The sweet sell of success

Artisanal chocolate franchise Chock Shop is going from strength to strength, with expansion across the UK. We spoke to franchise owner Joanathan Willis about his own experience launching a version of  business in Wales…

The sweet sell of success

After more than two decades in education, before finding an exit to the bathroom fitting business, Jonathan Willis found himself more than ready to take a detour into another completely new challenge.

So, when his brother-in-law’s artisanal chocolate retail franchise Chock Shop, became available in South Wales he jumped at the chance to change direction once again and launch his own business. 

After researching various other opportunities for months, Chock Shop still stood out for its established branding, product quality and hands-on corporate support, he says. 

Now, Willis leverages the experience he has gained in working with people for more than 30 years to sell at events across the region.

When Chock Shop launched back in 2010, he witnessed its rapid rise firsthand. 

“The business was set up by my brother-in-law and I had seen over a long period how successful the business had become. The quality of the product and the response from customers was a clear indication of the standards established by the company.”

And when the franchisor opened in Jonathan’s hometown territory, long familiar with the model and its success, he took the plunge. 

“When the opportunity arose to become part of it I jumped at the chance,” he recalls. 

“The individual support and information given to franchises both before and during the process and the competitive franchise fee were major factors in my decision.”

The sweet sell of success

Sticky stuff

Of course, he also had to confront the usual startup struggles. In particular, securing events to generate sales in that first year. 

“Finding events is always a major part of ensuring that trading opportunities are generated each year, more so in the first year as you are establishing links and working relationships with event organisers,” he says.

Thankfully, the Chock Shop head office provided robust systems to help the business establish itself. 

“From day one the support given was individual and tailored to my previous experience and future needs. The team had already found events to start me off. Training was clear and built on the experience of others in the company. All aspects of trading and management of stock were covered as well as how to set up as a limited company. At the first event, Chock Shop’s franchise manager worked alongside me and guided me through the set up, trading, and pack down.” 

Now comfortable hosting festivals across South Wales, Willis has learned a lot of key lessons about running a boutique confectionery business. 

“Planning and organisation are key,” he says, given fluctuations in hourly customer volumes. In addition, building strong relationships with venue and event managers is crucial for return business and sustainability. 

“Establishing excellent working relationships with event organisers is a must and ensures smooth running from year to year.

“Good events are out there but sometimes trying to find out who runs and manages them is hard. Corporate has staff who search out events and also apply on our behalf.”

In terms of Chock Shop’s franchise model, he adheres to the system’s core elements while adjusting booth layouts based on the space limitations of individual events. 

“I follow the model closely with the only variations being the design of the stall’s setup; this is mainly due to the restrictions of differing locations,” he explains. 

Between managing bookings and logistics while staffing his travelling chocolate store at events, Willis maintains an active role even as he’s expanded his team to half a dozen part-timers to meet seasonal spikes in demand.

What’s next

Looking ahead, the franchisor is supporting Jonathan’s growth vision of adding a bricks-and-mortar retail site. 

“My goal is to open another outlet in South Wales as well as moving into more of the bigger music festivals,” he says.

Though scaling up brings new challenges like lead generation, Chock Shop’s corporate staff helps franchisees secure prime spots at coveted regional venues.

Despite recent economic uncertainty, Willis has seen good returns that have exceeded his initial projections thanks to a loyal following for the brand’s quality and service. 

“Considering the economic climate we all find ourselves in, the business is performing well, exceeding our previous year’s turnover.” 

From his first taste of the concept over a decade ago to now spearheading the company’s South Wales presence, Willis has proven that with the right support, hard work and belief in the process, being your own boss is not as far away as you might think. 

Ronnie Dungan
Ronnie Dungan