Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tip #156: Meet Up With RCI in 2015

The New Year always holds a glimmer of promise. And it’s no different here at Retail Confectioners International (RCI). We’re excited for the coming year and hope that you will plan to join us at one of our events. That’s why this week’s tip is to meet up with RCI in 2015!

  • February 23-26 – Chocolate Boot Camp® – This popular education course provides a great foundation for working with chocolates. We accept a maximum of 25 students and, with five instructors, it provides a great student-to-teacher ratio and plenty of hands-on learning opportunities.
  • April 21-25 – Mid-Atlantic Chocolate Tour  - One of our members’ favorites events are our bus tours. We load up on coach buses and tour an area, stopping to go on behind-the-scenes tours of candy stores along the way. Join us for this bus tour as we go from Baltimore to Washington, DC and then end in Ocean City, Maryland.
  • June 22-26 – Annual Convention & Industry Expo – We’re excited to be in Brooklyn, New York for our biggest event of the year. From the FREE confectionery industry expo to quality education sessions and networking to behind-the-scenes tours, it’s an event you won’t want to miss!
  • September 14-17 – Fall Regional Conference – The year will have a beautiful ending as we gather in Portland, Maine. It promises to include more great networking and education opportunities.
Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to stay up-to-date on RCI happenings. We’ll see you in 2015! 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Rewind to Tip #104: Take a Break and Enjoy Your Loved Ones

Last year’s tip on Christmas Eve was a great reminder that we could all benefit from. So, we’ve decided it’s a good one to repeat:

December 24, 2013

Today is Christmas Eve!

While we know you are likely still working hard to get your customers home with their favorite sweet treats for their families, today’s tip is to enjoy Christmas with your own loved ones. When you walk out the door of your office or store today, take a deep breath and leave everything else behind you to deal with on December 26 (or whenever you return to work). Focus on being 100% present to enjoy this special season with the ones you love most.


Merry Christmas, sweet friends!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tip #155: Check Your Temper


This week’s quick tip? Check your temper!

While we don’t want you to have a temper tantrum during the peak of the holiday season, we’re actually referring to checking the temper of your chocolate. As production aims to keep up with the demands of the holidays, it may be easy for production staff to get sidetracked and assume your chocolate is well-tempered and ready to move into the assembly line. However, not keeping a close eye on your chocolate’s temper is a costly mistake.

Many of our candy making members have a system in place to verify their chocolate’s temper every hour. While verification processes may vary, just be sure that you have a process in place, even if it is a simple pen and paper system.

How often do you check your temper? Leave us a comment below!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tip #154: Optimize Point of Sale Purchases

As customers come into your store this month, they’re likely on the hunt for gifts for a variety of people. Therefore, this week’s quick tip is to place something small such as a single packaged chocolate covered cookie or moulded item that can be added to their purchase at the checkout counter. Be sure it’s packaged with a nice bow or ribbon so that it draws them in as a stand-alone gift item.

If placed and priced correctly, point of sale items such as this can significantly increase your store’s holiday sales. Now, go review your checkout counter to be sure you have a small item available for customers!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tip #153: Use Pistachios in Nougat


As has become our custom on the RCI Tip of the Week blog, we’ll make the posts quick and brief this month for you since we know it’s a very busy time of year for candy makers.

For this first quick tip, we are encouraging you to think outside of the box when it comes to nuts in your confections, specifically nougat. For example, consider using pistachios in your holiday nougat for a fun and different color and flavor enhancement. Chef En-Ming Hsu provided this idea during her nougat demonstration at our recent Fall Regional Conference, and many attendees commented on how great the pistachios tasted as well as how beautiful they were.

If you have other fun uses for pistachios in confections, leave us a comment below!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tip #152: Give Thanks


When is the last time you took a moment to stop and consider how lucky you are to be in the candy business, making people happy with your sweet treats? We’re going to guess that since we’re in the rush of the holiday season it’s been a while. So, in light of Thanksgiving being this Thursday in the U.S., this week’s tip is to take just a moment to make a list of items for which you are thankful.

This list is yours so you can name whatever you want, from people to things to jobs to places. If you want to increase your overall health and level of happiness, you could even make a purposeful attitude of gratitude part of your weekly or even daily routine! Numerous studies have revealed that those who take a moment to write down the good things about their life feel better about their lives as a whole, are happier and are even found to be more connected with others.

