Starting an Online Retailer

Interview with The Chocolate Cake Club, Inc Founder Sue Kirchner

The Chocolate Cake Club sells products and unique gifts to busy parents through the company's online store. The business is based in Palatine, Illinois. We sat down with the founder, Sue Kirchner, to learn more about her venture.

Sue Kirchner opened The Chocolate Cake Club in order to help parents have more fun and relaxing moments with their kids.

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

The Chocolate Cake Club, Inc is the one-stop shopping site, the "go-to" source for parents, grandparents, and others looking for parenting tools and unique gifts.

We offer an array of quality products, organizers, seasonal, holiday, and specialty gifts, and items most parents don't even know about. Our goal is to make life easier for busy parents so they have more "Chocolate Cake Moments", when they are smiling, relaxing, and enjoying parenthood. Being a mom, I know that time and energy are at a premium. I knew parents did not have time to search for products that might make parenting challenges easier, or find gifts which stand out. So we want busy Moms to rely on us to find the products or gifts they need.

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

My education and background is in brand strategy and marketing communications. This is my third entrepreneurial venture. I founded a venture to assist U.S. businesses market their products more effectively in Latin America. When I had kids I did not care to travel to Latin America anymore. I also was a founder and managing partner of a brand consulting firm.

Where did you get the startup money?

The business is self-funded. I used the payout from closing the branding consulting business to launch the Chocolate Cake Club. During the first years of the business, I freelanced marketing strategy projects to bring some additional cash into the Chocolate Cake Club.

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

Many people buy their kids' gifts at large retailers like Target or Toys 'R Us, so we try to find a more unique gift selection that those big box retailers don't carry. Another way that we compete is that we go out of our way to find products that are being manufactured by fellow Mompreneurs. We love to support Moms who are running their own business and showcase their products on our site.

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

You know it takes a long time to get a business up and running and get traction. However, it is always disappointing to a Type-A personality like myself that it takes as long as it does. The other thing is that I need to outsource more with this business than with my other two service-based businesses. There is just so much to do and as a business owner you need to rely on others helping you.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Some days I wish I would have spent some time working for an online retail business before launching my own to avoid mistakes, but when you are passionate about a business idea, I also think you need to run with it while you have the energy and ideas in mind. I let the passion bring me to this point in my business and now I am getting serious about planning for the future and making tweaks to my business model. I also would have started my blog on day one, even if it didn't look anything like what I was imagining. I should have just started getting content out there to connect more with other busy moms.

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

My education and experience in brand strategy and marketing communications were a life-saver when I launched this venture nearly three years ago. I conducted focus groups with my target market, moms, who provided their opinions on the boutique concept and product categories. Then, I developed the website, product offerings, and key benefits based on those results. I use my copywriting and marketing positioning skills daily, from writing product descriptions that resonate with busy parents to writing press releases to now writing blog posts. I have to carve out time each day just to write. Also, being the Mom of two very active kids has helped me to really understand my target market.

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

Think Search Engine Optimization from day one. If you are launching an online business, you must be able and willing to write content daily, which will help you with SEO tactics. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't presume that someone you meet can't help you. I am still amazed at who knows who. Also, don't think you need to go it alone. Always be on the lookout for partnership opportunities that can help your business grow a little faster.

I am available for workshops and public speaking engagements to speak on entrepreneurship, staying organized, and parent-related topics.

That is great advice, Sue. I'll look for some Chocolate Cake moments in my own life!

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