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How identifying a gap in the market has boosted a small business

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Identifying a gap in the market for a quality hot chocolate led to the creation of Sloane’s Hot Chocolate for business owner Brian Watt.

How did you start up?

In 2014 we saw an opening in the hot chocolate market for a product that actually tastes of chocolate, unlike a lot of the sugary powders from the big players. Sugar is cheaper than cocoa, so they use more sugar, whereas we use more cocoa.  


How has the business grown since then?

Our big growth areas are coffee shops, which are moving away from selling sugary chocolate powder. Once coffee shop owners try Sloane’s they end up recommending it to their friends. This year, Heston Blumenthal’s Perfectionist Café started serving our Rich Dark product, which is probably the best recommendation you can get. We also export – we are listed in 45 premium stores in Dubai, and will launch soon in 25 premium stores in Texas.

Can you run me through a typical day?

I wake around 6am and take the dog down the park, spend 15 minutes in the home gym and then drive or cycle to work. I have a short Ecuador 70%, a drinking chocolate that is a bit like an espresso. Then I check the emails, look at the orders and make sure yesterday’s deliveries were made and invoices sent out. I also like to get out to visit coffee shops or stores when I can. I usually finish around 6pm and get home for dinner with the family.


What’s been the highlight for your business so far?

When we won The Sunday Telegraph’s Best Hot Chocolate Award. It asked for a sample and we never heard anything, but when we got into work on Monday our internet sales had gone ballistic.

What’s the strangest request you’ve had from a customer?

We worked with the UAE Embassy on its Christmas hamper. I was invited to meet the ambassador, who loved our products and asked if he could come to our studio to try different ideas. We ended up with His Excellency doing product development with us on different hot chocolates.

What one thing couldn’t your business function without?

Our team (Julio, Mariana, John, Jamie and I) making things happen.

What’s the best thing about working for yourself? 

I love getting on with making things happen rather having hours of planning meetings. 

And the hardest part? 

Juggling the various roles. I am Managing Director, HR Director and Finance Director while managing national accounts.



What do you wish you’d known when you first started out? 

How big the opportunity is in coffee shops, and how they are so good at coming up with new ways to serve it. One outlet, Piezano’s, does it so well that a customer asks for her ‘cup of love’.  
  
If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be? 

We did premium pralines, which were very labour-intensive. I delisted them after two years.

How does your FSB membership help? 

The legal helpline has been invaluable. It is a fast service, and the team gives good practical support. 

Where will the business be in five years’ time? 

We want to be the number one premium hot chocolate. 



What do you do outside work? 

I follow Fulham in football and London Scottish in rugby. I also play football during the week and golf at the weekend. My wife and I love going to the theatre, but when I am up in town I try to stop myself visiting coffee shops to ask what hot chocolate they serve.