Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tip #52: Celebrate and Remember 2012


A couple weeks ago we reminded you of the importance of setting goals for the coming year. Today, we’re reminding you to take time to celebrate and remember 2012.

Was 2012 a standout year for you and your business? Take time to celebrate with your employees and your family!  Take a step back from running the business to thank your staff by taking them out to lunch or have a family fun night out. Get others involved and have staff name their favorite part of 2012 or a personal celebration from the year.   

It’s also important to take time to acknowledge and remember any difficulties or challenges from 2012. Acknowledging what you've learned from those difficulties along the way and giving your staff the opportunity to acknowledge those challenges ensures they weren't in vain.

Now go make your celebration plans!

What are we celebrating here at Retail Confectioners International? An entire year of tips! That’s right, this week marks Tip #52, the final tip for the year 2012! Stay tuned for another great year of tips for retail chocolate and candy makers in 2013!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tip #51: Focus on a Winter Theme


We have just a week until Christmas so this week’s tip is to actually stop making Christmas-themed products and packages. I know, it sounds crazy, but we promise it makes sense. If you instead focus these next few days on putting together winter-themed items (think snowmen, snowflakes, etc.), then your items will still be applicable gifts after the holidays and into the New Year.

Below find some snowman-themed ideas we found on Pinterest to get your creative juices started. Be sure to share any winter themed product ideas in the comments below.

Merry Christmas!


Source: snackpicks.com via Joy on Pinterest







Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tip #50: Swab Test Your Production Area in Busy Times



Most candy makers would probably agree it’s easier to keep a super-clean facility when the bows and boxes aren’t flying during the holiday season. But how is your staff doing with keeping the cleaning schedule when there seems to be no extra time in the day?

One way to stay on top of this is to test the cleanliness of your facility on a regular basis. We don’t mean a visual test where you look to see if the area appears clean but an actual scientific test for allergens, sanitation, etc.

You can buy sample test kits and do an on-site test of a variety of areas in your production zone. During one of our recent Kettle Talk panel forums, a member recommended buying sample test kits from Neogen. Using their food allergen tests you can do on-site tests to detect the target allergen (see list of allergens here) in ingredients, liquids, clean-in-place rinses, finished foods, and on environmental surfaces. They also have sanitation tests to detect the amount of food residue and other organic matter, such as bacteria, yeast and mold, that may remain after cleaning.

Please note this is just one company that was recommended from one member to another at our event and others are likely available to you by searching online. If you also want to send swabs off to a lab to be thoroughly tested, Silliker Labs, who presented at the 2012 RCI Spring Regional event, also provides food testing and sanitation information for confectioners and food facilities.

Do you have other tips for maintaining a clean food facility in the midst of your busiest production schedules? Please share with our blog community in the comments below!

RCI Members:  Access additional materials on Good Manufacturing Practices on the member side of the RCI website. Our new website being revealed in January will have a page dedicated to just this topic. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tip #49: Set SMART Goals for 2013


 "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time."  ~ Zig Ziglar

This popular quote motivates us to consider our goals for 2013 and how we’re going to meet them. But we also know that if we don’t set SMART goals, then we’re less likely to accomplish them.

What is a SMART goal?

Specific – Be specific about your goals. For example, rather than “Increase sales,” state “Increase sales of wedding favors by $2000 by August 1, 2013.”
Measurable – Setting a measurable goal helps you to know if you’ve met your goal and to gauge progress throughout the year. Answer questions such as ‘How much?’ and ‘By when?’. For example, “We will increase corporate sales by 5% ($5,000 in sales) in the 2013 calendar year.” Note that if you use a percentage, it’s a good idea to determine the actual amount ahead of time.
Attainable – Set goals that are both realistic and attainable. You want to stretch yourself and your team to reach new heights, yet not set goals that seem unrealistic and therefore discouraging to attempt.
Relevant – Choose to set goals that are relevant to your business’s mission, vision and culture. Relevant goals will matter to your entire team and help drive everyone forward to meet them.
Time-bound – Give yourself a target date. If there are multiple steps you can take throughout the year to meet the goals, assign a target date for each step.

When making goals for your business include your staff in the process and they will take ownership of the goals. The more ownership your staff takes, the harder they will work to meet those goals.

Share your 2013 goals! Leave us a comment and let us know what goals you’ve set for yourself and your business in 2013.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tip #48 Set a Thermometer Alarm Below Desired Temperature


Especially as the holidays come upon us, candy makers are busy. That’s why this week’s tip helps you manage your time and maintain the quality of your candies.

This past year, we had a Good Manufacturing Practices series in Kettle Talk, our quarterly newsletter magazine for RCI members. The most recent article included a great tip for quality control we just had to share:

Set your candy thermometer with an alarm for a degree or two lower than your cooking time to ensure you don't overcook.

It’s brilliant, right? Now when you start a batch of caramel and walk away to work on packaging, you’ll be alerted to the candy cooking process with enough time to remove it or begin the next step before it gets even one degree too high.

