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.