So, put everything on hold and take a moment to name five things for which you are thankful. You won’t regret it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tip #151: Get Employees to Flip Large Moulds


It is almost the season for making life-size chocolate Santas. Ok, we realize they aren’t really life-size but some of the pretty large ones could definitely be life-size for a child!

Either way, this week on the blog we have a small but useful tip to help you evenly distribute the chocolate in your life-size moulded Santa Claus. Since these huge moulds aren’t likely to fit on a mould spinner, most candy makers seem to have a special way of spinning and flipping the moulds to be sure the chocolate doesn’t all gather on one side as it hardens. To help with this process our tip is to make a rule for your staff that each time they walk by the mould they need to flip it.

Be sure every staff member knows and understands the reason for this rule is to evenly spread the chocolate inside the mould to help ensure they’ll follow it. Additionally, it would be wise to assign a staff member to be in charge of ensuring the mould is flipped on a regular schedule. For example, if it needs to be flipped every five minutes and no one walks by for 10 minutes, this staff person would be the one to flip it at the five minute mark. It would probably be helpful to have a pen and paper chart nearby for staff to initial and write the time when they flip the mould.

By involving all staff to flip your extra large moulds you’ll be creating a team environment where everyone pitches in, in addition to adding an element of quality control,  

P.S. This tip came from our Mechanics of Chocolate Moulding education course held last fall. Attend RCI’s next education course, Chocolate Boot Camp®, by registering online today at retailconfectioners.org/bootcamp.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tip #150: Promote Small Business Saturday®


Thanksgiving is just around the corner which means that Small Business Saturday will be here soon as well! This week’s tip is to take advantage of the free tools created by American Express® to let everyone know that your candy store is a great place to shop local on Saturday, November 29.


Founded by American Express in 2010, Small Business Saturday is a day to celebrate local businesses by encouraging everyone to shop local on one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year. Visit the Small Business Saturday website to create personalized marketing materials to use on your website, social media and in your store to promote your small business as a fantastic place to shop local.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tip #149: Create Thanksgiving Centerpieces



Can you believe we’re just three weeks away from Thanksgiving in the U.S.? That’s why this week’s tip is to help your customers celebrate Thanksgiving by selling fall-themed chocolate and candy centerpieces in your store.

The varieties and options for centerpieces are endless! One of our favorites is a chocolate cornucopia decorated with chocolate leaves and filled with chocolates and dried fruits (see photo above). While this centerpiece is an obvious investment of time, it sure makes for a beautiful display!

Another more simple idea is to create different sizes of trays or platters filled with your chocolates. Be sure to use a wrapping of some sort to make it feasible for the customer to transport the centerpiece to their home. We have also seen numerous sizes of turkey moulds used to create Thanksgiving centerpieces. Some candy makers sell the moulded chocolate turkey on its own while others may incorporate the turkey as the center of their trays and platters.

You could also consider trying a new twist on topiaries by covering a foam sphere with truffles (on top of parchment paper) and securing the sphere on a large candlestick. Or, make Thanksgiving-themed cake pops and create a centerpiece display out of them.

If your customer is buying a centerpiece it is because he or she likely cares very much about presentation, particularly on the Thanksgiving table. Therefore, provide something beautiful – and delicious – that customers will be proud to show off to their guests.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tip #148: Give Back


The spirit of giving is almost upon us as the holidays near. And with that we would be remiss not to include a tip on the importance of giving back. While helping with fundraisers by providing candy bars is a way of giving, we’re talking about giving when you get nothing else in return but knowing that you have helped someone in need.

Every community has non-profit organizations serving the needs of a variety of charitable causes. Take a moment to find out what’s available in your community and then figure out how you can best help them. You never know what unique need they may have that you can help to meet!

A number of ways exist to give back to your community:
  • Financially – Just like your own business, organizations need money in order to operate and keep the lights on. Consider financial contributions as a means of giving back.
  • Time – Volunteer time is a great way to help your local community. Perhaps you could deliver meals to shut-ins, spend time with children who need a friend, do handiwork or even sort files. The key is to be willing to do whatever is needed.
  • Resources – Do you have materials that you are throwing away that may be of use to someone else? Maybe you have extra pallets that a food bank could use, or retail displays that a non-profit owned thrift store could use. You never know until you ask!
  • Product – Your product could be a great way to thank the hard workers at some of your local non-profit organizations. Oftentimes, they are working for little pay because of their passion for the cause so a few amazing truffles could bring an extra smile to their day!
Give back, starting now and keep up with the spirit of giving year-round. As Winston Churchill wisely said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tip #147: Embrace Social Media Conversations

If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform, this week’s tip is to embrace the conversations that arise out of those avenues.