Looking for suppliers of thermometers with an alarm? RCI members can access RCI Buyer’s Guide on the member side of the website or call the RCI office to be connected to a supplier.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tip #47: Create Community with Employee Potlucks


“Just by eating together it makes you feel psychologically closer.”  ~ David Givens


This week we have some great tips to build community among your staff! And, yes, of course they all have to do with food. 
  • Trying to figure out what you’re going to do with those Thanksgiving leftovers? Why not have an employee potluck the Friday or Saturday following Thanksgiving? Remember, Small Business Saturday is the Saturday afterThanksgiving. If you have focused marketing efforts on this, it might be a great day for an employee potluck since your employees will hopefully be very busy. We all know that sharing meals together can create community and camaraderie.
  • Or, host an Employee Chili Contest for staff. Post a fun flier or bill stuffer in their paycheck to announce the contest and provide a fun way to do informal voting among staff. Award the best chili maker with a store gift card or even paid time off.
  • Host Crockpot Saturdays among staff and invite them to bring in a crock pot with an appetizer, main dish or dessert to share with staff on busy retail days. Post a sign-up for each dish in the kitchen for the month and ask employees to select a day to share a dish. Note, only staff who share a dish get to eat a dish on that day.
  • Show your appreciation for staff and provide lunch for them on some of the busy retail days at your store. Swap lunch for chocolates with a local restaurant or caterer and thank your employees all at the same time. Or, start a new tradition and host an annual holiday meal for your team at the store even after December 25.   Employers could also provide a snack basket for their employees like pretzels, granola bars, fun drinks, etc.
Do you have other ideas/tips for building community with your staff? We'd love to hear them in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tip #46: Five Ways to Grow Your Email Marketing List


Email marketing can be an effective and cost-effective marketing tool. But how do you grow your list with qualified leads to maximize your reach? We’ve compiled five easy ways to grow your list!  

  1. Guestbook in Store – Take advantage of holiday sales traffic in your store and invite them to sign up to receive your emails to find out about future sales and promotions. Provide an easy sign-up sheet and then be sure to use the sheet to enter them into your list so they receive the emails. Remember, the more information you request, the less likely they’ll be to complete the sign-up so only ask for the necessary info.
  2. Events and Meetings – Since you’re a chamber member (see post here about why you should be), you’ll be attending networking events and meetings. As you receive business cards from your new contacts, ask them if it would be okay to add them to your email list so they can see when their favorite chocolates are on sale.
  3. Email Signatures – Create a customized email signature for everyone in your company to use. A simple sign-up for coupons button with a link to the sign-up page can produce a great response.   
  4. Website Sign-up – Include a sign-up box on your website to invite visitors to subscribe to your company sales and updates.
  5. Sales Calls – Do you have sales representatives making visits on your company’s behalf? Be sure they are inviting the contacts they make to join your email list to stay in touch and receive the most up-to-date company information.  You could even print some business card size promotions to hand out that share how to sign up.

Note: No false advertising allowed. Be sure you do actually send out coupons if you advertise it!

Do you have other ideas that you use to gather email addresses for your list? Share them in the comments below!


Not an RCI member?  Join today and receive member benefits, including a discount with Constant Contact 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tip #45: Promote Small Business Saturday


Are you ready for Small Business Saturday on November 24, 2012?


Small Business Saturday is a day dedicated to supporting small businesses on one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year.  Situated right between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s a great opportunity for you to promote your store to holiday shoppers as a local business.

American Express and Constant Contact have put together great online kits to help small businesses promote themselves and Small Business Saturday leading up to this special day. From downloadable signage to sample copy and outlines, these kits are great places to start planning your marketing efforts.


We hope these tools help to make this year’s Small Business Saturday an extremely successful day for your stores!

RCI Members: Be sure to check the recent Kettle Talk issue for more tips on marketing Small Business Saturday in your store!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tip #44: Magnetic Tape for Labeling



Oftentimes the most random items or places provide inspiration for great ideas. That’s the case with this week’s tip that was originally shared by one of our candy making members in Candy Clinic, an idea-sharing session at our Annual Convention.

This member discovered that magnetic tape can be a great organizing tool. Many candy makers and businesses have metal shelving and storage units. Rather than using sticker labels which leave a residue and are difficult to replace, she found a great use for magnetic tape which can be purchased at retailers such as Wal-Mart for as little as $8 for a 20 foot roll. They use the tape to label storage shelves, etc. which makes it easy to move items around as needed and just peel the magnetic tape and restick.

Do you have a great labeling or organizing solution to share? Leave us a comment below!

RCI Members – Did you know you can watch past Candy Clinic videos on the member side of the RCI website under the ‘Candy Clinic’ tab?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tip #43: Join Your Local Chamber


This week's tip may seem like a no-brainer for some of you, but so often we get caught up in other things and forget those that seem so obvious.

So why is it important as a candy making business to join your local chamber? Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking:
1.       Phone Referrals – As tourists, visitors and new members of the community call the local chamber for referrals and information about local businesses, this is a great opportunity to build awareness for your brand. 
2.       Website Links – By including your company name, contact information and link to your website in the chamber’s membership directory (both print and online), anyone who visits the chamber website will have access to your company information.
3.       Networking – Attend chamber events to make quality business connections and increase awareness of your business.  
4.       Lobbying - The local chamber is oftentimes very active in lobbying on behalf of member businesses. Whether it is tax credits or other legislative issues, they are championing your cause as a vital part of the local business community.
5.       Member Referrals – Chamber members enjoy referring business to each other. As you network and make connections with other members, the more aware they will be of the services and products your business offers. In turn, your fellow chamber members will think of you when they get asked if they know any local candy makers who can make a custom candy bar or corporate gift, for instance.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tip #42: Add One Expensive Piece of Chocolate to a Box



This week’s tip is just a few lines but promises to bring a significant return for your store.

Are you looking to make your boxed chocolates more high-end without drastically increasing the cost per box?

By adding just one premium or expensive piece of chocolate and centering it in your box of chocolates, the value of your box immediately goes up, including the perceived value by your customer. By adding a high-end piece, you also may be able to raise the price and potentially increase your profit margin.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tip #41: Halloween-themed Rice Krispies Treats


Image from RCI 2011 Fall Regional Institute Candy Clinic

One of the great things about Rice Krispies treats is that they can be formed and cut to take on a plethora of shapes. In preparation for Halloween, this week’s tip is to shape your treats into a variety of Halloween-themed shapes. From pumpkins to candy corn to witch’s hats, many Halloween shapes are easy to form and then you can use colored white chocolate and/or coating to “paint” them and use other candies in your store to add fun embellishments. A variety of sizes, from snack-size to a full-size serving, will give your customers options.

