Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing. 

Julia: Everybody, I’m excited to introduce you to a new friend, Jenni. Jenni, first of all, say hi to everybody.

Jenni: Hey guys! Hey!

Julia: We’re excited to have you. Jenni, what is your business name?

Jenni: My business is Jenni’s UGLY Chocolates.

Julia: Okay. So when I first came across this, UGLY Chocolates, tell me more! How did that happen?

Jenni: A lot of people are upset that I call them ugly. When I first started, it became a business from a hobby. And so, when I was practicing and trying to figure out how to temper chocolate, real chocolate, it was very difficult, and everything came out just really funky looking with streaks and specs. Eventually, I got better at it, but it was too late. My friends were asking for my ugly chocolates to give to friends, to serve at a party, and they would just say ugly chocolates. And then it just stuck, and it’s been with me since.

Julia: I’m not gonna lie, I love it, because when I first came across your Instagram, I was like, first of all, who’s selling ugly chocolates in this universe? But it’s something that has stuck with me, just like it seems like it sticks with your people. How did you get into this hobby?

Jenni: My children were very young. I had a four-year-old and a one-year-old, and I just needed stimulation, I needed creativity. And so like a lot of moms, when you’ve got the little ones, you’re going nuts, and you need to do something. You need some kind of creative outlet, especially if you’re not working. And that wasn’t an option for me, because everybody had been laid off. So I’m stuck at home, and I’m trying to live in this world with these tiny people, and I just needed an outlet. And so, chocolate was interesting to me. I like to make little bon bons. I’m from Kentucky and so my dad and I would make caramels, and we would play with different candy recipes. There’s one in Kentucky called Kentucky Pull Cream. It’s very difficult to make, and so we dabble in that. But his favorite thing to make is bonbon balls. And so I had challenged myself to make a better bonbon ball than my dad.

Julia: I love it! Some good healthy competition!

Jenni: So I wanted to put more bonbon into it, but he was dipping them, and it was proving challenging for me because I was using real chocolate. I didn’t understand it at the time, that you can’t really do that. And so, the liquid and the chocolate, they just don’t mix. And so it was seizing up and giving me trouble, and so I decided to do this molding technique where you kind of make a shell, and then you fill the shell, and then you cap the shell with the filling inside. And that way, I could get more bonbon inside of the bourbon ball. So that’s where it all started, was me trying to one up my dad.

Julia: Cool. I love it. And some good Kentucky bonbon. That’s awesome! So how long have you been doing this?

Jenni: I think about eight years now.

Julia: Wow! That’s a long time! So you started making these chocolates, healthy competition with your dad, your friends started asking about them, when did you decide, this is gonna be a business?

Jenni: I was selling at the uptown umbrella market. We had this little community market in the summers. I was selling there. I was freezing them and taking them to the market because it was wicked hot, and had a really great feedback. People were loving them. I had some regular customers, it was going really well. And then I entered my sweet potato crunch, and a competition with our statewide magazine, which is called Our State. They had a Made in NC Awards competition. I entered it, and when I won the food and drink category that year, that’s when it became a business. 

Julia: That’s cool! That’s innate PR, because then suddenly, you’re in this magazine and people are wondering where they can get this too.

Jenni: I was selling on Facebook. I didn’t have a website, I didn’t have a shop, I didn’t have anywhere where I was selling them, other than the market or just by word of mouth. And so all of a sudden, I’m getting hundreds of requests for a menu, and I’m like, I don’t have a menu. I wasn’t expecting to win this.

Julia: That’s awesome! So tell me, what are some of the biggest changes that have happened since those early days?

Jenni: I would say the biggest change is in me. Because even though I started out just like, well, let’s see where this goes, I had a lot of advice about what you need to do to have a successful business. You need to get a loan, you need to hire people, you need to hire a manager, you need to get the equipment, you need to get a space. And I was so overwhelmed by that advice, because especially with an artist background, I don’t have any business background. I’m not a mathematical person. I love it, appreciate it, I can’t do it. I’m not a great organizer. And everything was in my home, and I’ve got these kids, and I’m still the caregiver. I have to figure out how to make all of this work.

And so I’ve had to grow and change with every step of the business. We’ve just been growing it by baby step, and baby step, and baby step. And every level, I have to redo the infrastructure to be able to accommodate it, but also, I am having to change the way that I think about the business and the way that I think about how I’m going to move forward with it, how I’m going to grow in it. And I’ve had to educate myself on everything. So it’s been overwhelming, but I think for me, to be able to grow as a business owner, as the business grows, has been much more effective than jumping in and trying to do this big thing and then just failing.