Did someone comment on your photo? Did they share a post or Tweet on your wall? Take a moment to respond to all posts that are directed at your business and do your best to do so in a timely fashion. Your customers are paying close attention to your response time and if you are responding at all. Many users view your response (or lack of) as representative of your care for them as a customer so it’s imperative that they know you appreciate their business. One study found that 42% of consumers expect a social media response within 60 minutes, while 25% were satisfied if it was more than one hour but later the same day.

Of course we understand that most candy makers aren’t able to have a staff member dedicated only to social media. Therefore, we suggest you take advantage of the alerts within the social media platforms. For example, you can receive an email alert any time you are tagged or mentioned on Facebook, Twitter, etc. so that you don’t miss out on the conversation. If a quick response means gained customer satisfaction, then those extra emails will be worth it!

P.S. Don’t forget to make a plan to promote your business on Small Business Saturday next month! Check out last year’s blog post of ideas to help with your planning.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tip #146: Gingerbread House Kits

Gingerbread house kit shown during RCI's 2013 Annual Convention at Marie's Candies. 

It’s hard to believe Christmas is just over two months away! The closeness of Christmas is why this week’s tip is a holiday idea that’s fun for kids of all ages. Host a gingerbread house making party!

Create the individual kits ahead of time with graham crackers, icing and the colorful candies to decorate the houses. Then, charge a set fee and invite families and children to come make their own gingerbread house. Be sure to have plates available for them to take their creation home. One of our members does this during their annual holiday open house and it is a big hit. You also could make it a weekly Saturday activity leading up to Christmas. The possibilities and ideas for this activity are endless!

Not up to hosting a party at your store yet, or don’t have the space? You can still create kits that customers can purchase and take “to go”. Then, ask them to share photos of the finished products on your Facebook page. It’s a great way to stay connected to your customers!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tip #145: Celebrate National Caramel Month


Sea salt caramels have become one of the most popular confections around. The sweet and salt combo is hard to beat. This month, in celebration of National Caramel Month, consider introducing a few new twists on caramels for your customers. We’ve scoured the internet to find you some unique flavor combos to consider:


Do you have a unique caramel flavor that your customers love? Share it in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tip #144: Optimize Emails for Mobile


Do you have an email marketing strategy? This week’s tip is to be sure that going mobile is part of your strategy.

Data compiled by Constant Contact in conjunction with Chadwick Martin Bailey, found that 49 percent of consumers say they are likely to click on links in emails opened on their smartphone.  Therefore, you can’t afford not to optimize the emails you are sending to be viewed on mobile devices. How do you do that? Here a few specifics from RCI Partner Constant Contact on the practical steps to getting your emails mobile-ready:

  1. Start with your email template. View your current emails on a mobile device and see how easy (or difficult) it is to read them. Make adjustments to the template to improve readability such as changing from multiple columns to one column.
  2. Cut down content. When your customers are reading emails on their phones, they’re not looking for a lengthy article. They are looking for just the minimum amount of information needed to make a decision. Also consider your own goals for the email and only include information that helps to meet those goals.
  3. Rethink links. Constant Contact has found that to encourage click-throughs buttons work much better than links on a mobile device. Additionally, avoid stacks of links as they’re difficult to click on with a finger – the risk of clicking on the wrong link is fairly high.
  4. Review font choices. Again, it is important to view your email as your customers will see it. Is your font selection easy to read? Are there too many fonts being used?
Now, get those emails optimized before the holidays get here!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tip #143: Use Water at Room Temperature for Chocolate Tastings

Tasting Tray from RCI's Chocolate Boot Camp

As you know, quality control requires that you taste test your products, including the chocolate ingredients you use. Therefore, today’s tip is a quick one that will help you get the most accurate flavor when doing a chocolate tasting.

