The story of the blacksmith and the chocolatier

I’m a chocolatier and my hubby, Jo is a blacksmith.  We offer experiences with molten metal and chocolate, but not at the same time!

It’s our 20th wedding anniversary this year and it’s been a roller-coaster of a ride at times, but this is how we came to offer blacksmith experience days and chocolate-making workshops respectively to our customers in Hertfordshire and beyond.

Jo has been a blacksmith since leaving school, and until about three of years ago, purely concentrated on supplying ornamental and architectural metalwork to commission. Inspired by my chocolate workshops, he decided to start offering half and one day courses for the ‘budding blacksmith’ from his forge in Letchworth Garden City.

“I love teaching people to work with metal. To me it’s so important to ‘make things’. To have something tangible that you have designed and created is very satisfying way of earning a living – many people’s jobs do not have that element anymore – and people love coming to make something of their own. Everyone goes home with at least one piece they have made themselves. There is no experience necessary, anyone can have a go.’

Jo ‘making something’ at the Anvil!

At 47 Jo was diagnosed with testicular cancer – with three children aged 11, nine and five at the time, it was a very tough time for us all.  Jo was fit, healthy and working hard on his business and it rocked our world for him to be given a cancer diagnosis.

“After surgery, I had intensive chemotherapy treatment, which involved staying in hospital for five days at a time, as well as regular day visits between hospital stays. Friends and family rallied round to help with the childcare and Dawn was a fantastic support, sitting by my hospital bed for hours at a time, just keeping me company and being there for me.’

“Although the whole experience was extremely scary and tough, it really made me focus on what was important in my life. I already loved my job so I was doing what I wanted at work. I’m very lucky to have a loving and supportive family and realised how important it was to spend quality time with them whenever possible. It was definitely a tough time for my business, inevitably I had to turn down jobs, as I was unable to work for some months. As I came back to the fold, the recession really started to take hold, and it was touch and go at times as to whether it was viable to keep the business running. I’m thankful to have some very loyal customers.’

“Now things are looking much more positive, with more confidence in the economy, more jobs are coming in and the blacksmith courses are a great added bonus to my business and really starting to take off.’

“Life can be very short, and you just don’t know what’s in store for you so I strongly believe it’s so important to do what you love, and love what you do. Luckily I’ve now survived over five years since treatment and the prognosis is very good.”

I set up my chocolate workshop business from scratch in 2009 from the summerhouse at the end of our garden in Hitchin.

Like many mums, I’d taken lots of part-time roles to fit around the needs of my family, often under-selling my skills to get the flexible element of reduced hours. As many mums will know – however part-time the role, it’s still a constant juggle, especially when the children are poorly. I didn’t even factor into the equation that my husband might be the one who was seriously poorly and for so long. Just a few months prior to Jo’s health scare, my Dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer. At times I was trying to fit in hospital visits and appointments for both of them. Having my Dad and husband undergoing treatment at the same time, and trying to be there for the children was a huge emotional and physical challenge. It really made me think long and hard about what I wanted for me and my family going forward.

I had a dream to be my own boss and run some form of workshop business from our summerhouse. I didn’t want to run off to an office anymore, I wanted to do something I totally loved and that would give me flexibility for family life. I racked my brains and in the end I just decided that as I love chocolate and people, I would put the two together. I sat down and wrote a business plan of my dream business – The Melting Pot, offering chocolate workshops for children, adults and teams!

I thought it might remain a dream until I was made redundant in the June of 2009 and I said to myself ‘it’s now or never’ despite it being the height of the recession I went for it! Jo and I worked really hard that summer to have the summerhouse revamped and up and running, I completed my training and launched in September of that year.

Almost six years later, I’m still here and going strong – there have been some trials and tribulations along the way, not least of which was finding a malignant melanoma on my back in the summer of 2012. I have very fair skin and have been very careful in the sun for many years; I’m always the palest person at the end of the summer. I did however get burnt on a regular basis when I was very young, as there wasn’t the knowledge we have today about being careful. I drive my children mad about putting on enough sun lotion and not getting burnt, and here I was the person who always sits under the tree with a diagnosis of skin cancer – it seemed rather unjust after how careful I’d been.

We lost a friend to skin cancer only a couple of years previously. I was extremely worried and frightened – I knew how serious it was.

I had the mole removed and a wide excision (they take a wider area of skin around where the mole originally was). It was a small procedure, carried out on me as an outpatient, and I just had a very short time off of work while it healed. No further treatment was prescribed, so thankfully I didn’t have to suffer the same arduous journey as Jo with any chemo or radiotherapy treatment. I’m under surveillance and have check ups every three months at present. I was extremely lucky that the melanoma was incredibly thin and my prognosis is also very positive and encouraging.

Like Jo, I had time to reflect and work out what was most important to me too. Life-threatening illnesses really make you take stock of everything. I was grateful to know that I was pretty much where I wanted to be.