Extra tip: Place the treats on a lollipop stick and you can create a bouquet of Halloween-themed treats that will make a great display for your store and catch the eye of your customers. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tip #40: Ship USPS Using Endicia



As we near the holidays, we know you candy makers will be getting even busier so we will do our best to keep these tips short and sweet.

This week we have a new online tool to help shorten the time spent on shipping all of those holiday orders. Endicia is a low-cost and efficient tool that simplifies the process of shipping with USPS.

Among its many features, the software imports addresses from your address book so you can avoid retyping addresses. Plus, you can manage your shipment, including viewing your postage statements and transactions, or charting your expenses. You can even assign cost codes and send email delivery notifications for each package and even add your company logo before printing.  

To get started, just visit dymoendicia.com and select the software solution that best fits your business’s needs. They have a few different solutions available so take a moment to view the different options and pricing structures. For example, Endicia Standard is just $9.95/month and you can try it free for 30 days before signing up.

We hope this tip saves you both time and money this holiday season. At our recent Canadian Chocolate Tour, one member said that this tool has been a huge help in speeding up shipping processes, especially in the holiday season. If you have other tips for shipping during the holidays, please share it in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tip #39: Color-code Your Inbox


The typical corporate email user sends and receives about 105 email messages per day. So, today we’re going to give a great tip to help organize your inbox: categorize by color-coding!

Categorizing your inbox may take a few different forms, depending on the email provider you use. We’ll focus on Microsoft Outlook since that is the most popular email provider for the corporate user but we’ve provided some links at the end of this post to help organize your inbox if you use Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo!.

Assigning a color category to your email messages will allow you to easily identify and organize emails. Additionally, the color categories you create are available for other items in Outlook such as notes, contacts and appointments. To define your categories, click on the ‘Categories’ button next to ‘Forward’ and then click on ‘All Categories’. From here you can name the category associated with the colors you wish to use. 



Once your color-coded categories are defined, you are ready to assign categories to your Outlook items. Just right-click on the email message, task or calendar item and then click on ‘Categorize’ and select a category. You’ll see small colored-box show up on the message or task and the item will completely change colors in the calendar.

One of the great features is that you can sort items by category. So, if you want to see the emails just related to wholesaling, it’s just a few clicks away. Additionally, items in your Outlook may be assigned to more than one category. For example, an email message may be assigned to the categories Supplies, Wholesale and Marketing.

Once you begin color-coding your emails, you’ll wonder how you lived without this great tip! If you have other tips and ideas for organizing emails, please share them in the comments below!

Looking to organize emails in Hotmail, Yahoo! or Gmail? Check out these links!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tip #38: Winter & Holiday Color Trends for Marketing / Merchandising


If you haven’t started already, it’s time to put together a marketing and merchandising plan for the Christmas and holiday season, the busiest season for the majority of candy makers. To help you plan the color theme, we’ve gathered some of the hottest color trends for 2012. Pick your favorite color combos and use them to transform your store and packaging for the holidays. Don’t forget to incorporate these colors into your advertising and images to create a complete look for your store.



Sea of Blues


Bright and Cheery





Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tip #37: Pumpkin Seeds for Product Mix


A few weeks ago we shared tips for incorporating fall flavors into your mix. One of the most-loved fall flavors is pumpkin. This week our tip is to think outside of the box for incorporating this flavor. Actually, we want you to think inside the box, or pumpkin in this case, and use pumpkin seeds in your product mix.

We know there are lots of ways to incorporate pumpkin seeds but here are just a few to get your creative juices flowing:
·         Top your chocolate bark with pumpkin seeds. For the sweet and salty flavor we all love, first salt your seeds before putting them on the bark.
·         Create a trail mix using pumpkin seeds, dried fruit and chocolate chips.
·         Mix pumpkin seeds into your brittle for an added crunch. (This idea was shared at a recent Candy Clinic idea-sharing session. RCI members may watch Candy Clinic videos on the member side of the RCI website under ‘Past Education Sessions’.)
·         Candied pumpkin seeds add just enough sweetness to not overwhelm the great flavor of the seeds. You can find a variety of candied pumpkin recipes by doing a quick internet search.

If you have other great ideas for incorporating pumpkin seeds into your product mix, we’d love to hear it! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tip #36: Celebrate International Chocolate Day



One of our very favorite candy holidays is just around the corner. Do you know what it is? International Chocolate Day, of course! This sweet holiday is next Thursday, September 13 and this week’s tip is to help your customers celebrate!

Making a big deal about this holiday in a variety of ways will create excitement and hopefully get a few new customers in your store.  Here are just a few ideas we’ve gathered to get you started. Have fun with it! And an early Happy International Chocolate Day to you!

  • Use your social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to provide fun facts about chocolate throughout the day. For example, who marketed the first box of chocolate candies (Cadbury) or what year was the first known European encounter with cacao (1500 – Christopher Columbus). To help get customers in your store, consider a free piece of chocolate for anyone who comes into the store with the correct answer to your questions.
  • Pitch a story to your local media with a press release about International Chocolate Day and how your store is celebrating it. Use some of the trivia facts from the tip above to illustrate that you and your staff are knowledgeable about this subject. Don’t forget to include radio on your list of media!
  • If you don’t already give free samples in your store, consider providing free samples of chocolate – and don’t forget to let everyone know you’re doing it through your social media and email outlets.
  • Email campaigns are great for special holidays. Consider sending out an email on Wednesday to remind customers to come in on Thursday for the great special you’re going to have to celebrate International Chocolate Day.
  • A few days leading up to Thursday, post yard signs around your store or on the street leading up to it that say “Celebrate International Chocolate Day With ABC Store This Thursday!”. Of course, if you don’t own the building or area where you are located, this tip is dependent upon possible restrictions in your lease so check your agreement first.
If you have other ideas for how you celebrate this holiday, please share them in the comments below!

