Friday, 29 May 2009

Seven Weeks

Wow, can you believe it, we have been open seven weeks today. I had every intention of doing an update one month on, but somehow didn't manage to get round to it. But I am here now so I can explain how it has gone so far.

We managed to open on time, and had a good reception for the opening day. And then it went dead, not a soul, not a peep, very quiet indeed. The whole weekend was the same. From then we started to put signs up on the A96 and at the end of our road so there is a chance folk can find us. I have to say the improvement has been immense. On our worst day we took a whole £2! It's days like these when you have to remind yourself that first and foremost we are a production facility, that people can come and visit. Isn't it amazing what you tell yourself so you feel better. I have to say though, it has only been one day that quiet. Now a quiet day is £25, and although that is not near our daily target, it is still a vast improvement. I would say that at least half the time we are now hitting our targets which takes some pressure off cash flow, although this does continue to be a juggling trick.

We have held two chocolate parties, the first for a ladies 40th, and the second was last night. There has been huge interest in this idea, with lots of fliers being taken from the shop. Only time will tell if this catches on.

Just like at home, when you keep moving the furniture round until you are happy with it, we keep shuffling things in the shop. It is hard to make sure the products have a flow and make sense to the customer.

The biggest difference is opening up the blast freezer. Initially we used it for bulk storage until the secret room was discovered and utilised. Then we set it up as a Kids Zone with arty activities. It seemed that people were missing the cakes as they were in the back room, so we decided to have a swap around and the cakes are now in the front. This is the first thing people see as they walk in the door and they do get a great reception.

This left us with the back room for other purposes, what should we do with the space. It has to earn its keep, so lets put in a little coffee bar. Having checked with the regulations we can have up to 12 seats without needing toilet facilities (still working on that one too!). Initially we looked at the idea of having a top grade vending machine that produces cafe standard drinks, but it was going to be massively expensive (you don't want to know!) and it would still be a vending machine. Most of the time there are still only two of us here. Kev is making chocolates, and I am looking after the office and the shop and Joshua. Kev is great at getting Joshua off to sleep, and he is no trouble at all. Kev does also step into the shop when needed. The thoughts of adding a coffee bar to the list is kind of scary!!!

Having sat and thought about it, we decided to offer a very basic, but somewhat indulgent menu. Fresh brewed coffee, using a very smart bean to cup machine, fairtrade and organic tea, and our own hot chocolate. In addition to this we will be offering four types of cupcakes and cold drinks. As this is secondary to the main business we can afford to keep the cost of the drinks down. Having talked to customers about the idea, they seem very receptive so hopefully it should be open over the weekend.

There are four of us here on a Saturday, which as expected is our busiest day. With George looking after Joshua it frees us up to get on with what we need to, so hopefully that will help with the coffee bar as well. As for during the week, we will have to see how it goes. We already have one volunteer, but we are always looking for additional help :-) Wages are paid in chocolate, of course!

All in all, a very positive start, with many changes and challenges happening along the way. I nearly forgot, we have also rewritten the website and included an online shop which can be accessed at The shop is nearly complete, still needs photos but that will be done over the next few weeks as time allows.

Well that report was certainly longer than I anticipated! I think this ramble proves that we really should do this more often! Until we meet again, I bid you adieu.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Hello again!

I seem to spend the first few lines of each blog apologising for the length of time it has taken between posts. In the run up to opening last Friday it seemed that there were fewer hours in the day. Quite often I would think about what I would like to write, but didn't seem to get time to log on and write it down.

But - we finally made it, we are open for business - on time, not quite on budget. We put everything we had into it physically, financially - even down to using picture frames off our walls at home.

The week before we opened was hectic. I wanted to write on the Thursday night before we opened how it had been a time for unsung heroes, for people who put themselves out in order to help us to achieve our goals. Without their help we would not have managed and be a snivelling heap in a corner!

The Friday went well. Two of our local councillors cut the ribbon and presented prizes for our 'Design An Easter Egg Competition'. It was quite a busy day and we were relieved to have it under our belts. The weekend was quiet after that, but it gave us time to recoup and think about what to do next.

