Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Best of 2016: Top 5 Tips of the Week

We've curated the most-read tips from 2016, to pinpoint topics that are most important to candy makers. 

From troubleshooting tips to sky-high merchandising inspiration, plus a customer service must-read, the following posts deliver quick and easily executed tips to simply the lives of confectioners, like you!

Suffer from sweaty sea salt caramels? Take tips from fellow candy makers and RCI members on how to avoid this common problem.

Get step-by-step instructions for creating this eye-catching truffle tree.

RCI MEMBER BONUS: Click here to login to RCI’s member site and snag three variations of ganache recipes on page 9 of RCI’s Kettle Talk magazine.

Nobody likes hard, dried-out marshmallows! Keep your ‘mallows soft and pillowy all year long with this popular tip of the week.

An oldie, but a goodie, this throwback from 2012 covers four customer service basics that are too important not to review with your team on a regular basis.

Bloom is easily identified as one of the most common problems facing candy makers. No surprise, this post tops the list with common causes of chocolate bloom, as well as simple solutions.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tip #214: Build a Support Network

As a small business owner, it is easy to find yourself feeling isolated and even depressed, especially during the holidays. In fact, this is a common sentiment amongst entrepreneurs. It can be comforting and beneficial to have a strong network of  like-minded individuals who understand your day-to-day challenges.

Every professional knows building a network is important. If your eyes are already starting to gloss over because a) you don’t have time, b) you don’t know where to start, c) you find networking to be intimidating, or d) all of the above, it’s time to perk up! We’ve identified 4 ways to build your network, plus, ways RCI can help!

  1. Seek out a mentor
A great mentor can offer guidance and support through the wisdom that comes with experience. There’s a good chance with any challenge you may be facing, they’ve lived  it and can share what they’ve learned from both their mistakes and successes. Look for experienced leaders that you admire and respect through your local community or your industry.

RCI’s People to People Network is a great resource for identifying members within the same industry, who have voluntarily offered to share their knowledge with other RCI members. Within the People to People Network we have identified potential mentors, as well as their areas of expertise, including industry subjects such as tempering, equipment, formulations, facility design and more, as well as broader business topics like marketing, accounting, ecommerce, succession planning, etc. Sign in at retailconfectioners.org and find the People to People Network under the Member Resources tab.

  1. Attend social events
Of course, seeing what your local Chamber of Commerce or other local professional organizations have on the calendar is an option. If you’re looking for a group with more specialized interests, check out Meetup.com to find like-minded individuals gathering near you.

Providing opportunities to connect with fellow confectioners and industry suppliers is one of the pillars of RCI. As an international association, you can expect RCI to host a number of events for members and non-members across the US and abroad each year, offering fun and engaging ways to build relationships and share ideas. Visit retailconfectioners.org/events or follow us on Facebook to keep up on the latest events.

  1. Volunteer
As the saying goes, “you have to give to get.” You’d be surprised how quickly and effortlessly your network can grow when you volunteer.

Even if you’re already involved in a networking association, it can be awkward and intimidating to put yourself out there. By volunteering, making connections may come more naturally to you if you’re working with others on a specific task or project.

  1. Share your advice and experience
Even the busiest of us can manage to make time to post to their favorite social network now and then. A few minutes is all you need to join the conversation happening on RCI’s online forum, List Serve. Respond to inquiries and share your own quandaries in your pajamas, if you wish! Participate in troubleshooting topics ranging from chocolate production, marketing and business ownership and build your network in the process. Sign in at retailconfectioners.org and find List Serve under the Member Resources tab.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tip #213: Freeze Chocolate Without Risking Bloom

The mention of freezing chocolate products not too long ago was looked upon by candy makers as taboo. The two main concerns were “the product will bloom” or “the taste will be lost.”

Today, with new freezing systems and a better understanding of how to freeze products, it has become commonplace in the industry. Some of the largest manufacturers freeze products to keep up with seasonal demands.

In this excerpt from RCI’s 2010 spring regional conference, RCI member Mike Koch, of Morely Candy Makers/ Sanders Candy, offers 4 simple steps for successfully freezing and thawing chocolate, plus maximum storage times for both filled pieces and solid chocolates.

1.     Prepare the product
·         Shrink wrap or wrap as tight as possible, making the package air tight.
·         Double shrink wrapping stock boxes is the best method if you use that type of packaging.
·         If you don’t have a shrink wrapper, a double layer of plastic wrap will work.

