were pursuing their dream of a baking business. Elizabeth began making her baked goods when Dan became ill in 2012, and word of her tasty products spread. At first, the Donoghues were looking for shared kitche nspace and approached The Chocolate Caper in early 2014. That didn’t work out, but several months later, when Ellen and Claude decided they wanted to retire, they contacted the young couple. This time a match was made, and the Marendaz’ began teaching the new Chocolate Caper owners the art of making the chocolates. The pralines, with chocolate and nut butters topped with a hard chocolate shell, are still the signature item of the shop. In late 2014, before they re-opened, Dan and Elizabeth turned thei rfocus from learning to make chocolate to developing the business and began to tap SBA resources and partners, which they have done repeatedly at key decision points.

Solutions

Planning has been an important part of the business since even before it opened. Dan started with the Business Plan Builder on the SBA website, which he describes as “one of the best business planning tools ever.” He was able to complete most of it at one sitting. He then took the plan to Madison’s SCORE office and began regular meetings with SCORE's counselors. “Those early meetings, where we talked about marketing, ownership structure, and how to purchase, were key to our current success,” says Dan. “The SCORE counselor asked me many times, 'have you thought about this, or this?'” While they had considered bank financing, a private investor helped them with the purchase. Ultimately they decided to form the business as an LLC. Social media marketing, and word of mouth in Oregon’s tight-knit community, also quickly spread the news of the Chocolate Caper’s new owners and plans to be open daily. Dan also took courses on QuickBooks, business plan development and strategy with WWBIC, an SBA Women’s Business Center, and with the Small Business Development Center, anotherSBA partner. The second SCORE meeting, this time with counselor Tom Bradley, took place in 2015 and focused on marketing and metrics such as return on investment and other key performance indicators to establish trackable measures for the Chocolate Caper’s success. In 2016, they met again with Tom to discuss a price increase and a longer term plan to grow the business beyond the store.

Impact

SCORE’s ongoing assistance, particularly its relationship with Tom, and the Donoghue’s efforts to plan early and educate themselves with the help of WWBIC and the SBDC, have positioned them to consider longer term growth within three years of opening their doors. They now have five employees and will open a second location in November 2017. “Any question we don’t know how to handle, we go to SCORE. Tom listens and remembers. He connects us with suppliers and wholesalers…he’s a matchmaker for us. He really goes the extra mile.”

Company Name: 
The Chocolate Caper
Location: 
Oregon, Wisconsin