Now the centre is complete we can start to advertise. Rent-a-crowd came over the other day so we could take photos for advertising. The photos here are from that session. Watching Kev working has proved very popular. People seem to be very interested in how chocolate is made and they are genuinely amazed when they realise it is all done by hand.

The displays are all finished bar one. The process of making chocolate was photographed the night before the opening, printed and laminated on the morning of the opening, with people running up and down the corridor so I could put them up. In the end, they were in the wrong order - no surprise, but it's all sorted out now!

The shop is all kitted out now and full of chocolate. We had a shuffle round yesterday to rearrange what goes where. Today we had a visit from Trading Standards - Weights and Measures, which was very scary. They were nice people and we know what we need to do now. We have had an excellent response to our products and pricing which is reassuring. The marshmallows are proving particularly popular!

Some of the models felt a little self conscious having their photos taken, not that it shows here. The wedding cakes are getting lots of 'wows' when people go into the celebration room. Having premises will make a massive difference to our wedding work - we have taken a wedding order every day for the last three days. I don't think we can continue to take an order every day, but I would like to!

Ros is clearly a natural model demonstrating the delights of our chocolate bouquets. These are unusual, but again, seem to be getting a good reception.

I have saved the best photo for last. This really sums up what we are all about. If we can make someone smile, if we create an experience or a memory, then we have done our job well.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Sorry it's been so long!

Much of the work that has happened over the last couple of weeks has been itty bitty work that hasn't been photographable. We have also been getting ready for the Moray Wedding Exhibition which happened last Sunday. Photos of the event will be published soon at

It's now only 10 days until we open and there is still alot of work to do. Kev has finished panelling in the door and has painted it. He cut down a piece of glass from the dismantled unit which I have painted. Kev has now installed it over the door. It's a nice touch for the entrance.

What a nice photo of Kev!

Gillian has been over with us today and been a huge help. We sorted out the packaging area. We now have a packing table made with some work surface from the mart and wood from the reclamation yard. It is custom made for us, so anyone under 5 feet tall will be under the bench!

Everything now has a place and has been put away which makes stock control far easier. It means that the chocolates will be made in the production area, packed in the packaging area - all in the one space, and then through to the retail area.

Kev has cleaned down the production area ready to start making chocolates tomorrow. We have written a press release which will be put out tomorrow, both to local and national press. We open on Good Friday (10 days - aaaargh!), but we are holding a special open day for the press next Wednesday (even less time - double aaargh!)

This area is now complete and we have put a list together of what needs to be done over the next two weeks to make sure we are ready on time. Rebecka and George are off school for these two weeks so are being put to good use. They spent some time this afternoon planting flowers outside this afternoon. We'll finish off tomorrow and take a photo.

It still feels a bit of a building site, but we have made good progress today. Tomorrow brings new jobs and probably new challenges as well.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Firstly I would like to say a big congratulations to Emma and Chris who got married this afternoon. This is their cake which has rather a lot of marshmallows on it!

The front door is looking good. It now has handles and stops so it closes properly. The glass and woodwork needs completing, which should be done in the next week.

The shop is coming along well. Kev finished building the till counter and put the electrics in. We now have the till in place, the grinder for coffee beans and the credit card machine.

Yesterday saw the first chocolates made in the chocolate factory. Kev made some white chocolate and milk chocolate easter eggs. It was great to see this finally come together. I thought it might be interesting to show how the easter eggs are made. We use polycarbonate moulds which are cleaned and polished. Chocolate reflects the surface it sets on, so polished moulds make shiny chocolates.

The chocolate has to be tempered in order to set properly. This shows Kev filling the moulds with milk chocolate. Kev knocks out the air bubbles so the surface of the egg will be smooth.

The excess chocolate is then knocked out into the bowl. This leaves a layer of chocolate in the mould. The moulds are then left to set for about five minutes. The factory is a fairly constant 5 degrees (about the same as a fridge) which means chocolate sets quickly. The process is done again which makes for nice thick easter eggs.

We open in less than three weeks time!!!
I spent some time this afternoon putting stock on shelves. It made a real difference to the space, adding colour and really lifting the space.