P.S. RCI will be exhibiting at the Philadelphia NationalCandy Gift & Gourmet Show this weekend. Stop by booth #332 to say hello and learn more about RCI membership and events.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tip #35: Keyboard Shortcuts to Increase Efficiency


All business owners could use extra time in their day, right? To help you be more efficient and save time while on the computer, we’ve compiled a list of commonly used keyboard shortcuts for you. Keyboard shortcuts are simply keyboard combinations that perform a specific command. For example, instead of going to click File, then clicking Save, you can press both the CTRL and S keys to perform the command.

FunctionShortcut
SaveCTRL + S
OpenCTRL + O
PrintCTRL + P
CopyCTRL + C
CutCTRL + X
PasteCTRL + V
UndoCTRL + Z
FindCTRL + F
BoldCTRL + B
ItalicCTRL + I
UnderlineCTRL + U
Zoom InCTRL + +
Zoom OutCTRL + -
Select all items in current windowCTRL + A
Delete an item immediately without placing it in the Recycle BinSHIFT + DELETE
Switch to another running program (hold down the ALT key and then press the TAB key to view the task-switching window)ALT + TAB
Minimize all open windows and display the desktopWindows Logo + D
Find files or foldersWindows Logo + F
Open Control PanelWindows Logo + C


The shortcuts shown here are for Windows operating systems. However, if you are using a Mac operating system, many of the same shortcuts exist by using the command key in place of the CTRL key.

If you have useful shortcuts to share, please leave a comment for our blog community below.

Note: The information in this post was featured in an article in the January/February/March 2012 issue. RCI members have access to this article plus many more useful articles on operating a business through Kettle Talk, RCI’s quarterly newsletter magazine. Net yet an RCI member? Learn more about the benefits joining RCI here. Contact RCI with questions at 800-545-5381 or info@retailconfectioners.org.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tip #34: Incorporate Fall Flavors into Your Product Mix



Fall is just around the corner so today’s tip is to be inspired by this beautiful season and incorporate some of the flavors, scents and colors of fall into your product mix. We’ve gathered a few fantastic fall flavors to get your creativity flowing.

  • Pumpkin
Ideas: pumpkin spice truffles, pumpkin seed bark

  • Pomegranate
Ideas: pomegranate-infused ganache, chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds

  • Apple
Ideas: caramel apples (of course!), chocolate-covered freeze-dried apples

  • Caramel
Ideas: caramel popcorn balls, rice krispie treats dipped in caramel (even better, cut them into fall-themed shapes such as pumkins or leaves!)

  • Cinnamon
Ideas: add cinnamon to a variety of products from popcorn to truffles, chocolate-covered cinnamon sticks

  • Cranberry
Ideas: dried cranberries and chocolate bark, nut mix with dried cranberries


We’ve also seen quite a few stores mix seasonal flavors for a unique and fun flavor experience. For example, a cranberry and pomegranate bark or cinnamon-infused caramels. Have fun with it and your customers will thank you for it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tip #33: Three Ways to Use Facebook to Grow Sales


Has one of your Facebook strategies for your business been to grow sales? If so, we hope these tips help you meet that goal!

  1. Share Specials That Are Just for Facebook Fans
For holidays or even just fun days, post specials with fun keywords that fans can redeem in your store. For example, for Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19, promote sales by creating a special they’ll receive in store if they use the words “Arrrrgh” or “Ahoy” in a sentence. Then, only promote this special on Facebook to draw your fans into your store. Be sure to specify any limits, etc. associated with the special.
  1. Encourage Sharing
How many Facebook likes do you have? If you’re aiming for a certain goal number, let your fans know and encourage them to invite their friends to like your Facebook page. You could even provide a coupon prize for the xxth like along with the person who invited them to like your page. By increasing your likes you will be expanding your reach and with the coupon you will be drawing them into your store.
  1. Use Pictures to Entice Appetite (and Sales)
As chocolate and candy makers, you have a great opportunity to entice appetites for your treats by using images. Research has confirmed that food images can stimulate the “crave” part of the brain which could entice them to visit your store (in person or online) to purchase your products. Take advantage of this by posting beautiful pictures of your products to remind your fans why they should visit your store. Pay attention to the quality of your photos before posting them – if you don’t think they look beautiful and enticing, your potential customers probably won’t think so either and won’t be encouraged to pay your store a visit.   If you need high quality photos, consider asking your suppliers if they have product photos you can use to promote sales in your store. 

If you have more tips to increase sales, please share them with our blog community and post them below!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tip #32: Regular Maintenance Check-Ups


Doesn't it seem like something always breaks right before, or even during, your busy season? While sometimes that is just going to happen, oftentimes breakdowns can be avoided by scheduling regular maintenance check-ups for your equipment and machinery.

To create a basic maintenance schedule, you can use a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel and create a simple tracking sheet. Column headings could include machinery name and/or serial number while the rows list the date a check-up is needed. Then, the employee overseeing the maintenance or check-up would initial in the corresponding box. You could use the different tabs to divide out your equipment by department, or if it’s easy to fit all equipment on one tab you could use a different tab for each year. We’ve created a very basic sample to help you get started. As a starting point, we have inserted monthly checks but we recommend checking the manufacturer’s guidelines for each of your equipment to make the best plan for your company.

