William Flew on Chocolate Interest
April 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
In an era of unfathomable financial instruments, Angus Thirlwell’s idea was beguilingly, and tastily, simple. Borrow money from your customers and pay them interest in chocolate.
Now the proceeds of Hotel Chocolat’s “chocolate bond” are being put to use. Mr Thirlwell told The Times that the company aims to open ten new stores this year, which would give the premium chocolatier a total of 60.
The £3.7 million raised from the members of its Chocolate Tasting Club has also been put to use in building an eco-tourism resort at its cocoa plantation in Saint Lucia in the Caribbean.
“We said: ‘Loan us £2,000 or £4,000. We will put the money to good use. Here are the projects we would like to do. All of your tasting boxes will be free — call that interest.’ It was a simple idea and they loved it,” Mr Thirlwell said, adding that the company, which sells through John Lewis department stores as well as its own shops, was hoping to capitalise on the economic pessimism and the rising number of vacant shops on the high street.
“Conditions at the moment are interesting because, in tough times like these, the difference between good businesses and strong brands and the others is exacerbated,” he said. “For us, it’s a time to really stretch away. The property market is still soft, which means we can find good properties that aren’t being chased by too many private equity-backed retailers with money to burn.” Like-for-like sales have remained positive this year at Hotel Chocolat, despite faltering economic confidence and declining disposable incomes. Mr Thirlwell said the company was hoping to open its first stores in Scotland and Wales, but that it will resist the temptation to over-extend. “We don’t want to be ubiquitous. The paradox of a luxury brand is you have to restrict access to it to maintain the aspirational value of it. So we’re very careful about access points that are available to get Hotel Chocolat products. That’s going to continue.
“Although we have grown quite rapidly, we could have grown even more quickly if we had said yes to the supermarkets and the service stations and all those people banging on our doors. “