29th November 2017
Founder: Chris Sibthorp & Natalie Sibthorp
“Taking the risk to move into new premises is incredibly intimidating when you don’t know what’s around the corner. You need to have your orders lined up for months to come, and for many businesses that just isn’t possible.” Co-founder of luxury chocolate company Éponine, Chris Sibthorp, sums up what weighs on the minds of thousands of UK home business owners when considering, ‘what next?’
Chris launched Éponine with his wife, Natalie, after they left university and chose to scratch their entrepreneurial itch rather than pursue careers related to their studies. They became self-taught chocolatiers and began to develop recipes and products in their home kitchen. “One day, we said to each other, ‘right, it’s time to take this seriously’ and we began to enter competitions, work on our packaging and set up at food markets.”
Since then, Éponine has won various awards, appeared at the BBC Good Food Show and developed a reputation for luxury chocolates, confectionery and patisserie. It achieved all this whilst operating out of the couple’s home, yet the prospect of moving into professional premises is never far from Chris’ thoughts.
“We decided to move out of our flat and into a rented house where we decked out the garage and converted it into a production space,” says Chris. “But the long-term goal is definitely a retail space. We sell a high-end product so we need to get people in and be able to communicate with the customer. A place where they can sample, hear about the chocolate’s provenance and have the experience you expect from shopping for luxury goods.”
While the opening of a retail store one day might signal Éponine’s sweet success, Chris is wary of the overheads that come with a dedicated space. “You have to guarantee, month in, month out that the overheads will be covered by the additional trade you generate.” It’s not just paying for the extra square footage that keeps him cautious, “Moving out can quickly lead to taking on more people and then you’re in a spider’s web of employment law and contracts, which can be very costly.”
The demands of the cocoa company have taken over the couple’s dining room as well as the kitchen. “It would be great to be able to separate work and home. That would certainly give us some balance back between the personal and professional.”
Looking ahead, Chris is upbeat about Éponine’s potential. “We’ve nailed the product, now we just need to get it into the right hands. I have no doubt we’ll continue to find buyers who want the product in large and regular orders. But until we are absolutely secure in our growth then you’ll be able to find us in our decked-out garage.” Nothing worse than biting off more than you can chew.