In addition to avoiding untimely breakdowns, equipment maintenance programs also ensure your product and consumer’s safety and reduce unexpected maintenance repairs. Be sure to check out this website on preventative machinery maintenance for thorough advice and reasoning for creating a complete maintenance program for your company.

One last thing: Don’t forget about regular check-ups of office items as well, including printers, carts, etc. You don’t want the copier or printer broken just as you’re about to print invoices for the month or reports for the year; or the two-wheel cart needed to transport product from store to store to be found with flat wheels.

Do you have tips for scheduling maintenance check-ups? Leave us a comment below!

Did you know that equipment maintenance is one of the many facets of HACCP planning? RCI members can access videos of past education sessions discussing GMP and HACCP plans on the member side of the RCI website under ‘past education sessions’.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tip #31: Create Customer Value in Your Email Marketing


Research has shown that customers typically subscribe to business emails for coupons and specials. While those are great things to provide to recipients of your emails, Constant Contact, an email marketing service, shared at our Spring Regional Institute this past April that your emails should actually contain 80% content and 20% promotions to be the most effective.

If your customers believe that every email they open from you will contain a bunch of promotional material, they’ll likely just delete the email without even opening it, especially if they know they won’t be purchasing your products at this time. However, if you are consistently providing valuable content within your emails, they are more likely to open your email and read it. What good does that do you, you ask? As they become regular readers of your emails, when they decide to go buy candy and chocolates, guess who they’ll think of first?

So, how does a candy store provide valuable content? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • 10 ways to save money this week (one of the ten tips could be a special you have in your store)
  • How to make your dad (or mom or grandparent) feel special
  • 5 things to cover in chocolate for your next holiday party

You work so hard to get your emails opened, so be sure you work just as hard at the content within your emails so they keep opening them and get inspired to visit your store!

RCI Members: Did you know you receive a discount on email marketing through Constant Contact as a benefit of membership? Visit the ‘Member Resources’ tab on the member side of the RCIwebsite for more info.
To learn more about RCI membership, visit retailconfectioners.org/join or call the RCI office at 800-545-5381.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tip #30: Make New Products Out of By-product


This week’s tip is quick and will also hopefully have a quick return for you as well!
From chocolate-covered pretzels to potato chips, many of your products have crumbs that oftentimes get tossed aside as waste. Why not take those crumbs or by-products and turn them into a new product? For example, use the crumbs and coat them in chocolate and you still have the sweet and salty combo that everyone loves. Come up with a unique name and packaging for it and then you have a new product!

We’ve heard of stores that sell out of these great products that almost didn’t make it to the shelves! So go grab those pretzel crumbs before someone tosses them out!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tip #29: Customize Your Invoices to Get Paid on Time



We all want to get paid by customers on time. So why is it that so many businesses don’t take the time to create customized invoices? If you send a bill out that doesn’t have your company contact information, company logo or even payment options, how is it you expect to quickly receive payment?

We all lead busy lives, including your customers. So, the easier you can make it for them by providing multiple methods to contact you with questions or multiple payment options, the quicker you will likely receive payment. If you use QuickBooks, it even gives you the option to create multiple customized invoices and name them so that you don’t have to recreate the wheel each time. If you’re not using QuickBooks, the system you do use likely has this option. If not, you can always use programs like Word to create a nice, easy-to-understand invoice.

So, what should be included on an invoice? Here’s our guide for the minimum information that should be included:
  1. Your company logo
  2. Your business name, address, phone, email and website
  3. Name, address and phone of company receiving the invoice
  4. Invoice number
  5. Date invoice sent
  6. Date invoice due / payment terms (i.e. Net 30 days)
  7. Description of the goods (be specific about quantity, type, etc.)
  8. Balance due
  9. Payment instructions (If credit card is an option, provide space for the customer to write in credit card information and mail or fax to you.)
  10. Don’t forget to include the word ‘invoice’ or ‘bill’ so there is no question

If you take the time to customize your invoices, you should reap the benefits of quicker payments.

RCI members have access to QuickBooks tips on the member side of the RCI website. Just go to ‘Past Education Sessions’ under the ‘Education’ tab and then scroll down to the 2011 Fall Regional Education Sessions to find the link to QuickBooks and Tax Tips. Plus, members have access to QuickBooks support. If you need help, call the RCI office and schedule an appointment with the RCI QuickBooks expert, Chelsea Abercrombie, CPA.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tip #28: Taste Test Your Products for Flavor Consistency



Are you tempted to eat your chocolates as you walk by the packaging line? We have a great reason for you not to avoid the temptation to be a frequent taste tester of your products: quality and consistency. As the owner or manager of your candy store, you want to have complete confidence that the products you are selling are not only delicious, but that that they are the same level of quality and flavor each time.

Your customers expect that when they purchase a box of toffee this week and then come back a month later that they will be purchasing a product just like what they purchased before. Therefore, it’s extremely important that you regularly taste your candies to be sure they not only meet your standards but that they don’t change in flavor.

If you have a quality control manager, having a consistent taste testing program would be a great thing for him or her to oversee. The frequency for taste testing may vary depending on how often you produce a particular product but at least weekly would be the minimum recommendation.

You’ve taken the time to achieve a great flavor so take the time to be sure it’s consistently the same great flavor your customers have come to expect.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tip #27: Windows Productivity Tips


Do you use Windows operating software on your computer? If so, we have some great time-saver tips for you today!