2.     Maintain a stable freezing and thawing process.
·         Most household or small commercial freezers can consistently maintain temperatures with short thaw cycles, if any.
·         Opening and closing freezers increases humidity in the units, thus the need for defrosting.
·         Larger operations should utilize freezers that have defrosting cycles.
·         Proper freezer drainage and regular maintenance is key to ensuring stability.
·         Evaluate defrosting time regularly. If this process takes too long, product packaging could get wet. If it is too short, the cost of freezing will increase due to the use of power. 

This may be the most important part of freezing.
1. Remove product from the freezer
·         When removed from the freezer, product should be stored at 60 degrees Farenheit, with limited humidity.
2. Create air movement around the thawing package
·         Smaller operations can remove a stock box from the freezer and place it on a counter with a small fan blowing on the package.
·         Larger operations can put a pallet on a rack with a fan blowing on one end.
·         Do not open the package or remove the wrap until the product temperature rises up to the room temperature.
·         When opened at room temperature, the product will look and taste the same as it did before freezing.

 For best results, thaw and sell frozen products within the recommended times below.
·         Filled pieces and truffles should be 3-4 months.
·         Solid chocolate pieces should be 6-8 months

Freezing is not for everyone, but for the companies that do freeze and do it right, it is a major part of their planning and operations. You cannot cut corners or hurry this process. It is a way for smaller confectioners to purchase products and reach the minimum manufacturer requirement. It will increase your shelf life a few months and will not harm the products.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tip # 212: Make Customer Satisfaction a Cultural Attribute of Your Business

Customer service specialists for L.L. Bean, Inc., an outdoor retailer widely recognized for their exceptional customer service, led an educational session on the subject of customer service during RCI’s Fall Regional Conference in Portland, Maine in 2015. Liza Gerry and Valerie Marshall, who each have nearly thirty years of experience leading customer service initiatives at L.L. Bean, shared five tips to make customer satisfaction a cultural attribute of your business. 

BONUS: We’ve added specific ways you, as a retail confectioner, can apply each tip to your sweet business.

Top Five Customer Service Tips

  1. Empower employees to do the right thing – Develop a service culture where your employees feel they are brand ambassadors, who have as much confidence in your brand as your most loyal customers.

    How do I apply this to my business? To create your own brand personality, think about what cultural attributes are most important to you and your business. Offer 3-5 characteristics for your staff to focus on and share examples of how these attributes can help them address customer service in a way that best reflects your brand.

    Print reminder cards, like the one below, and post them in visible areas such as the break room, in the restroom and near the cash register. Provide extra copies for staff to place in their private workspaces.
  1. Invest in training and communicationsNever assume your team shares the same viewpoints on customer service as you do. Each member of your team brings their own unique personality and experience, which are like puzzle pieces that make up your company culture.

    How do I apply this to my business? Clear expectations for customer service should be a key element of your employee training, just as important as dress codes and safety policies.

    Additionally, ongoing communication is vital to remind staff of the company’s customer service policy. Share tips on how to achieve customer satisfaction through regular team huddles, a private Facebook group for staff or by printing newsletter-style handouts.
  1. Let customers define “good service” –  According to L.L. Bean’s President and CEO, Chris McCormick, “you can’t tell customers, ‘you will be satisfied’ – they need to arrive at that conclusion on their own through the service experience itself.” 
How do I apply this to my business? Provide opportunities for customers to share their feedback on your service through a social media site or an email survey. Even if the feedback is negative, it gives you the opportunity to make improvements and lets your customers know you value them.

  1. Offer a consistent, high-quality experience before, during and after their purchase across all channels to show you’re engaged with them throughout their journey. 
How do I apply this to my business? To ensure you are consistently offering the best customer experience, play the role of a consumer regularly, both in-store and online. This will help you identify areas where improvements are needed.

  1. Guarantee 100% customer satisfaction – Satisfied customers make repeat customers.

L.L. Bean’s 100% Satisfaction Guarantee is the pinnacle of their customer service efforts and appears on their website, in their catalogs, in their stores and on every single receipt. While this guarantee serves their customers very well, according to Liza it serves L.L. Bean very well by making their customers the best “vocal champions” of their customer service. Clearly, making this worth standing behind.

