Starting a Chocolate Company

Interview with Art By Chocolate Founder Lee Reizian Holmes

If you've always wanted to start a candy company, you'll enjoy hearing about how Lee Reizian Holmes started her chocolates company, Art by Chocolate.

Starting a chocolate company sounds like a sweet way to make a living.

We asked Lee Reizian Holmes, founder of Art by Chocolate, to tell us about her entrepreneurial experience.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

The name of my company is Art By Chocolate LLC, and we are located in Washington, DC.

We create chocolate floral confections. We create fabulous flowers, leaves and mini flowers completely out of gourmet chocolate. Our three product lines are: LolliChocs (flowers on stems), Luscious Leaves and Precious Petals.

I am the artist and chocolatier behind Art By Chocolate and I hand-render all of the products and creates customized color palettes for my clients. We do arrangements, bouquets and favors for almost any occasion; we are a preferred vendor through Bloomingdale's Wedding Registry in Chevy Chase, MD and we have begun working with various chefs at top restaurants and function venues.

Our niche is really that we can create not only a great and unique product; but that we can provide additional branding or color personalization because we approach our business from an artist's point of view. We are also a value-added product. Sending live flowers to someone is wonderful; but when you send chocolate flowers, you spend the same amount of money for something that will last a lot longer and is edible! Our clients LOVE this aspect of what we do. No one wants to spend a lot of money on something that will just die in a week or get left behind at a hotel. LolliChocs can travel with you!

We also sell into a select number of retail specialty shops in VA, MD, DC, and NC. We work with event planners and individual clients. We ship all over the continental U.S.

When did you start the business?

We formed the LLC in December of 2007 and it's really taken off.

What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?

I've worked as a commercial producer for a large Ad Agency in NYC for quite a while; moved to DC when I got married, had a child and was searching for my next adventure.

I started painting using acrylics and realized that chocolate and acrylics had a lot in common: both blend well and dry fast. I was making some chocolate lollipops for my daughter's school fair and started messing around with colors and using a paintbrush to paint the chocolate—the result was the inspiration that lead to the creation of LolliChocs.

Luscious Leaves and Precious Petals were a logical progression. I feel incredibly lucky every day that I get to work as an artist and with chocolate as my medium—I mean, really, what could be better?

Where did you get the startup money?

I had some money in a mutual fund and I took $5,000, and set up my business. This included applying for two trademarks (one of which recently got approved and the other is pending), setting up the LLC, designing a website, business insurance, registering the corporation and buying materials...I am still working within that initial investment and have done well enough that I am able to continue without outside funding (so far),

Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?

You know, I suppose anyone doing anything interesting in chocolate could be considered a competitor, but I don't have anyone in my area doing anything remotely like I am doing which is why the reception of my company has been so overwhelmingly positive.

How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?

I'm much more emotionally attached to it than I ever realized possible. Definitely my baby. Of course, this protective attitude has enabled me to toss off any personal shyness and in the spirit of 'building the baby', I have become rather shameless at making phone calls and getting business.

I love the people I meet and the work is fun and creative and challenging and people see my products as something they are willing to pay for and they love it.

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

I have listened to what clients and retailers and chefs are really telling me about what types of products they like the best and what they need for their clientele. I have talked to anyone I can think of that is in a business that could be a cross-branding situation or who could use my products and I've done whatever it takes to deliver and show that I have credibility. I found that people are willing to share their opinions and wishes quite easily and I've asked questions and learned a lot. I've taken input and filtered it to where it would benefit my company and put it into play.

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

Make sure you use the finest ingredients. Make sure you can deliver a great product. Be organized with your thoughts and tend to the details. Have a vision; but don't be stubborn. Take it one day at a time and don't get impatient with the process.

That's great advice, Lee. Thanks so much for sharing your entrepreneurial experience with us, and good luck in growing your business.

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