The tip? Use room temperature water to cleanse your palate between tastings rather than cold water. Because cold hardens the fats in your mouth it affects tasting. However, room temperature water is one way to help ensure that you taste the full and accurate flavor of the chocolate.

P.S. Today’s tip was from RCI’s Chocolate Boot Camp education course. Registration for our 2015 session recently opened online. Visit retailconfectioners.org/bootcamp for more information.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tip #142: Open External Website Links to New Window

Website? Check. Now, how do you keep website visitors on your site long enough to be enticed to make an order? This week’s tip will help you do just that!

If you have any links on your website that go to a page that is not on your own website (i.e. external links), be sure that you have them set to open in a new window. This means that when a visitor clicks on that external link, they won’t leave your website completely but their browser will open a new window for the link. Then, if they want to return to your page, they can easily do so.

Common external links include social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. If you have these, you want your customers to click on them so they can keep in touch with your company. Using today’s tip, you’ll ensure that just because they click to Like you on Facebook, they won’t completely leave your page where they can make an order for your sweet treats!

P.S. Next week RCI is exhibiting at AACT’s National Technical Seminar. If you’ll be there, be sure to stop by and say hi!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tip #141: Host a Favorite Teacher Contest


World Teacher’s Day is coming up on Sunday, October 5 and this week’s tip is to help your customers celebrate teachers by holding a Favorite Teacher contest. It’s a fun avenue to recognize the great teachers in your area and also create some awareness for your company

First, create a beautiful gift basket that will go to the winning teacher and have it on display in your store. For the contest, invite your customers, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, etc. to nominate their favorite teacher and include the reason they have nominated him or her. To increase excitement for the contest, you could also give a box of your chocolates or “mini” gift basket to the nominator of the winning teacher.

Of course, you can get creative with promotion of the contest to spread the word (press releases, radio spots, school newsletters, etc.). Everyone will also want to know who wins so be sure to get a photo of the winner with his or her nominator and post it on social media and in your store!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tip #140: Make Smash Pumpkins


Looking for a new idea for your fall product list? How about a Smash Pumpkin?

Smash Pumpkins are simple hollow pumpkin or jack o’lantern moulds that are filled with additional goodies of your choice. Customers get to ‘smash’ the pumpkin open after purchase to see what’s inside.

Package your pumpkins in cellophane with beautiful bows and they become a gift of candies within a gift of chocolate! Be sure to explain on your packaging what this new product is and what’s inside so that customers understand what they’re purchasing. Have fun with it!

P.S. Next week RCI is exhibiting at the Philadelphia Candy Gift & Gourmet Show in Atlantic City. Be sure to stop by booth #512 and say hello if you’ll be there, too!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tip #139: Chocolate Party Spoons

This week’s tip is a quick and fun product idea that many candy stores have found to be quite popular. It is chocolate party spoons! Just take plastic or wooden spoons, dip them in chocolate a few times to create a nice, thick coating and then decorate them with embellishments, sprinkles, etc. You could also fill the inside of the spoon with chocolate instead of just dipping it. We’ve also seen these items marketed as coffee spoons, with stores encouraging customers to stir them into their coffee for an indulgent chocolate flavor. Plus, it's a fun way to flavor hot drinks by infusing the chocolate spoon with flavors such as cinnamon, peppermint, hazelnut and more.

Need a visual? We found a few photos on Pinterest to help inspire you!

http://www.pinterest.com/pin/236579786644810955/




P.S. This week RCI is hosting our Fall Regional Conference in Las Vegas. Check out photos from the event on the RCI Facebook page!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tip #138: Train Employees to Use Customer Names


This week’s tip is a simple one that will help your customers feel important. And who doesn’t like feeling important?

So, here it is: train employees to use customer names. Don’t just mention it to them every now and then as a side not but make it a part of your training process and company culture to use customer names whenever possible.

If you have regular customers, employees should take the time to get to know them so that as they walk in the door they are greeted by name. Customers will notice they have been remembered and take notice of the extra level of service your store provides. Want to take it even further? Remember their favorite chocolates or candies!

Employees may say, “Well, how do I know their name if they’ve never been in before?” If the customer is paying with a credit or debit card, one idea is to have them glance at the card if you require them to check the card against an ID and then use the last name as the customer leaves. For example, “Thank you, Mr. Smith, we appreciate you coming in and hope to see you again!”