How do I apply this to my business? What guarantee could you offer that would ensure your customers are 100% satisfied with your product or service. Consider offering a freshness guarantee. Clearly define what it means to be “fresh” and include a made-by date on each package. This gives customers the confidence that they are getting fresh products with every purchase and it gives you the opportunity to talk about it a lot.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tip #211: Save the Old Maids

You wouldn’t throw your Thanksgiving turkey away if you could use the leftovers to make turkey sandwiches for the next two weeks, right? Then why would you throw away the unpopped kernels at the bottom of the popcorn bowl?

Most would consider the popcorn kernels that fail to pop (also known as old maids), to be the duds that remain seemingly unaffected at the bottom of the popcorn bowl. Did you know, allowing “old maids” to absorb moisture can actually rejuvenate them? 
Image: www.popcorn.org

David Woodside, author of What Makes Popcorn Pop?, suggests filling "a one-quart jar three-quarters full of popcorn and adding one tablespoon of water. Cover the jar with an airtight lid and give it a few good shakes every few minutes until the popcorn has absorbed all the water. Store the jar in a cool place."

After two or three days, test-pop the “rejuvenated” batch of kernels. Extra stubborn old maids may need a few more drops of water if they fail the test. After adding more water to the jar, shake it, and let it sit for a few more days.

This process takes very little time and could help you reduce waste and save money if you pop a lot of popcorn.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tip #210: Red Hot Ideas for Increasing Valentine’s Sales

As many consumers begin dreaming of sugar plum fairies and candy canes, the second largest retail season is not far off in many retailers’ minds.

Get ahead of the competition for Valentine’s Day 2017, with the following marketing tactics to increase sales from early-bird shoppers.

Ring in the New Year with Red

Starting the day after New Year’s, begin the transition to Valentine’s Day by incorporating red into your retail space, website and social media pages. While everyone else is talking about New Year’s resolutions, make your e-blasts and direct mail stand out with gift ideas for Valentine’s Day, keeping consistent with a red color scheme.

Set aside time to prepare your marketing materials as far in advance as possible, so you aren't stressed about it the week before Christmas. Schedule e-blasts and social media posts ahead of time and have direct mail printed and ready to go out after Christmas.

With your early promotional materials prepared in advance, you can spend the end of December and early January to work on targeted materials for last-minute shoppers.

Encourage Pre-Orders

Offer coupons, discounts or special add-ons to customers who place their orders in advance to aid in your holiday preparations and lock down sales.

Communicate Clear Last-Ship Dates

According to a survey conducted by Discover Card, only 10% of men wait until Valentine’s Day to purchase gifts, while 65% of shoppers make their purchases the week before Valentine’s Day. Use a call-to-action, such as, “order by February 3 to receive your gift by Valentine’s Day,” as a way to establish clear deadlines and avoid disappointment from procrastinators.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tip # 209: Run Your Small Business From Your Phone

Tis the season for retail businesses, especially in the confectionery industry, to expect increased foot traffic, sales and, unfortunately, stress. With the help of RCI member and past president, Brian Pelletier of Kakao Chocolate, we’ve compiled 3 apps to help make your holidays more merry by increasing efficiency in your business using your smartphone.

Created to help busy families organize a multitude of activities and appointments, through a shared calendar, shopping lists, to-do lists and more. This free app made Brian’s short list because it allows him and his staff to quickly and easily create and share shopping lists in real time. Having multiple locations, each store has access to Cozi through a desktop that’s at each of the shops. This way, when they need more cream or sugar, they can quickly and easily add these items to Cozi’s shopping list, which immediately syncs to mobile devices. Forgot to add eggs to the list, and your manager has already left for a shopping trip? No problem! Last-minute additions to the shopping list update automatically in real time. Once the item has been purchased, simply cross it off the list.

Additionally, items needed can be labeled by location and if you need something specific, you can save details, such as the dimensions of an air conditioner filter. By allowing you to save your recipes, Cozi also makes it easy to transfer recipe ingredients to your shopping list.

QuickBooks App

If you’re a small business, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with or using QuickBooks by Intuit (if not, click here to learn more). If you’re already using QuickBooks software for your accounting and invoicing, but not the app, you are missing out on a tool that offers simple, but valuable functions to this software.

As you would expect, the QuickBooks app syncs with QuickBooks online. The app makes it very easy to access accounting information while away from your desk. The app does, however, have very limited functionality. It does not allow you to balance your books on a smart phone, however, if you need to make a change to an order when making a delivery, you can pull up the invoice on your phone, make the change and immediately email a revised invoice to the customer. You can also check the status of an invoice, if, for example, a customer says they’ve paid the balance. Click here to learn more about QuickBooks online.