Julia: That’s kind of how we grew too. I started as a one person show, and now we have employees. But it was really overwhelming at the beginning, because I was like, oh, I need all of these things. But really, if you do it slowly, you don’t necessarily need all of the things all at once.

Jenni: It’s been painful. It’s been a painful growth experience, but invaluable at the same time.

Julia: For sure! So tell me, what does your business look like now? Do you still make chocolate in your kitchen? Or where do you do it? You still do it in your kitchen?

Jenni: Yeah. I’ll have to take you on a tour in a bit. This past year, I became an LLC. I was a sole proprietor before, so that was a big change in the way that we do a lot of things. So became a sole proprietor, and then I bought a larger machine. It was from Italy, it’s a continuous tempering machine. So before I could process about 10 pounds at once, but now I can do about 40 pounds. And it’s still in my kitchen!

Julia: Well, that’s awesome! So are you making them all by yourself, or do you have people helping you?

Jenni: I have four contract employees working for me. I felt like I was doing the work of about 10 people before as the business owner, and then all the things. And so now I’m hiring out whatever I can.

Julia: So who are you mainly serving? Are these individuals who are purchasing chocolates, companies? Tell me a little bit about that.

Jenni: Both. That’s a great question! I’m selling mostly through my website, which is jennisuglychocolates.com. And then I’m also selling locally at the Farmers and Maker’s Market. It’s here on Dickinson Avenue here in Greenville, North Carolina. It’s an artisan market and also a farmer’s market. So there’s produce, there’s artwork, and there’s a coffee shop, and there’s chocolate. So I’ve got a chocolate case there, so we’re selling locally. And then also doing corporate. I love, love, love, love, love, love corporate orders so much. So we’re trying to expand in that directio because it’s amazing. They know what they want, they know what they can spend, and they give you plenty of advance notice, and then you can just make a great product. And then they hand it out to all kinds of people, and then it’s exponential. It’s my favorite.

Julia: So obviously the people popping into this Farmer’s and Maker’s market, they’re seeing your chocolates, how are you marketing yourself? How has that worked?

Jenni: Mostly through Our State magazine.

Julia: Sweet! That’s awesome! That’s like a huge bump.

Jenni: It was huge. It was life-changing because it’s been five years since I had entered that contest, and it’s still my top referral on my website. So I still get that little bump. And they usually do a little plug every year. And I saw when they redesigned their website, they reorganized it so you could see past winners. And I got another bump from that. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. And I also entered the Made in the South Awards of Garden and Gun Magazine last year, and was a semi-finalist. And so then they kind of picked me up and put me like, here’s some great mail order gifts. These are great mail order gifts. And so, I was able to get a little bump from that. I entered again, so we’ll see what happens this year.

Julia: Fingers crossed!

Jenni: That would carry me for the next 10 years. I wouldn’t have to ever market again. But otherwise, it’s word of mouth. It’s just plugging stuff on Facebook and Instagram.

Julia: Which makes a ton of sense, because it’s chocolate! People recommend chocolate to each other, and you always wanna try them before you buy them. So if you trust somebody’s taste, then you’re gonna be more likely to buy them. What’s your most popular flavor?

Jenni: The most popular is sweet potato crunch. It’s a bonbon with all of my chocolate, a semi-sweet. So it’s a semi-sweet bonbon. It has a creamy filling, which is made from sweet potato, local creamery butter. They’re just down the road. It’s got a local distilled sweet potato vodka, it brightens it up. A little bit of cinnamon, a little bit of bonbon, and then that creamy warm, gooey center, and then beneath it, it’s on a pillow of roasted pecans, so you got the salty sweet crunch, and then my homemade toffee bit. So it’s pecans and toffee, and then the creamy sweet potato, and it’s so good.

Julia: Everybody, go order it! That sounds amazing. Clearly, this is something you came up with. How do you experiment? Tell me about that.

Jenni: I just kind of get in the mood. I just really get in the zone of thinking about the chocolate and its flavor profile. And then everything I taste while I’m kind of in that mental state, just kind of goes like, “Hey, I wonder how this would be with chocolate. I wonder how this would be with the chocolate.” And that’s where I came up with the sweet potato, because it just happened to be like over Thanksgiving, I’m like, how would it be with the gravy? How would it be with the turkey? How would it be with the green beans and sweet potato? It wasn’t a difficult jump, but it freaks people out that there’s sweet potato is in the chocolate.

Julia: I think it’s amazing. It sounds like a sweet potato pie, let’s be honest. It sounds amazing! I’m sure that your artistry background helps kind of with that creativity.

Jenni: It does! I don’t know how to describe it. 

