Chocolate With Charm: Montezuma’s CEO Explains How to Make Service Sweet
Helen Pattinson is the owner and CEO of Montezuma’s – the rapidly growing British chocolatier’s that’s taking the sweet trade by storm.
Since the company’s inception in 2000, the brand has been providing the UK with a wide selection of white, dark and milk chocolate bars and truffles…all made with the finest organic ingredients and ethically sourced cocoa beans. There’s something to suit all tastes and occasions, and there’s even treats for non-dairy eaters too.
Together with her husband Simon, Helen has been heading up the team from their flagship store in Brighton, where the company very first started. Here, she tells us some her business secrets into what makes Montezuma’s thrive, and how it’s still going strong 15 years later…
What was the inspiration to start your own chocolate company?
Travelling to South America, discovering real chocolate and cocoa at a time when Thornton’s dominated the British high street.
Getting started in those early days must have been tough. What were some of the main challenges you had to face in getting your first Brighton store off the ground?
Finding the store in the first place was really hard, we pounded the streets of many towns looking for the perfect shop, and then wrote to all the tenants and landlords to ask if they would give us a chance. Eventually our Brighton landlord agreed to let us his shop but insisted we pay a rent guarantee and premium up front; we are still there 15 years later!
Persuading suppliers, banks and potential staff that we were serious was also hard at first – if you can’t actually see the bricks and mortar of a business, it’s difficult to believe it really exists!
What is it that makes Montezumas chocolate stand out from other brands? What do you guys do differently?
We make the best quality chocolate and aim to sell it at an affordable price. We love innovating with interesting ingredients like spices and essential oils and creating new product ranges. But most of all, we have lots of fun doing it which hopefully comes across to the consumer.
Your company upholds some strong ethics and values, such as maintaining sustainable growth and your Trading Fairly policy. Why do you think such things are important in business?
They are important in our business because they are important to us personally. It means a lot to us that we are creating a business which everyone enjoys dealing with, be it suppliers, customers or staff. In many larger corporations, this often gets lost amongst margins, profit and cost-cutting.
They have policies in place because they have to, not because they necessarily believe it’s the right thing to do. I know I would rather do business with someone who wants to do the right thing.
You speak of your value of ‘organic growth’. What exactly does this mean for you, and do you think its something all businesses should strive for?
Many of today’s entrepreneurial businesses get swallowed up in massive investment from private equity or company sale and while this is great for the founders financially, it often means the whole ethos of the business gets lost along the way.
To us, organic growth is all about seeking profitable growth. We want to grow as much as everyone but we always make sure this is not at the expense of profit. We are building strong foundations on which to create a business with a very long future.
Is it ever a challenge to uphold these ethics in your day-to-day manufacturing (particularly when faced with so many customers hungry for chocolate!)?
Not really! It’s a challenge sometimes to find ingredients which we are happy to use, but it’s always worth it.
How important is it, do you think, for businesses to stay true to their values even if there is a possibility of disappointing customers? (a problem with a valued supplier, for example).
We occasionally find we have to discontinue a product because we can’t source an ingredient ethically or that meets our standards, and of course there will always be customers whose favourite this is. But if we explain to them why we have had to do this, they always understand and we have such a large range that we can always find them another favourite!
You have a line on your website: “You can be sure every single one of our products has been made by us, so whether you want to thank us or blame us, you know who to talk to.”
Knowing who to talk to and how to reach them is no doubt imperative to good customer service. What else do you do to ensure the best service for customers?
For us, good customer service comes from within and we encourage everyone to think about how they would like to be dealt with, whether that’s on the phone, by email or face to face. So a simple greeting to every customer walking into the store is really important, but it’s just common courtesy too.
Honesty is also so important and helps to build trust, so we would never try and sell a product to a customer if we didn’t genuinely think they would love it.
What are some other boons/benefits of producing everything on your turf, with your own people?
I have a constant supply of amazing chocolate combinations arriving at my desk!
Finally, what is a piece of advice you would give to other entrepreneurs just starting out?
It always sounds blasé but it’s easy to talk about starting out on your own and never actually get around to it. So my advice is always – just go for it! We only get one shot at making life interesting and you never know until you try.