As much as is possible, use your customer’s names. They will take note and remember that your store thinks they are important.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tip #137: Help Caramel Stick to the Apple

Caramel apple season is just around the corner and we have a quick tip for you on making this customer favorite. Do you have problems with the caramel you worked so hard to make just slipping off the apple as it sets? If you’ll take the extra step to wipe down each apple with a damp cloth prior to dipping then you’ll help to remove any of the waxy residue that rests on the apples.

Still need a little more help? One of our Chocolate Boot Camp instructors suggests adding white compound to the caramel at a 5 to 1 ratio to help it better adhere to the apple.

Do you have a tip for a solution to this common problem? Leave us a comment below! 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tip #136: Candy Key on Your Website


Many candy makers do not print a key or legend describing the specific pieces inside their boxes of chocolates because they want the flexibility to be able to change or update what goes inside the box as demand and supply for products change. However, that leaves your customers doing a guessing game of what they’re about to bite into. That’s why this week’s tip is to post a candy key (menu, legend, etc.) on your website.

Each of your chocolates likely has a specific marking or shape which allows you and your staff to know what’s inside. But how are your customers supposed to know? Of course, your loyal customers will know which their favorites are but new customers may need a little help. Take a moment to get quality photos of each of your chocolates and then create a quick key describing the centers of each piece.

Posting it on your website allows you to update the file as needed plus you will not have any printing costs. Additionally, if you reference it on packaging, inside packaging (i.e. small paper insert inside boxes of candy) or in the store, you’ll be driving traffic to your website. It’s a win-win situation for both you and your customers!


P.S. This week RCI is hosting our Creams, Fondants & Fudges course in Dayton, Ohio. Check out photos from the course throughout the week on the RCI Facebook page!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tip #135: Celebrate National S’mores Day

As you likely know, s’mores as a flavor and product has become quite the consumer craze. This week’s blog tip is to capitalize on the craze and celebrate National S’mores Day which is Sunday, August 10. Here are a few fun s’mores ideas we found on Pinterest to help get your creative juices flowing. Remember, if you make your own marshmallow, s’mores are a great way to showcase it!

S'mores to Go
S'mores Pops
S'mores Popcorn
S'mores Ice Cream Sandwich

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tip #134: Write a Marketing Plan

While we’re all enjoying the fun of summer, the holidays will be upon us before we know it! This means that you should be making a plan now for how you’re going to spread the word that your candy store is THE place to get chocolate and gifts for the holidays. Therefore, this week’s tip is to write a marketing plan.

Typical marketing plans include an analysis of the market and details of the marketing methods. Section headings often include:
  • Executive Summary
  • Situation Analysis (includes marketing, industry and competitor analysis)
  • Target Market
  • Marketing Methods with Completion Dates
  • Results Evaluation
The great news is that you have time to complete your plan for the 2014 holiday season. View a few samples here and then set aside a few days to focus on preparing your plan. When you complete the plan, it will still be summer so you can keep enjoying the sun and fun knowing you are ready for the holidays!


This week’s tip was part of an article in a past issue of Kettle Talk, RCI’s quarterly newsletter magazine for members. Join RCI to begin receiving Kettle Talk in your mailbox!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tip #133: Extend Truffle Shelf Life


Truffles are a consistent customer favorite but their delicious centers also have a high water activity which means the shelf life is limited. This week’s blog tip is to consider ideas to decrease water activity and therefore extend the shelf life of your truffles.

One idea is to use invertase, an enzyme derived from yeast, as an ingredient to bring down water activity in your truffle centers. Additionally, syrups such as honey will work similarly. Or you may also use potassium sorbate. Talk to your ingredients suppliers to determine the right amount to use for your specific truffle recipes.

Do note that if you claim that your products are all natural, you should pay close attention to how you choose to extend shelf life of your products. See this story on a bagel company who received a warning from the FDA for labeling their bagel as all natural because their blueberries contained potassium sorbate.

P.S. You’re invited to join RCI at our Fall Regional Conference next month! We’ll be connecting in Las Vegas August 25-27 and you can register online now at retailconfectioners.org/fall. Register by July 25 to save $100 on full registration!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tip #132: Be in the Know on Sustainability


Sustainability and fair labor are big topics in the world of cacao bean farming. Big enough that many of your customers have likely even begun asking you questions about where your chocolate comes from. This week’s tip is to educate yourself and get in the know when it comes to your chocolate suppliers and what they are doing for the sustainability of cocoa as well as fair labor practices on cacao farms.

