We talked to Erin Andrews of indi chocolate about making bean to bar chocolate during the pandemic.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Erin Andrews: The most important thing is that everyone is healthy, including our indi chocolate team. For this, we are extremely thankful.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded indi chocolate.
Erin Andrews: I may have one of the more unusual entrepreneurship paths, especially how I started my chocolate company without chocolate.
After university, I worked for a financial services company and learned a lot about business processes and controls. I went on to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers and utilized the business process and controls knowledge to help Fortune 50 companies implement and manage enterprise-wide IT solutions, including the first FDA validated enterprise-wide IT solution. While at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I also became a CPA due to the encouragement of the senior partner in my office.
I took 5 1/2 years out of the workforce to spend time raising my family before starting my first chocolate company in the country of Belize. I found my passion working with Mayan cacao farmers in Belize and making bean to bar chocolate, but I needed something closer to home in Seattle.
Two years after starting my first chocolate company in Belize, I knew I wanted to start a local chocolate company in Seattle. I was developing plans to start the next company when my youngest daughter had a bad reaction to a body care product.
With my experience making chocolate in Belize, I knew that cocoa butter was a delightful, edible, and safe ingredient in body care, so I set out to make something safe for her sensitive skin that she would both love and use frequently. I started making lotions and lip balms in my home kitchen. Soon I had people asking if they could buy my daughter’s lotion and lip balms or if I would make one for them.
Because there was a demand for the lotion and lip balm, I was already making for my daughters. I started indi chocolate (named after my oldest daughter, Indi) with cocoa butter based body care instead of chocolate. The same philosophy of using the fewest and best ingredients in our body care permeates everything we make at indi chocolate, including making our own chocolate from beans I source around the world.
How does indi chocolate innovate?
Erin Andrews: indi chocolate started with the need to help my daughter’s sensitive skin with safe, high-quality ingredients. We have continued to innovate to become the chocolate company I dreamed about, and we collaborate with other small businesses to create unique cacao-based products and experiences. My travels sourcing cacao around the world provide a lot of inspiration for new products and flavors. Many of our best ideas and innovation have come from the indi chocolate team, as well as our customers. Cacao and chocolate can be enjoyed in many different ways, and researching new ways to fall in love with chocolate all over again is a fun and tasty experience.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Erin Andrews: Seattle has been hit early and hard by COVID-19. The protests in Seattle have also negatively impacted downtown business in the time of year when we would usually see a large amount of foot traffic sales and tourism dollars.
Early on, indi chocolate took measures to keep our team members and customers safe. My sourcing trips to the Solomon Islands and Hawaii were canceled early due to COVID-19. As we have learned more, the number of steps and precautions for everyone’s safety has increased. We are very thankful that everyone has been healthy.
With lower foot traffic sales, we added an online order ahead menu, implemented curbside pickup options, and began working on local delivery solutions.
We have been extremely grateful to our community and those that have actively taken steps to support our small, independent business. We love working with partners like Spend Like it Matters and the Intentionalist that helps consumers make purchases from small businesses like indi chocolate. We’ve had collaborations that help frontline health workers get free indi chocolate.
Our gift card sales have gone up, and we’ve added more care package options for self-care and gifting. We’ve also seen an uptick in our chocolate soap sales to make all that handwashing more enjoyable.
We’ve moved to online classes and events, including our Chocolate Making Masterclass that includes the machine and ingredients to make your chocolate, as well as the online live class to get you started making your first batch of chocolate and answer your questions.
We’ve always enjoyed team-building activities and now have fun online events too.
As I like to say, if it weren’t for our customers, we wouldn’t be a business. We are extremely thankful to the customers that support our business.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Erin Andrews: I had to make the difficult decision to reduce our team size when COVID-19 initially struck the Seattle area. This is especially hard when you have great people. Thankfully, with our customers’ support, we were able to bring back our team members.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and indi chocolate in the future?
Erin Andrews: COVID-19 has been a learning experience for everyone, and I’m no exception. Learning how to best run a business when the landscape keeps shifting is stressful. I’ve been making more time for self-care and taking a big mug full of one of our teas into the bath for some me time. I visualize washing away that stress with one of our soaps. After a good soak, I pamper myself with our lotion. It’s one of the ways I surround myself inside and out with indi chocolate to get more centered and experience less anxiety.
To protect the business now and in the future, we are keeping a tight hold on cash flow.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Erin Andrews: The artisan bean to bar chocolate making community is extremely welcoming and open.
People often ask me why I sell chocolate-making machines to my “competitors.” As more people understand great-tasting, sustainable chocolate, the consumer demand increases, and my “competitors” help us all increase this demand.
In fact, I just invited another small bean to bar chocolate makers to join me in a case going in front of the United States Supreme Court to demand that all chocolate sold in the US be free of child slavery.
My goal is to create a lot of sustainable chocolate for consumers to choose from and eat. We all deserve great, sustainable chocolate.
Your final thoughts?
Erin Andrews: I am on the board of directors for Community Carrot in Seattle, which works to create and support diverse, values-driven young entrepreneurs. I tell anyone starting a business that will take an extraordinary amount of hard work to launch and sustain your business. Create your business based on something you are passionate about. Find a way to help others. Build something you can be proud of.
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