As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Entrepreneurship is taking the road less traveled and leaving footprints. Inside every crazy idea is a hint of genius – the trick is knowing what part is crazy and what part is genius.
For two decades, Chocolate Pizza Company was a gourmet chocolate gift business that focused on two core products – Chocolate Pizza and Peanut Butter Wings. These were great products, but there were only two varieties— with nuts and without—so when I became owner I made it a priority to expand the line.
But it’s how we diversified our business model, not just our product line, that led to growing our brand.
“Beyond the immediate short-term sales growth was a long-term investment in relationships that later matured into even bigger opportunities.”
In 2010, I was a 21-year-old owner of a small chocolate shop in a small town who was entering his senior year at Syracuse University with big plans for the business. I wanted to take the company into the wholesale market, but rather than start with the more expensive Chocolate Pizza line, I decided to go small: My idea was to create grab-and-go chocolate specialties that could sit at the checkout counter of any retailer and offer customers a surprisingly delicious snack at a modest price.
There was push-back on the idea with criticism that going small would diminish the brand and that chasing an impulse customer meant abandoning the gift buyer. I saw just the opposite. I saw more people exposed to our chocolate who would start with that small bite and end up interested in what else we offered. Our business model would expand to now include appealing snack items – that is, if we could find the right impulse product.
We did. We call it Chocolate Pizza Company’s Peanut Butter Sparkler – an 8-inch salted pretzel rod covered in peanut butter, dipped in rich milk chocolate and decorated with a splash of peanut butter candies and baking chips – and it was a hit as an up-scale snack. Packed in colorful displays of 22, we sold thousands to retailers of all sizes and venues.
The benefits from that one small item were game-changing to Chocolate Pizza Company but beyond the immediate short-term sales growth was a long-term investment in relationships that later matured into even bigger opportunities for growth.
For example, we just shipped an order for 31,000 Chocolate Pizzas to a major retailer with over 200 stores in 16 states. We never approached this company. We got the order because a buyer with that retailer had come over from another national chain that had bought our Sparklers. When her new employer wanted ideas for a unique holiday gift, she knew us and suggested our Chocolate Pizza.
Don’t be afraid to go in directions you haven’t yet been. You never know who will see your footprints and want to take your business to new heights.