From the largest cocoa and chocolate producers to the bean-to-bar producers, nearly everyone involved in the supply chain of cocoa and chocolates has recently recognized the importance of working directly with the farmers of the beloved cacao bean. By educating and providing training for these farmers, the life of the cacao bean and the quality of life for the farmers is being improved.

Here are some helpful links to get you started:

  • CocoaAction – A strategy for cocoa sustainability with a focus on Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, which together provide about 55% of the world’s current cocoa supply.
  • World Cocoa Foundation – Dedicated to helping achieve cocoa sustainability, supporting cocoa communities, education, field programs and scientific research.

By educating yourself and your staff, you will be able to educate your customers. As chocolate suppliers continue to put efforts into supporting the cacao farms across the globe, your customers have the opportunity to be a part of the change. Let them know that by buying your chocolates, they are helping to support cacao farmers and their families.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tip #131: Celebrate the World Cup Experience


Did you know we are in the middle of the 2014 World Cup? In celebration of the World Cup being hosted in Brazil this year, this week’s blog tip is to add some Brazilian flair to your products or store. While the World Cup is not quite as big in the U.S. as it is in other parts of the world, customers all over will appreciate the opportunity to join in the fun and festivities.


  • Colored Ribbon – A cost effective way to add flair is through wrapping products with yellow and green colored ribbons.
  • Sprinkles or Nonpareils – Many candy makers make chocolate covered Oreos® with embellishments or sprinkles. Use yellow and green sprinkles on your chocolate covered items and you have instant Brazilian-themed products.
  • Flavors – Fruits such as passionfruit and guava are popular in Brazil and can be fun flavors to incorporate with your chocolates and candies, too!

The tips here are specific to celebrating Brazil but if you are a die-hard fan of a specific soccer team, just adapt these tips to fit the colors and flavors of your favorite team.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tip #130: Use Nutter Butters to Make Seasonally Themed Treats

Nutter Butters are a delicious treat all by themselves. This week’s tip is to take this beloved favorite cookie, dip it in chocolate and create seasonally themed products throughout the year. Below are a few ideas but the possibilities are endless. Therefore, let these ideas just be a starting point for your creativity!

Bunnies

Mummies

Ice Cream Cone

Reindeer

Flip Flops

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tip #129: Host a Pinterest Party at Your Store

Have you heard of a Pinterest party? Based on ideas found on the online idea-sharing board, Pinterest, it’s a chance for “pinners” to get together for a time of crafty fun. They get the chance to bring ideas to life that they’ve found on Pinterest.

Hosting a candy-themed Pinterest party at your store is a great way to get new potential customers in your store and to showcase that your products make great gifts and crafts. You can choose some great pins from Pinterest and then create a space in your store to allow customers to get crafty.

After a quick Pinterest search for candy themed gifts and crafts, we found the following ideas to get you started:

Lollipop Bouquet
Jelly Bean Bracelets
Candy Chicks
Candy Ornaments
So, how do you host a Pinterest party? There are a variety of ways! You could make it an all-day event; customers can drop in at their leisure to make a fun candy themed craft. Or, make it a more formal event that requires signing up ahead of time. Of course, which way you decide to do that will help determine your craft. A simple craft is better for drop-ins and a more involved craft is better for the latter. Either way, provide a coupon or shopping discount for purchases made in your store by anyone who participates in the party.

Happy Pinning!

P.S. We're in St. Louis this week for the RCI Annual Convention & Industry Expo. Check out photos on our Facebook page throughout the week!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tip #128: Use a Heat Gun to Quickly Melt Wafers for Seeding

This week’s tip is quick and easy and may save yourself a headache as you temper chocolate in small batch tempering machines.

Are you using chocolate wafers as seed for your tempering unit? Before putting them in the feed of the tempering machine, quickly (don’t overheat!) use a heat gun on them to form one large clump or block of wafers. By doing this, you will help keep the wafers from sneaking through the blade and over-tempering your chocolate.

See? Quick and easy!