Each running our own businesses has meant we were able to share childcare between us, and take off for long family holidays during the summer (with our trusty tent)! Quality family time was one of the main reasons for choosing to run my own business. We’ve managed some three and four week adventures around Europe, and as many short-breaks as we can fit in. The added bonus has been how much fun it has been, doing something I love and stamping my own personality on everything I do. My own personal journey with the business has been beyond anything I could have imagined.

choctreats

Yum!

As well as running the workshops, I now speak regularly to businesses on creating ‘sticky customers’ – how if we are fantastic at creating the best possible customer experiences, our customers will stick around (although of course I cover my customers in a little chocolate to make them genuinely sticky). I’m in the process of writing my first book “12 Steps to Getting Sticky Customers”. I’ve been featured in The Sun, and The Independent, spoken on BBC local radio and appeared on TV. I could not have imagined such rewarding times from sitting down and thinking about my dream business.

I’m really excited about the next phase for The Melting Pot, as I launch my first ever chocolate business opportunity! I’ve created a ‘business in a chocolate box’ so others can build their own fun and exciting chocolate workshop businesses around the Country. I love encouraging others to live their dream lives too – so by packaging up all I have learned in running my business, providing training and ongoing support – I hope to enable others to enjoy their work as much as I do.  I’ve written a free e-book about the amazing opportunities that working with chocolate can bring!

I proud I can now say that I am an ‘award-winning business’, having picked up Customer Service and Entrepreneur of the Year awards for the work I’ve done on creating memorable experiences at my workshops and devising a supportive and accessible chocolate business opportunity.

Having the support of each other through these ‘ordeals’ has been fantastic and I’d say has strengthened our relationship no end. We both now completely understand the fears and irrational thoughts that being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness can bring and we totally appreciate the precarious nature of life.  We found it really helped to understand what was most important  for us, and to try and live as close to that ideal as we can.

Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about CREATING yourself – George Bernard Shaw 

Here’s to the next chapter……

How do you treat the hired help?

There’s much focus on giving our customers the best possible experience and getting fabulous at customer service, and rightly so – it’s increasingly important in this day of gaining any slight competitive edge to stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons.  We need to build fantastic relationships with customers and potential customers so they stay with us, become loyal and buy again (and again).  If you don’t think you are good enough at this aspect, follow this link for more information on our ‘getting sticky customers’ workshop.

So let’s assume that we are feeling OK about our customer service, we are pretty good at treating most of our good customers well, retention rates are not too bad, so fairly happy days (always room for improvement, but that’s another story).

waiterSo what about the people we hire in to help?

Yes, we’re paying our hard-earned money for them to do a job for us, and being as they are the experts, they can get on with the job they have been paid to do with little input from us (hopefully if we have briefed them sufficiently and done our homework on getting the right person for the job).  So now the boot is on the other foot and we are the customer – and our attitude has changed.  We may now think that we have no customer service to worry about and can act quite differently?

Here’s the thing – your hired help may well be a potential customer, and certainly s/he will have friends, family and colleagues that are potential customers.  Shoddy treatment of hired help says a lot about you and your company, and that experience will be reported to the wider world.  Just because you are paying their bill, you still wish to greet them warmly, give them a cuppa, make necessary introductions, ensure they have everything they need from you to do the job efficiently, so they leave with a positive impression of your organisation and staff.

If your hired help leaves with the best impression, they might just become another member of your sales team and be recommending your great outfit to the perfect client – we love a bit of word of mouth marketing, and you just never know where it might come from!  Treat everyone with the same level of quality service and you increase your chances of it being ANYONE who has dealings with you and your company!

Do ask them too – ask them how it was dealing with your company, did they get everything they needed from you to do their job properly (so you learn and next time you are even more efficient and organised when you need to hire in similar help again).  If you’ve been delighted with their service, offer to tell your contacts about them.  It’s also OK to ask them to spread the good word about what you do – give them leaflets, cards, special offers to give to their contacts if you leave on good terms (and have offered to reciprocate) you know there will be some great endorsement on offer for both sides.

Lady of the house: “Sheldon, I want you to stand at the front door and call the guests’ names as they arrive.”

Sheldon: “Very well, madam. I’ve been wanting to do that for years.”

(with thanks to the Butlers Guild)

 

 

 

 

Mind your manners!

I met with an interesting lady this week – her business is about promoting good food, cooking and eating as well as good table manners ‘Cookery/Eatery’ – a life skill that so many sadly lack!

It got me thinking about food and doing business….

Networking Nightmares

How many times has your stomach sunk when you saw the large crusty bap filled with chewy bacon and dribbly fried egg at yet another breakfast networking event, knowing that for best results you will now need to go hungry!  The fact that you got up at 5am to get there means you might faint if you don’t tackle the bap any minute now, resulting in just a few lip-twisting, mouth-wiping embarrassing encounters where you almost wished you’d just stayed at home.

