We talk to James Hutchins owner of James Chocolates, Cocoa Republic and Chocolate Treat Club about creativity, innovation, and of course….chocolate.
Please explain who you are, what your business is, and what it does/aims to achieve?
We are chocolate creatives and manufacturers of award winning chocolates, known for providing innovative chocolate products and solutions for leading high street retailers including Waitrose, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason.
As well as the main James Chocolates brand, our new brands include Chocolate Treat Club – the UK’s first tailored chocolate subscription service – and our latest venture, Cocoa Republic -innovating in the chocolate bar market.
We also manufacture chocolate shells, shapes and components for the desserts industry. Our aim through all we do is to surprise, delight and bring joy through chocolate!
What time does your day usually start and end?
My day usually starts around 5.30 with a run / exercise class (need to stay trim with all the chocolate that comes with the job!) and finishes around 6-7.
What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?
I love lots of areas of my work including coming up with new ideas, winning big contracts, seeing staff develop and grow, and delighting customers.
What inspired you to start your business? (And what made you want to be your own boss?)
I was inspired to start my own business after finishing university and realising I wanted to create my own destiny, not follow someone else’s dream.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I’ve always loved food, cooking and being creative, but didn’t have any money or experience. I spotted the chocolate market had little innovation, so taught myself how to make chocolates, then went ahead and set up the business. I’m passionate about the creative and technical aspects of making chocolate. I think my science background may be to blame for this.
How did you fund your business?
To date, James Chocolates has been financed through traditional bank lending and peer to peer lending such as Funding Circle. Chocolate Treat Club however has huge scalable potential for growth. To grow this type of business quickly requires a different approach.
What has been the biggest challenge for your business?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the biggest challenge! There have been a lot of different challenges over the years. Probably the biggest one is being adaptable enough to deal with them all.
What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to growth for SMEs in the UK?
Raising finance is a big obstacle, although the options are much greater now.
Have you made any mistakes along the way and how did you overcome them/learn from them?
Not recognising a growth area of the business a few years back was a mistake– sometimes you need to step back from the business and look at the bigger picture. We were looking at new opportunities, but failed to spot something we were already doing that was growing.
What previous experiences have helped you in starting your business?
I had little prior work experience before starting my business, but studying science at University gave me some helpful skills – a scientifically enquiring mind, the ability to study, and to learn new things. I also attended a local (and probably long gone) starting your own business course that gave a good overview.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?
Stay adaptable and open to new ideas and change. Things rarely go exactly as planned!
Would you do anything differently if you could start again from scratch?
Lots! Hindsight is always 20/20. There are always things you could look back at and think you could have done better, but the important thing is to make the decisions, learn from any mistakes, and move on.
What do you do to relax away from the hustle and bustle of work?
I love being active and outside and spending time with my family. Mountains and beaches are my preferred places to escape and recharge – I’m a keen kitesurfer and paddleboarder, I love to run and mountain bike, and in winter to ski.
Do you manage to achieve a good work/life balance?
Sometimes. With your own business it can be 24/7 but ultimately you do get to choose.