This week’s tip was shared during our Chocolate Boot Camp education course. RCI will be hosting a Creams, Fondants & Fudges course August 5-7 in Dayton, Ohio. Visit retailconfectioners.org/events to stay up-to-date with RCI's education course offerings in the coming year.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tip #127: Spark Creativity with a Mind Map


Looking for ideas to get the creative juices flowing? This week’s tip is to use a mind map to spark creativity!

What is a mind map? It’s a diagram used to visually outline information. Typically it begins with a word, image or phrase in the center and then other ideas and images branch out from the center across the page.  One of the key benefits of a mind map is that an idea doesn’t have to be full or complete or even in sentence form in order to be displayed. The idea is that the process of a mind map resembles how your brain actually works!

Tips for an effective mind map:
  • Start with a large piece of paper (Give your brain room to think!)
  • Use images, not just words
  • Vary the size, color and alignment of your images and text
  • Keep topics and labels short (Think big picture.)
Mind maps are useful tools for individual creativity and also can help to get creative ideas flowing among a team of people. In your next team brainstorming session, consider using a whiteboard or oversized Post-it to map out ideas as they’re given and see where mind mapping can take you! If you prefer tech tools to paper versions, check out MindMeld or Mindmeister.

P.S. There is still time to register to join us at the RCI Annual Convention & Industry Expo! Register online now to meet fellow confectioners and suppliers June 16-20 in St. Louis.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tip #126: Honor Fathers Leading Up to Father’s Day

Father’s Day is just a few weeks away (June 15) so this week’s tip is to utilize social media to help your customers honor their fathers and hopefully they’ll come in to buy your sweets in the process.

Below find a few ideas for some of the most popular social media tools. Take one and use it, or take a combination approach for the social media avenues your customers use most.

Facebook – For the week leading up to the holiday, have followers post their favorite sayings or lessons learned from their dad. Make a daily post and have followers comment in the post with their sayings or lessons. Then, choose your favorite at the end of the week to win a Father’s Day gift basket. You could take a humorous or sentimental approach with this one!
Twitter – Use a custom hashtag to encourage followers to post about their dad. Similar to the Facebook suggestion, you can take a humorous or sentimental approach here. Be sure to promote the hashtag so you can view all participant submissions.
Pinterest –  Have a Dad’s Sweet Dream Gifts contest that requires entrants to have a Pinterest board full of their dad’s favorite items from your website or online store. Require the board to include your company name (awareness builder!) and then have entrants submit the URL to their board by emailing you or posting the link on your Facebook page. (Check out this Pinterest contest for an idea of how it to communicate the idea to customers.)
Instagram – Photo contest! Have customers submit photos of themselves with their dads holding their favorite chocolates or candies from your store. Just as with Twitter, encourage a custom hashtag so that you can easily view the submissions.

For each of these items, you could say that if they come to your store before Father’s Day and show their comment, Tweet, etc. on their phone then they receive a free piece of fudge, truffle, etc. As you know, once you get them in your store, they’re likely to purchase your irresistible treats!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tip #125: Celebrate National Candy Month


It is almost June, also known as National Candy Month! This week’s tip is to have some fun with a month-long celebration of all things candy.

Ideas for fun candy month celebrations include:
  • Specials and coupons, of course!
  • Interactive in-store contests. For example, coloring contests for kids is a great way to get the entire family in your store. Display the submissions in your store throughout the month, letting other customers vote for their favorites. The winning prize could be a fun candy-filled gift basket.
  • Limited edition candy. What about getting your staff involved and asking them to create a new product inspired by their own favorite confections that’s only available for the month of June?
  • Host a Candy Making Camp where kids can sign up for a day of candy making at your store for a fee.
  • Have a new candy contest, encouraging customers to contribute ideas for a new chocolate or candy to be made by your company. They can come up with creative names, or you could even name the winning idea after the winning contributor.
The key here is to have fun celebrating because candy really does make life more sweet – and fun!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tip #124: Control the Temperature of Your Packaging Room


You’ve made a delicious product covered in chocolate and now it is time to package it. Have you considered how the temperature of the packaging room or area will affect your product?

This week’s tip is to control the temperature of your packaging room or area in order to protect the integrity of your products. Oftentimes the focus of room temperature is on the cooking or kitchen area but the temperature and relative humidity of the packaging area is important as well. For example, conditions with high humidity will lead to moisture condensation which will eventually result in sugar bloom on the product’s surface. Additionally, conditions that are too warm could melt your products.