We thought it might be a good idea to create a 'snag list'to make sure that all the little jobs get done. It's now a page and a half long!!! From Monday we plan to make in the morning and sort or build in the afternoon. In theory this means everything will get done on time. It's getting very exciting to walk through the spaces, still bouncing ideas around and developing new concepts. More changes next week....

Monday, 16 March 2009

Kev and Brian worked well on Saturday to build the frame for the new front door. It looks a bit strange here because the outside doors are closed. When we are open the outside doors will be propped open. Kev still has the strengtheners to put in and the cladding to fit. We are going to put glass in the top space. Between that and the glass in the door the main entrance area gets quite a lot of natural light.

The production area is getting more organised as time goes on. This is the biggest space we have ever had, and storage space too! We are very spoiled here - it's lovely to be able to have the space to get organised.

The shop unit that we bought but broke the glass in transit has become a wealth of recycleable material today. It weighed a ton and obviously made to last. There has been more than one occasion recently where Kev and I have gone to move the unit. Kev's end seems to move, but somehow my end doesn't. Funnily enough, this didn't happen when Kev and Brian moved it - I can't understand why!

The base is becoming the till counter. Kev has added legs to make it a reasonable height. Some of the boards and panels have been used to finish the front of the unit. The left-over work surface will be added tomorrow to finish off the top.

The four display cases fit very well in the end of the display area. Kev is going to tap in to the power supply behind the wall to illuminate the cabinets. After a dusting, these are now ready for me to dress. I have started to think about how I am going to put the displays together.

The drawers out of the shop unit have been removed. Here they will be used to display favours and ribbons. They need to have a coat of paint, but they should come up well. This leaves a big gap in the main shop area. Gillian suggested having our three little chocolate fountains on display - smarty pants! Great suggestion though, and this area will be set up for that - I think!

The glass hopefully can be cut down and used for over the front door, which doesn't really leave much of the unit left to use. We like to recycle as much as we can. I have always liked the idea that you can use everything on the pig except the oink! This is our approach to recycling - why buy new when you can make do!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Wow - it's Friday already - where did this week go! We were off on Tuesday due to other commitments. Kev would like me to point out that he painted all the white bits on Wednesday, but unfortunately they don't show up very well on a photograph - but I can vouch for the fact that he worked very hard and it has made a tremendous difference.

On Thursday Kev painted the rest of the floors. He was there well into the evening to get the work finished so it had a chance of drying overnight. The difference the colour makes is amazing. The space has really come together now. This is the display space. It's all very empty at the moment!

The space has started to flow as one connected area and I am really looking forward to dressing it next week. For me this week has been admin, admin and some more admin. I have to say a big thank you to the lovely lady I spoke to at the Council today. She managed to work out that we were actually able to get rates relief until April - how amazing is that - someone who isn't shouting for money!!!!

Here we are looking through the central area to the main entrance. The frame is going to be fitted in the next few weeks. This will change the space again. It's only two weeks until our wedding exhibition at Elgin Town Hall. Much of this week has been spent updating the website at The website is looking really good now and as an event it is starting to come together.

The Wedding Room will stay red and white. Hopefully it will be a romantic change from the rest of the building which is very functional. It's been a busy week, but I think the biggest changes from the outside looking in will happen next week when stock starts going on the shelves and the units are in place.

Monday, 9 March 2009

I spent some time this morning sorting out the Wedding Room. I have thought of several different variations of how to set it out. The table that we had bought for the packaging area was carried back through for in here. Last time Kev and I were carrying it we got a bit stuck because there was too much in the way. I started to get the giggles and then the phone rang. Kev was not amused! It was much easier today. The material is stapled on and I think it has quite a good look. The top tier is created using a coffee table with another length of material. All seven cakes are on here at the moment, with another table set up for birthday cakes, a strawberry tower and cupcake display (when I get round to making them!)

Kev did an absolutely sterling job painting everything else that was upright - so now everything is blue! It is just drying out, but there is a fab effect of blue and white - just like wedgewood. There is also an element of silver and grey. Hopefully it will be quite elegant when it is finished being dressed.

The floors need to be painted in the main area now - hopefully that can be done tomorrow depending on other appointments.