  1. Print a document without opening it - If you need to print a document, this tip allows you to do it without even having to launch the program. For example, if you need to print a Word document, you can print without having to launch Microsoft Word first. All you need to do is find the file on your hard drive and then right-click on the icon and click print. The document will print to your default printer using the settings you last used for the file.
  2. Shortcut to send an email attachment - Use this tip to send an email attachment without even opening your mail program (if you use Microsoft Outlook). Locate the file you want to attach to an email and right-click on the file’s icon. Click Send To and then click Mail Recipient. A new mail message should open with the file attached and ready to send. You just need to type in the recipient’s email address and any accompanying message and hit send.
  3. Quickly view the desktop - Do you need to get to your desktop but have numerous windows open? Instead of minimizing each window individually you can quickly get to the desktop by just using your keyboard. Find the windows icon button on your keyboard and click on that plus the ‘D’ on your keyboard at the same time and you’ll automatically minimize all open windows to view your desktop.
  4. View files by group – If you have a large folder of files and need an easier way to view them, you can actually organize them by group within the folder. This shortcut doesn’t create new folders – it just gives you an easier way to view the files within a folder. Just right-click within the folder and to go Arrange Icons By, and then click on Show in Groups.  You’ll then view the groups based on how the files are currently arranged (i.e. alphabetically, if by name) but you can easily change that by right-clicking within the folder, going to Arrange Icons By and choosing to arrange them by file size, date modified, etc. Then the groups will change accordingly. This is a great way to easily find the files you’re looking for.

For more useful tips, just click here or here. If you have some Windows or computer shortcuts to share, we encourage you to leave a comment with the tip.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tip #26: Shipping Chocolate and Candy in Warm Weather



It is officially summer now and many chocolate and candy stores choose not to ship their products in warm weather. Whether it’s because the cost of shipping in heat is prohibitive for their customers or because they don’t want to risk their products melting in transit, it’s completely understandable. However, we also know that many stores continue to ship in warm weather. If you are considering shipping your product, here are a few tips we’ve learned from our members that may help protect the quality of your products:

  • Choose a packing box large enough to surround the product with ice packs and bubble wrap.
  • Consider using styrofoam insulated boxes.
  • Place the ice packs at the bottom of the box, not on top.
  • If you aren’t using non-sweating ice packs, wrap the ice packs in newspaper to absorb the moisture.
  • Wrap the product package in bubble wrap to protect it.

Do you have additional tips and tricks for shipping in warm weather? Please leave a comment to share below.

Our April/May/June 2011 Kettle Talk newsletter magazine had an article on shipping in warm weather. RCI members can click here to view a PDF of the issue (turn to page 13).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tip #25: Candy Kitchen Storage


Are you trying to figure out how to avoid cross-contamination of allergens in your small space? How do you store peanuts, sugar and the rest of your ingredients and separate allergens while trying to save space? At our recent Spring Regional Institute, many of our members learned a valuable tip we’re passing along to you:
Save space by using vertical storage and keep the allergens stored on the bottom so that if there is a spill it doesn't contaminate everything else under it.

Take advantage of the height in your facility and store items vertically. Then, go a step further and be sure your allergens are kept on the bottom. If you spill from a bag of pecans, at least they will fall to the floor rather than all over everything under the bag on their way down. This keeps you from contaminating the sugar and other ingredients that you use on nearly all of your products, those with and without allergens. Of course, this is just one step in putting together a plan for avoiding cross-contamination of allergens, but we thought it was a great one to get you thinking about the process.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tip #24: Find Your Company on Yelp.com


In honor of our 92nd Annual Convention & Industry Expo that is happening this week, we’d like to share a tip that was originally shared with attendees at last year’s Annual Convention in an education session about marketing.

Are you paying attention to Yelp.com? Do you even know what it is? Yelp.com is a user review and local search website.  From their website FAQ’s: “Yelp is the fun and easy way to find, review and talk about what's great — and not so great — in your world.”  What does this mean for your business? When customers enjoy or don’t enjoy your products and/or services, they are using yelp.com to share it with the world. Not only do they give a rating but they also write detailed reviews, covering both the good and the bad. And guess what? When a potential customer is considering visiting your store, there is a pretty high chance they are visiting the Yelp website first to see what other people are saying about it.

So what do you do about all of this? We have a few points on how to use this review site to your advantage:
  1. Jump In -You don’t need to create a listing for your company on this site because as a local business you are probably already on it. To find out, just visit the homepage and type in your business name.
  2. Read – Once you’ve found your business’s listing, take some time to read the reviews. You’ll find that many of the comments are very candid so don’t be surprised. Be sure to read a variety of reviews, not just all of the good or all of the potential bad reviews.
  3. Embrace and Consider – The purpose of reading the reviews is not to get puffed up or fired up but to find out what your customers enjoy most about their experience with your business and if there are any parts of the experience that could use improvement. If you encounter negative reviews, don’t overlook them. Take a moment to consider if there is any truth to what has been shared. You may find that there is a place for improvement.
  4. Respond – Yelp has created a way for business to publicly comment on a review. Take a moment to thank customers for their feedback and address concerns. Everyone likes to be heard. J  Because your comment will be public, potential customers who are reading reviews will likely be impressed that you’ve taken the time to respond.
  5. Repeat – Don’t make your first visit to Yelp be your last. Be sure to check in on a regular basis (i.e. monthly) so that you are continually aware of your customers’ experiences in your store.

Now what are you waiting for? Go find out what people are saying about your company. We hope you find good things and take any not-so-good things into consideration to make your business even better.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tip #23: Celebrate Candy Holidays



Did you know that this Thursday, June 7 is National Chocolate Ice Cream Day? This is just one example of the many candy-related holidays celebrated across the globe throughout the year. From Chocolate-Covered Raisin Day (March 24) to Toasted Marshmallow Day (August 30) to Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day (November 7), the chocolate and candy industry is not lacking for holidays. This week’s tip is to encourage you to embrace these holidays to drive traffic and sales in your stores. One idea may be to run a special on the particular product being celebrated. For example, for National Taffy Day (May 23), maybe you run a buy a ½ lb of taffy and get ¼ lb free special. Or, you could advertise free taffy samples all day or until a certain time on May 23. However you decide to celebrate, don’t forget to use your social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter to spread the word! If they don’t know about your celebration, they can’t join you for it.