If you do business away from your retail shop, such as at special events or farmers’ markets, Square is definitely worth looking into. With the use of the free Square card reader, in conjunction with the mobile app, you can accept credit card payments from an iPhone, iPad or Android mobile device. Customers can add a tip, sign with their finger and receive an electronic receipt via text or email. Square also allows you to review your sales history, resend receipts or issue refunds.

If you own a confectionery shop, where the average ring is quite low, the flat fee applied by other credit card processing systems can add up quickly. Square bases their fees on a flat 2.75% percentage, per swipe, saving you money in the long run. There is no merchant account, monthly fees or set-up costs.

Square is also a great tool for keeping track of customers. With the swipe of a credit card, Square automatically recognizes the card and populates customer information, such as their name and email address. For more details and to sign up, visit the Square website, squareup.com.

RCI Members: Learn how to increase efficiency in your business operations by using your smart phone, by logging on to RCI's website to watch this educational session from the 2016 Annual Convention.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tip 208: 3 Ways to Add Holiday “Cheers” to Your Confections

Add a little holiday “cheers” to your confections this season. Perfect for holiday parties and gifts, we’ve curated three ideas from RCI members that incorporate beer, wine and spirits into their confections.

Joy Lyn's Candies makes Beer Brittle
and Jalapeno Beer Brittle
Beer Brittle

Joy Lyn’s Candies of Paradise, California partners with a local brewery to create a peanut brittle made with Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. Coined as “Beer Brittle,” this popular confection is made in small batches and offers a subtle hint of hops and malt. Given the popularity of the product, Sierra Nevada has allowed Joy Lyn’s to display their logo prominently on the front of the brittle packaging. Joy Lyn’s continues to expand their line of Sierra Nevada flavored products, including a jalapeno beer brittle and a Hop Salt Sout Caramel, as its name suggests, the caramels are sprinkled with salt infused with hops.

Irish Whiskey Truffle Shots

Kakao Chocolate presented their Irish whiskey truffle shots
 to RCI members during Candy Clinic at the 2016
Annual Convention in Indianapolis.
Kakao Chocolate of St. Louis, Missouri has developed an indulgent Irish Whiskey Truffle Shot, by piping Irish whiskey ganache into recyclable sample cups and topped with cocoa nibs. When making the ganache, they add the whiskey at the end so the alcohol doesn’t cook out. If your store hosts a holiday open house, this would be a fun and unexpected treat for adult guests.

Elevated Candy Co. shared their black currant brandy-infused truffles
with RCI members during Candy Clinic at the 2016
Fall Conference in Vancouver, BC.
Black Currant Brandy-Infused Truffles

Elevated Candy Co. of Port Townsend, Washington took the popular pairing of wine and chocolate to create the Black Currant Truffle. This popular confection is made by incorporating a local black currant-infused brandywine into their ganache and finishing the piece with a dash of red Hawaiian alea sea salt.

There are countless ways to incorporate beer, wine and spirits into your confections. Here’s some more ideas (plus, recipes), sure to warm the belly during the cold-weather months ahead; cinnamon whiskey-infused marshmallows coated in chocolate, Beer and Pretzel Caramels or uber-trendy red wine hot chocolate.

If you decide to incorporate beer, wine or spirits into your confections, know that regulations vary from state to state. Check with your local liquor control commission and familiarize yourself with regulations put in place by your state, as many prohibit the sale of confections that contain alcohol.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Throwback Tip #46: 5 Ways to Grow Your Email List

Email marketing can be an effective and budget-friendly 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 below.  

1.     Guestbook in Store – Take advantage of holiday sales traffic in your store by inviting customers to sign up to receive your emails to find out about future sales and promotions. When creating a sign up sheet, remember the more information you request, the less likely they will complete the sign-up so only ask for the necessary info.

2.     Events and Meetings – Since you’re a chamber member  (if not, 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.
Take your list-building efforts to the next level by co-hosting an event with another local business (think coffee shops, boutiques, etc.) to reach a new audience of potential customers.

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.

Use your email marketing list to reward loyal patrons by sending them a coupon during the month of their birthday or host drawings to giveaway free or deeply discounted goodies. Don't forget to communicate these perks to entice more sign ups. And no false advertising. If you advertise coupons and giveaways, make sure you follow through.

Do you have other ideas that you use to gather email addresses for your list? Share them in the comments below.
Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.