The work surface arrived late this afternoon so Kev and George came back after dinner to fit it. The photos were taken on Kev's phone so the images are not quite as clear as usual. The kitchen area is now complete - we will get a bin to go under the end of the work surface and after a clean up the production area will be ready for action.

Joshua thought it was all a bit too much, or perhaps this is his impersonation of little rabbit foo foo!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Firstly I would like to say congratulations to Stephen and Sarah who got married today. This is the first wedding cake to come from the new premises. I hope the day went well and that married life is everything you wish it to be.

Kev and George painted the display area today. The change is quite amazing. Kev also filled in the drains. We 'inherited' four drains in that space. These have been made redundant now so they are blocked off. When this has dried out the floor can be painted. At this stage the cabinets can be put into place and start to be filled up. George was a big help again today, and only ended up with a small amount of blue highlights in his hair!

Great job guys - well done!

Friday, 6 March 2009

Sorry this is late being posted. For some reason the website didn't want to speak to me last night. After half an hour of trying I gave up and went to bed!!!

We will have the production area finished on Monday so the first chocolates will be made here next week. It's only 5 weeks until we open. When you look round it seems that we still have so much to do, but we have already come so far when you look at those first photographs.

Kev set about the retail area. The walls have been painted twice and the floor has been painted. It is the same floor paint as in the production area and a rich blue on the walls. The paint was bought online for a fraction of the price of our local DIY store.

The units that we bought second hand from the mart are now set up and in place. We wanted to check out working space and how the area will 'flow' so the old chocolate unit and table have been put into situ to get a feel for things. The area seems quite balanced and it is easy to move freely around. It also means that when production starts next week we will have somewhere to put stock!!! How good does that sound!

One of the things that occured to me the other day was how much, or should that be how little we have spent on the transformation so far. If you read the trade magazines it will say how you have to spend £30,000 to refit a standard shop. I know that we have put a huge amount of time in and been very reliant on friends to help when things are too much for us to be able to manage, but we are nowhere near that mark. When we get to the launch I think I may publish how much things cost, if only to prove that thinking outside the box can make a difference. If you look at this project logically I don't think it would ever have happened. I also think we probably would have run away with the screaming abdabs!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A productive and somewhat frustrating day today. I have been trying to sort out utilities and bills. What is it with companies - you explain what you are trying to do and they are unable to offer any flexibility at all. It's like a computer says no moment! There was one exception where a utility company don't want any money because they don't know what our usage will be - what a refreshing change!

We bought an industrial mop and industrial floor cleaner and set about the wedding room today. The floor came up quite well. This is the original flooring and we didn't know if it would be recoverable. It isn't immaculate, but I think it was worth saving. It was an absolute delight to use a mop that was big enough for me. The last one we had was far too short and I nearly broke my back trying to mop the production area!!!

Having added the red yesterday, Kev suggested adding red to the corners so we added that and extra to the archway as well. We also have some fairy lights to decorate the archway with once the main area has been painted.

Kev set about the floor in the retail area getting this space ready to paint. Everything has been shifted across to the display area. Several items have been sent to the mart with more in Scot Ads and Ebay over the next couple of weeks - it's nearly rent day!!!!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Hi all - sorry for the interruption in service - having said we were back, Joshua became unwell and ended up in hospital with an ear infection. He is well again now and we are trying to catch up. Has anyone else noticed that it is March!!!! We open in April!!!!!! The rest of this week will be spent catching up!

We were out yesterday at The Craigmonie Hotel at a wedding fair. The cakes are back home now, but camping out in the production area while we work on the wedding room.

We have put netting and swags up to decorate the wedding room. The walls are not paintable so we felt this was an alternative approach. Kev put a baton around the top of the walls. The netting and swags have been attached to this baton. I think it looks quite good!

The archway into the wedding room has been decorted with netting and flowers. It shows a change from the main shop floor into the wedding space. The floor needs some intensive scrubbing to try and bring it back, but we think there is a decent floor under there somewhere! Hopefully this should be done tomorrow and we can move the cakes back in.

Kev has been working hard on the kitchen area and this is nearly completed. This should be completed by the end of the week with the hope to start making chocolates next week. The ovens are in and ready for action.