So, how do you find the numerous candy holidays? By just doing a quick internet search for candy holidays, you can find quite a few different websites and lists. Members of Retail Confectioners International (RCI) receive a graphic wall calendar each year that helps them plan the year and keep track of the variety of candy holidays to be celebrated. Not an RCI member? Learn why membership might be a good fit for you here.

Now, go put together a celebration for this Thursday’s Chocolate Ice Cream Day! Do you have a creative idea for celebrating candy holidays? Please share it here by leaving a comment below.

P.S. Expect the RCI Tip of the Week Blog to be invaded next week as our Annual Convention & Industry Expo begins! Watch for videos, pictures and highlights of the week! Plus, be sure to check out our Facebook page for even more photos.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tip #22: Writing Effective Job Descriptions


While “Jack of All Trades” might sound like a fitting job description for the position you are looking to fill, having a more specific title and description will help you find the most qualified job candidates. Additionally, an accurate job description helps both you and your employees to know what is expected of them and understand their roles within the company.

So, what should be included in a job description? We found the following tips in an article by the U.S. Small Business Administration and thought they would be great to pass along.

A job description includes:
  • Job title.
  • Job objective or overall purpose statement.
  • Summary of the general nature and level of the job (no longer than three to four sentences).
  • Description of the broad function and scope of the position.
  • List of duties or tasks performed critical to the success (including principal duties, continuing responsibilities and accountability of the occupant of the position).
  • Most important functional and relational responsibilities in order of significance.
  • Description of the relationships and roles within the company, including supervisory positions, subordinating roles and other working relationships.

Be sure to check out the full-length article for what not to include in a job description.


RCI members can find more tips like these on the RCI business owners list serve, an email list of members that discusses issues business owners face. Click here to sign up today. Not an RCI member? Click here to join.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tip #21: Fun Summer Product Ideas


Summertime is just around the corner so we have rounded up some fun product ideas for you to incorporate in your candy store this year.  

  • Chocolate Flip-flops – Use colored chocolate to draw flip-flop straps on Nutter Butter cookies covered in chocolate and package with cello bags and colorful bows.
  • Summertime-themed moulds – Take advantage of the hundreds of chocolate mould options available to candy makers. Incorporate items unique to your area that tourists may enjoy such as palm trees for a tropical area.  
  • Incorporate Seasonal Foods – Fruits and vegetables are great in the summertime. Pay a visit to your local farmer’s market to see what seasonal ingredients you can incorporate into your products.
  • Seasonal Flavors – Use flavors that invoke the memories, images and feel of summer. For example, coconut flavors nearly always bring images of the beach to mind so you could create a coconut-themed item and even have fun with the merchandising to have a beach theme.

If you have more ideas, please share them with each other by leaving a comment. If you are you looking for a supplier of seasonal items, RCI members can use the RCI Buyer's Guide to find supplier members who provide just what you need!

Bonus: Attend Candy Clinic at our 92nd Annual Convention & Industry Expo for even more great seasonal ideas!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tip #20: Create Fun on the Job


RCI members and staff were recently in Florida for the RCI Spring Regional Institute event as well as a Mastering Caramels educational course. While networking, education and behind-the-scenes tours were key reasons for attending the event and course, we couldn’t help but notice that the attendees were also having fun while networking and learning.

Attendees want to walk away knowing they learned something new and maybe met new people or reconnected with other fellow candy makers, but when they can also say they had fun, they walk away with an added level of value from the event. Do your employees walk away from work with a sense of enjoyment and fun? Some studies have even suggested that having fun at work increases loyalty, productivity and job satisfaction.

We have gathered a few ideas to incorporate fun into your company’s workday:
  • Celebrate employee birthdays – If you have too many employees to have a party for each individual birthday, you could have a monthly or even quarterly celebration. Get some balloons, provide some of your candies (of course!), and maybe even play a game (pin the stick on the apple, anyone?).
  • Create a ‘fun committee’ – Charge the committee with coming up with a fun activity for the team or company once a month. Allow them the freedom and creativity to come up with something outside the box. And be sure you participate to show everyone you do know how to have fun.
  • Company-wide competition – Why not intertwine fun and charity? For example, create a competition between departments or stores to see who can raise the most money for a charitable cause and reward the winning team with a fun outing or bring lunch or breakfast into the office for them to enjoy together.

Want more ideas? Check out this list of 301 Ways to Have Fun at Work.

If you have more fun ideas to share, please leave us a comment!

Check out ‘fun’ photos from Florida on the RCI Facebook page. Plus watch the RCI YouTube page for video recaps! 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tip #19: Stale Pretzels are Best for Chocolate-Covered Pretzels



Everything is better covered in chocolate, right? We agree! If you’re taking the ever-popular sweet and salty route and covering pretzels in chocolate, we have a tip that will help keep the chocolate from cracking once the pretzels are covered. Open your bag of pretzels and leave it open the night or day before you plan to enrobe them. By allowing the pretzels to get slightly stale, you are removing moisture which helps prevent surface cracking in the chocolate.
Happy pretzel-dipping!

Do you have additional tips for the perfect chocolate-covered pretzel? Please share by leaving a comment below!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tip #18: Add a Facebook ‘Like’ Button to Your Website



So, you’ve taken the time to set up your business Facebook page. You’ve even updated the page with a cover photo for the new timeline feature. That’s great! But, how are customers finding you on Facebook? We recently visited a variety of candy store websites to connect with their Facebook page and were surprised to find that while many of them had a Facebook page, they were not connecting to it from their website. Or, if they were, the link was tucked away and difficult to find.