What are the caterers thinking?

egg_on_faceYes we all love a big fat breakfast bap in the comfort of our own home, but trying to sell our latest ‘thing’ with egg on our face is not a good look!  Can’t we have dainty bite-sized eats that won’t dribble or flake all over us please while pitching our must-have product 🙂

Are you putting people off?

And don’t get me started on MANNERS!  Manners maketh man (or woman) – bet you were told that as a kid by your gran?  Why then are so many so bad at even the basics?  Here are the my top three worst offenders  – (please feel free to add to the list):

  1. Eating with mouth open (yuk)
  2. Talking with mouth full – mind the fall out from this one
  3. Making any noises when eating, apart from an appreciative ‘Mmmm’ all other noises especially ‘smacking of lips’ are a definite no-no!

How many times have you gone to a business lunch/dinner and been appalled at the level of table manners (or lack of) on display.  Would you want to do business with someone who doesn’t respect and appreciate how to behave at the table?

So in the spirit of providing fantastic customer experiences please lovely people, don’t forget to ‘mind your manners’ next time you are eating with someone, especially if you wish to do a bit of business with them!

 

 

 

People, personalities and chocolate!

I run chocolate workshops for adults, children and teams through my business, The Melting Pot.

The dynamics of a group on a workshop are always fascinating to me. I gather a group together and teach them how to make chocolates, but it’s always so much more complicated than just doing your thing!

I have to be quick to work out the personality types within a particular group  and ensure each receives the best possible experience.  Although this comes fairly naturally to me,  it’s my mission to make everyone comfortable, happy and enjoy their workshop as much as possible.

The noisy ones love a bit of banter, and I’m happy to quip away with them, but they might need toning down if they get a little over excited – especially with quiet ones in the room, who can easily get drowned out.

I make a point of going up to quieter ones and speaking to them individually, ensuring I give them just as much attention as others who demand it.  In this way, I’m talking to the quiet ones in the way that makes them feel more comfortable in a group situation.

I often get people who are timid, shy and lacking in confidence – I make it my mission to praise, encourage and support their efforts and to see them blossom and be proud of what they have made is a real boost.  A couple of hours of chocolate therapy, delivered in the right way, does wonders for anyone!

I always ask for feedback, and I analyse every workshop to tweak and hone and continually improve experiences – the buzz I get from giving people a good time is why I just love what I do!  When people leave my premises, with bags full of chocolates and a great big smile on their face, I’ve achieved my mission!  I have 100’s of testimonials to back up my claims here, but I feel if you make other people’s enjoyment your absolute priority, then tailor what you are offering to suit every person, you are bound to get some great praise as well as lots of word of mouth recommendations along the way!  Happy days!

Dawn Fry 

best-customer-service-2Dawn started The Melting Pot from the summerhouse at the end of her garden in Hitchin in 2009. Despite the family name there is no family history of working with chocolate – Dawn just loved chocolate and people and decided to put the two together!

Dawn has developed a ‘WOW workout programme’ working with companies to improve their customer experience offering and to help motivate and empower customer-facing teams! She is currently writing her first book – ‘12 Steps to Getting Sticky Customers’ (that will include many more tales from the chocolate tank)!  She has recently been nominated for a Customer Service Award at the National Entrepreneurs Convention.

The experience theme runs in the family as Dawn is married to blacksmith Jo Fry, who runs ‘Be a Blacksmith for a Day’ courses from his forge at Standalone Farm in Letchworth.

 

 

Are you charitable enough – here’s 7 reasons why you should be!

I’m writing this blog after hosting a great charity event yesterday – and after calming down from the buzz, why was the event so much more than the funds that we raised for the charity?

1. The charity event was a perfect fit for my (chocolate) business.  Easy to keep everything relevant and ‘on-brand’ for any on-going business opportunities!

2. It’s an important part of my ethics/values to ‘give back’ in some way.  By demonstrating publicly you are giving your time and efforts to charitable causes, others will understand and respect your values too.

3. It was great in terms of relationship building with my current audience – a way to keep in touch and make some noise about something a little different to the norm and all for a great cause.

4. On the back of the event, I was able to gain valuable PR, reach out to celebrities endorsing the charity’s activities, and create momentum on social media channels.

5. I gained new contacts, followers and ‘likers’ – growing my audience and potential customers for future non-charitable events.

6. The event itself was fun, well-attended and enjoyed by all – it’s so good to meet people face-to-face and thank them for their support now and again.

7. It left me feeling exhausted, happy and fulfilled – it’s a good feeling doing stuff for others less fortunate than yourself from time to time!

I can’t wait to sign up and do it all again next year –  The Big Chocolate Tea Party in aid of The Sick Children’s Trust

with thanks to Sharon Cooper Photography