Marilyn Jones explains how her artisan chocolate cake business, the Chocci Cake Company, got off the ground with help from Finance Wales.
What’s your background, have you been a chocolatier for a long time?
No, not at all. I worked in Portugal for years as a 3D artist doing pictures for villas and interiors and I was asked to come back for 3 months to look after my grandchild and I’m still here. I knew that if I was to stay, I’d have to retrain. So I checked to see what was trending and what I could make some money out of and still use some of my skills. And it was chocolate. Whilst I was in Portugal, I also cooked for private parties. What I did was literally retrain myself in chocolate art and found colouring to make my creations come to life.
Did you self-train?
Yes. I really had to train myself hard, seven days a week, for over a year so I could be sure I could make money from this. I made it my job to retrain, day after day learning everything I needed off YouTube. All the technical stuff was there – an apprenticeship on YouTube. Yes, I had the experience of working with textures and materials as an artist but the technical, chocolatey stuff I learnt from YouTube.
What was the attraction of Tredegar House, Newport as a base?
Well, I’m from the area and my family are there but once I retrained, I had to find somewhere to store and sell the chocolate! So I came down to Tredegar House and was lucky enough to get a unit. The High Street would have cost a fortune and I love it here so I’m saving money and enjoy the location.
What’s your customer base?
It’s a mixture of corporate and general public. There are a lot of companies in and around Tredegar House that I can tap into – a few weeks ago I did a four tier cake for Go Compare which was fantastic for me. So the corporate side is great. But I’ve also got the footfall of people visiting the National Trust property, many of whom come from around the country.
What support did Finance Wales supply?
They were really good. I knew I had a great product but wondered where I was going to go from there. My accountant referred me on to their contact at Finance Wales to have an investment meeting. They talked me through the Micro Loans scheme, what they could offer me, how they could help and what the costs were. They really brought me to life as I’d been wondering how to push forward.
What kind of ‘pushing forward’ were you looking?
Firstly, I needed premises. I needed somewhere to store all the chocolate and be able increase how much I made. And then I needed to be able to transport it all so I needed a van. And of course I needed to buy lots more chocolate and everything that goes with it. But my cashflow wouldn’t allow it.
Was the process straight-forward?
Way more straight-forward than I imagined. You think, gosh, what will I have to say, what will I have to do and as creative people we find it really hard where paperwork and things like that are concerned but they made it so straight-forward. They’re not silly and won’t throw their money around but if you believe in your product and people can feel your passion, it goes a long way. Obviously t’s need to be crossed but I found it quite an easy process in the end despite being apprehensive initially.
How much did you have to borrow?
£20,000 and the rates were lower than commercial loans so they were very fair.
What other help did Finance Wales offer?
They were always helpful and regularly stayed in touch but I knew the direction I wanted to take so they let me get on with it to be honest.
What are your growth plans?
At the moment I just want to grow it organically. I’ve only been at Tredegar House a few months and I’ve had such a great response. The next step is take on staff in the New Year and train them up but I don’t want to grow too quickly and stick my neck out. Down the line I’d like to franchise the business as it’s so unique. You could have little local shops just like mine – I’d like that.
“Marilyn is a talented chocolatier providing a great range of unique chocolate products in south Wales. We were happy to back her with a £20,000 loan to support the opening of the first Chocci Cake Company shop in the grounds of Tredegar House in Newport. The shop will complement her successful online business opening up new opportunities.” I worked closely with Marilyn to guide her through the process of borrowing as a business for the first time. Being an experienced lender, it it important that we make this as easy as possible by providing the help and support. If you're interested in a loan or other investment, please get in touch.
"We offer flexible finance to Welsh businesses and funding goes from £1k to £3m per round. We work with all stages of business including start-ups, established businesses and those looking at succession."
Alyson Macnamara, Investment Executive, Finance Wales Micro Loan team