Facebook actually provides the images available for you to use on their website  (and other marketing materials) along with the guidelines for use. You can find the files and guidelines here (read the guidelines for usage and then click on ‘downloads’). Be sure to pay attention to where you place the link and image on your website. Your customers will likely not take the time to search for it, so you want to be sure it is somewhere that grabs their attention and encourages action. And when they do take action, why not reward them? Offer them a discount or coupon just for liking your store on Facebook. You may want to make it valid for just the day or week they have 'liked' you so that they are motivated to get to your store asap.

Note: Today’s tip is focused on adding a Facebook ‘Like’ button to your website, but we would go one step further and encourage you to be sure all of your online media is connected. Do you have Twitter or a blog? Be sure you provide an easy-to-find link to those features as well. You want to be sure that if a customer lands on your blog in an online search, they also are able to easily connect to your website as well as Facebook and any other online media you manage.

If you haven’t set up a Facebook page for your business yet, RCI members can check out the Jan/Feb/Mar 2012 edition of Kettle Talk for an article on how to get started with Facebook.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tip #17: Link Up With RCI in San Francisco


We’re busy planning and preparing for our upcoming Annual Convention and Industry Expo in San Francisco, June 11 through 15. This week’s tip is to join us there!

What can you expect at an RCI Annual Convention?
Industry Tradeshow – Meet face to face with confectionery industry suppliers and learn about the new and innovative products on the market. The tradeshow is FREE to confectionery industry professionals so print your free tradeshow ticket (insert link) and make plans to join us!
Networking – Connect with others in the industry throughout the week through a variety of networking opportunities. New this year, we have an evening set aside just for the next generation of industry leaders.
Education – We are excited to have education session topics including packaging, natural products, HACCP planning plus more. Additionally, we have a great idea-sharing session for RCI members called Candy Clinic and a question and answer session with a panel of industry experts.
Behind-the-scenes Tours – The last two days of the convention are filled with tours of area candy stores and suppliers. You’ll want to have a notebook in had because the ideas you can take back to your stores are endless.

For all the details and to register, visit retailconfectioners.org/annual. The early-bird discount ends May 11, so register today!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tip #16: Chocolate and Candy Makers Must-Read List


Are you looking for the perfect book to teach you how to make and work with candy or chocolates? Well, of course, there is no such thing as perfect, but we can tell you that the following books have been highly recommended to candy makers by industry experts so we feel very comfortable telling you about them.  
  • Choice Confections by Walter Richmond
  • Candy Making for Dummies by David Jones
  • The Art of the Chocolatier by Ewald Notter
  • The Art of Chocolate by Elaine Gonzalez
  • Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling

While you can search online for used books, one of the best resources out there for confectionery books is MC Publishing. Click here to visit their online store.

Do you have other recommended books about chocolate and candy making? Please take a moment to share them in the comments below. We’d love to add them to our must-read list!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tip #15: Add Some Spice to Your Chocolate for Cinco de Mayo


With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, get prepared to add some spice to your confections. You can add spice to nearly anything – from truffles to bark to peanut brittle. Have fun with it!

Some ideas for adding a hint of spice: red paper flakes, cinnamon, melted cinnamon red hots, ground chili powder or you can buy chili pepper flavor oils. Take a day and experiment in the kitchen to see what flavors blend best with your products. Don’t forget about the all-important taste test – get a number of people to test your creations before putting them up for sale.

Don’t forget to top off your creations with red paper flakes for added presentation! (And so that no one picks it up and gets a big surprise in their mouth)!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tip #14: Customer Service Is More Than Common Courtesy


Today’s tip is to take the time to train your employees in the realm of customer service. Reminding your employees of the adage, ‘Treat others the way you would like to be treated,’ is not enough. Take the time to remind them that it is more than just common courtesy. For example, don’t just greet customers – greet them with a smile. Don’t just say thank you to the customer - thank them for their business and invite them to come back again. Encourage your storefront employees to be proactive and go to the customer in the store to offer assistance – don’t let them wait for customers to come to them with a problem.

Phone etiquette is another area of customer service you should be training your employees. Teach them how you would like the phone answered. (Tip: Use the business name and employee name in the greeting to personalize it.) Additionally, if they have to place a customer on hold, teach your employees to ask "May I put you on hold?”. Your customers are busy people, too, and they may choose to call back at another time rather than sit on hold.

If you take the time to train your employees on what customer service really means, your customers will take notice and come back. They may even spread the word that your store is one of the few places that provides exceptional customer service.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tip #13: Choosing the Right Packaging for Your Candy and Chocolates


The subject of packaging could easily cover multiple blog posts so we are just focusing on one of the many important factors to consider today.

Did you know that the inks in your packaging as well as the type of packaging (cello, cardboard, etc.) you choose could affect the taste of your chocolates and candy? You may have a delicious chocolate treat and then put it in a beautiful package but after it has been in the package for a short time, it may begin to take on the taste of the cardboard, for example. That means your customers may not be tasting the true flavor of your confections.

So, how does one go about determining if your confections taste different because of packaging? A taste test, of course.

Sample your products before packaging them and then test different packaging methods. Keep your confections in the package for as long as they would normally be on the shelf and then at the end of that period begin your taste test. Be sure that you have a ‘control’ confection so that you first taste what your product should taste like and then taste the ones that have been in the packaging.  Do they taste the same? If not, there are many variables to consider but one of them should be to talk with your packaging supplier about options.  You want the beauty of your packaging to match the wonderful taste of what’s inside.

Do you need new packaging ideas? As an RCI member, you can find packaging suppliers in the annual Membership Directory and Buyer’s Guide. If you’re not an RCI member, why haven’t you joined? Find more information about joining by visiting retailconfectioners.org/join.