Julia: I wouldn’t know either. I’m not an artist, or I pretend to be one, but I’m seeing the comparison between artistry where you’re making things out of nothing or putting things together that generally artists think out of the box. And that’s essentially what you’re doing, just with chocolate. 

Jenni: Exactly! Yeah.

Julia: That’s awesome! So do you still sell ugly chocolates or are they all beautiful now?

Jenni: No, they’re all pretty. I’m so sorry.

Julia: It’s okay. Everybody, you might be disappointed they’re not ugly, but they still sound really good. So tell me, as we kind of close out, if you were talking to somebody who wanted to start a business, what would your advice be to them?

Jenni: That is a really great question, and I’ve thought about it, and I don’t feel like I have a good answer. I think there’s a lot of merit to growing the business as you grow in your knowledge and experience, but I also know that that has been an extremely painful way to grow a business because you don’t have a lot of working capital because whatever I was making profit, I was reinvesting into the next infrastructure growth. I wasn’t paying myself. That’s a big problem when you’re trying to explain to your husband why you’ve got a business in your house that involves the whole family, and you’re not paying yourself.

Julia: Yeah. Been there.

Jenni: Small business associations, they can connect people with a local business counselor. There are people who do it for three that you can get connected, especially if you have a college. If you have a college that has a school of business or business classes, they can connect you to people who will help you with the financial things, or with QuickBooks, or figure that out. And then when you’re able to, hire professionals. I felt like I couldn’t hire people because I couldn’t afford them, but then once I started paying a bookkeeper and was able to make more product and sell more product, I hired one. she is worth her weight in gold. It just kind of pours back into the business. And so I would say find a good business counselor who can help you stretch in the directions that you’re not comfortable growing in and help them support you, and then hire professionals who know what they’re doing, even if it seems like it’s out of reach, or you have to borrow a little bit of money to hire them, totally worth it. That investment has just been invaluable to me.

Julia: I think that, especially when you hire somebody, we don’t really think about how much our time is worth as business owners. If per se, just using simple numbers, a bookkeeper costs $100 a month, and she can do the work in an hour, and it takes me five hours, suddenly, I can go out and use those five hours to make $100 to pay for her, and then some. And so I think we don’t always think about stuff like that.

Jenni: We don’t. We really don’t. It’s hard to put a dollar amount on your time, but man, it adds up.

Julia: And also your sanity! I’m with you, Jenni. If I didn’t have to look at numbers, the world would be better for it. And so I am really grateful for the people in my life who help me with that. I still have a read on the pulse, I know where our business is at, I could tell you our numbers generally, but I am so thankful that I have people in my life who actually know what they’re talking about, looking at those numbers.

Jenni: Exactly. 

Julia: So Jenni, if people want to find you, buy your chocolate, how should they do that?

Jenni: They should open their door and just yell for me, and I will show up with a suitcase. 

Julia: From North Carolina?

Jenni: Yeah. I’ll just magically appear with a suitcase full of chocolate like a sale.

Julia: And all your dreams will come true because she’ll deliver her a suitcase of chocolate to you.

Jenni: That’s right! You can find me on my website, which is jennisuglychocolates.com. https://jennisuglychocolates.com/ 

Julia: And then you’re on Instagram with the same handle, right?

Jenni: I am. Yes. The exact same handle. You can find me on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/jennisuglychocolates/), you can find me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/JennisUGLYChocolates). I am on TikTok (https://www.tiktok.com/@jennisuglychocolates). 

Julia: Sweet! Good for you! 

Jenni: I try not to do too much because it’s a rabbit hole of creativity.

Julia: Oh my gosh. Yes! 100%. Or for me, it’s like a rabbit hole that sucks you in and two hours later, you’re still watching videos. People are so creative. That’s one of my favorite things about TikTok. And then do you mind telling people if they’re in Greenville or visiting Greenville, what’s the coffee shop or the market?

Jenni: So you could go to visitgreenvillenc.com. We love our local visitors bureau. We love them. They’re amazing! If you wanna visit Greenville, North Carolina, you can go to Dickinson Avenue and you can go to the Farmers and Maker’s Market. I think it’s 714 Dickinson Avenue. Always gonna be mad at me if I can’t get that address right.

Julia: It’s okay. It’s on Dickinson Avenue. No worries! Sweet. Well, that sounds great. And what was it called? The sweet potato crunch?

Jenni: Yeah, sweet potato crunch.

Julia: All right. So if you’re there, you have to try it. So Jenni, thanks for joining us. I appreciate hearing about your story and all of the really cool things that you’re up to.

Jenni: Thanks, Julia. Appreciate you.

Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us. 

Also, thanks to the Stratos Team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys. 

Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too.