Confectionery experts recommend that the packaging area be maintained at 65° to 70°F with a relative humidity of maximum 65 percent. To help with control, install a thermometer that measures both temperature and relative humidity and assign an employee to check the measurements on a regular schedule.

Temperature control is one of many factors and variables that should be considered as you prepare product for customer distribution. The decisions you make about these items can help to prolong the beauty and shelf life of your confections.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tip #123: Train Employees in Customer Service


Think about the last business you entered, retail specifically. Were you greeted upon entrance? If you received a warm welcome, did it leave an impression on you? Likely so as a warm welcome is no longer the norm when it comes to customer service. That’s why today’s tip is to train your employees in customer service.

One of the best examples of excellent customer service is the Apple Store. A Forbes article outlined the five steps of service that Apple Store employees are trained to follow for each customer interaction:

Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome.
Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs (ask closed and open-ended questions).
Present a solution for the customer to take home today.
Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.
End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

How are your employees doing at each of these steps? Oftentimes we assume that employees understand the basics of customer service, but it’s up to you as the business owner/manager to train them.

Remember, 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated (salesforce.com). So start preparing your employee training today!

P.S. The Opening General Session at the RCI Annual Convention & Industry Expo this June will provide more insight from industry expert Phil Bruno on building great customer experiences. Register online by May 16 and save $100 on full registration!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tip #122: Update Your Ice Cream Display

La King's Confectionery, RCI 2011 Fall Regional

It’s almost summertime which means it’s nearly prime time for ice cream! Therefore, this week’s tip is to take a critical look at how you display the ice cream in your store.
As with candy merchandising, the way your ice cream is displayed can have a positive or adverse affect on sales. During our 2011 Fall Regional Conference in Houston and Galveston, Texas, members visited La King’s Confectionery. The owner, Jack King, shared that when he revamped his ice cream display to be more of a European style (similar to the way gelato is displayed), ice cream sales in his store went up. The photo above is an example of how he currently displays his ice cream.
So, if you are still hand-dipping your ice cream out of traditional, round buckets, consider a display redesign. By displaying ice cream in a more modern style and adding embellishments such as cookie crumbles or caramel swirls, your customers won’t be able to resist your delicious ice cream!
Take it a step further: Take your display a step further and offer a toppings bar nearby.  Take products that you currently offer (i.e. chocolate covered pretzels, caramel, nonpareils, etc.) and let customers create a new favorite ice cream treat!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tip #121: Perform a Technology Audit


Is the technology at your company helping or hindering productivity? This week’s tip is to take some time to perform a technology audit to determine how it is working and also how it can be improved.
Not sure where to start? Unless you have a skilled IT professional on your staff, you will likely need to hire someone to help you through the process and make recommendations that best fit your company size and goals. The following points are from the SCORE website as items to be sure you consider during a technology audit:
·     Information Security
·     Training your staff so that they’re using technology as efficiently and securely as possible
·     Your future needs and what current/developing technologies will help meet them.
·     What is not working right now or what could work better?
We also found this checklist as well as this step by step guide that will help you get started.
Be sure to include your staff in the process as they are in the trenches and can provide some great insight as to what is and is not working in terms of technology and processes. While a technology audit is an investment, it has the potential to provide a large return if you take the time to do it well.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tip #120: See If Your Company is Being Pinned

We’ve mentioned Pinterest on our blog multiple times, typically because we love to find ideas there to share with you, our faithful blog readers. Did you know that there is a way to determine if your company has images or links being pinned by others on Pinterest? This week’s tip will show you how to check that and also why it matters. 
First, why does it matter if people are pinning links and images from your website on Pinterest? Pinterest users post captions to their images. By reviewing the pins along with the captions, you may find great customer insight regarding your current products as well as ideas to adapt them or make them better.
Second, how to find if you are being pinned. You may search to see if anyone has pinned your content by typing the following into your web browser’s address bar:  http://pinterest.com/source/retailconfectioners.org (instead of “retailconfectioners.org, enter your own url). The page that shows up allows you to check out the boards that have pinned images and links from your website. Take a few minutes to review the content and the captions. In addition, it might be a good idea to do a quarterly check on this to see if popular pins and content change based on the seasons or other factors.
It’s always a good idea to track your company’s online presence. We hope this week’s tip gives you a great tool to help you do just that!