The Chocoley Story
The Chocoley story is the story of a family. There’s the mom (Traci) the dad (Steve) and their daughter (Coley).
In January 2004 Steve started selling commercial chocolate fountains for a company called Sephra Chocolate Fountains. At the time, Sephra had a good Callebaut dark and white chocolate produced for use in their fountains, but no milk chocolate. Of course Steve’s customers constantly requested milk chocolate.
It didn’t take all that long before his life-long entrepreneurial spirit was sparked by customer requests and he did what any good entrepreneur does: found a way to fill the need. He sought out advice from a local experienced and successful professional chocolatier who produces chocolate candy for some of the largest high-end department stores and gourmet food retailers in the United States.
To compete with Sephra’s fountain chocolate he needed a superior product that worked even better in chocolate fountains. With the help of the local chocolatier he established a relationship with a Belgian chocolate producer with a manufacturing facility in the United States and they specially formulated fountain chocolate in three flavors, milk, dark, and white. Steve and the local chocolatier worked together at first – the chocolatier purchased the chocolate through their account with the Belgian company and packaged the chocolate in tubs and Steve sold this new chocolate to his professional fountain chocolate customers, one or two cases at a time, often personally delivering them out of the trunk of his car.
Steve’s special fountain chocolate had no name, and his only customers were his fountain customers. But those customers sure loved his nameless chocolate.
That’s when his daughter Nicole (Coley) came into the picture.
Not long after Steve got set up with his new chocolate, Coley came home from a summer internship at Swimming World Magazine (she was going to be a journalist one day). She was still in the process of finishing college, and needed to do something to make some cash for a little while.
Coley had her dad’s entrepreneurial genes and saw an opportunity in this absolutely delicious chocolate her dad had had created. So she decided to give it a name and find people with chocolate fountains that they got from someone other than her dad that she could sell it to. And that’s when Chocoley (Chocolate+Coley = Chocoley) was born.
Soon after, in late August 2004, at the Cater Source/Event Source Trade Show held in Washington, DC. Coley and Steve conducted a blind taste test. Predictably, the results were staggering - 80% of the catering and event professionals preferred Chocoley over Sephra/Callebaut. Steve was selling fountains at that show and sold more equipment that weekend than he ever had before. Little did he know that would be the end of his chocolate fountain sales career. Sephra immediately terminated their relationship when they realized this big influx of commercial fountain sales yielded no chocolate sales.You see, when given the choice between the two brands, all of Steve's customers chose Chocoley.
Steve still needed to pay his family’s bills so he went and found another sales job selling advertising.
But Coley wasn’t done with chocolate. For the next 6 months she worked out of her parents’ dining room, cold-calling people with chocolate fountains that she found on the internet. She bought a book with something about “how to build a website” in the title and made the first Chocoley.com website, complete with a ridiculously cheesy, horribly Photoshopped chocolate covered “Strawberry Dude” and surfing chocolate “Banana Man.”
One day in the middle of those six months she was looking at how much she was spending for this local chocolatier to package and store her chocolate until she sold it. She dug into how much the chocolatier was paying for the chocolate and then marking it up for the packaging and storage, and her business sense instantly told her she could do it so much cheaper if she paid someone to package it herself. And that’s when she did something that only an insane 21-year-old kid would do: she impulsively put around $30,000 (that she had no idea how to pay off) onto credit cards to buy that chocolatier out of their inventory and take over the fountain chocolate contract with their Belgian manufacturer. (Yes, mom and dad were supportive of her drive, but they tried to talk her out of the insanity). Then she rented a mini-storage to keep all this chocolate in and hired her mom and a high school kid to pack chocolate so she could make a sustainable profit off her sales.
The problem was Coley never actually wanted to be an entrepreneur (she still wanted to be a journalist!) and never meant to get into the chocolate business. A few months later she realized this fact and how much she hated being a 21-year-old working out of her parents' dining room by herself all day every day.
But Chocoley was making money – actually turning a profit -- not to mention all that inventory and credit card debt! And that’s where the hero mom, Traci, really comes into the story. She offered to take over so Coley could go get a “real job” in journalism to start building her career resume.
Coley promptly found her dream job—an internship at an amazing national business magazine that was just starting up in Atlanta. They hired her and she fell in love with her magazine journalism life and her incredible mentor bosses.
Meanwhile, Traci kept working on Chocoley. She improved Coley’s website (Strawberry Dude and Banana Man were the first to go) and word spread about the amazing Just Melt It! Fountain Chocolate.
Sales kept growing and they kept adding climate-controlled mini storage units to keep up. Steve eventually quit his job and joined Traci running Chocoley full-time out of the house and mini-storage while Coley happily moved up the title ladder at the magazine to become the “Senior Editorial Assistant” (they needed to print business cards for her and that sounded better than “intern”) and went back to her original college in North Carolina to finish school, telecommuting to work in Atlanta.
In 2006 Traci recognized that if Chocoley could do this well selling fountain chocolate, there was probably a much bigger market in chocolate candy making chocolate and supplies. At the same time, e-commerce was suddenly a “thing” and they were selling a lot more fountain chocolate through the internet than ever before. So Steve and Traci talked to their Belgian manufacturer and worked together to establish the perfect lines and flavor profiles of candy making chocolate to offer for sale online to the public with options for every skill level (what they all had in common: Chocoley’s signature top quality!).
Now it was Traci’s turn to buy a book with a title about “how to build a website” and Microsoft Frontpage software. And for months Steve and Traci built a new website with hundreds of chocolate candy making items on it (in addition to the fountain chocolate of course) and a shopping cart for people to be able to buy online.
Coley graduated from college and moved back to Atlanta, with an incredible magazine job promotion offer in hand. They told her to go travel for a few months before she started full-time in the new position. So off she went to scratch the travel itch for a month in Fiji and two in New Zealand.
She came home and started in her new position at the magazine, which promptly went out of business two months later.
At Chocoely, the online business and candy making side of things was really taking off so her parents made a suggestion: “come back to Chocoley.” They saw what she could bring to the table with all of her new business and marketing knowledge from two years at a national business magazine with an online presence. And they were just about ready to make a huge leap from the house into Chocoley’s first office/warehouse and hire their first full-time employee.
So in 2007 Coley came back for what was supposed to be six months of helping with marketing Chocoley and saving money so she could go travel the world for a while-- and then she'd get a “real job.”
Six months turned into almost two years as Coley learned the secret art of online advertising, helped build yet another new website, and Chocoley rapidly grew sales and staff and became a real player in the chocolate candy making world.
In December of 2008 Coley finally took off for her “trip around the world” with promises to come back to Chocoley when she was done fulfilling her dream. At this point she had no delusions about getting a different “real job.” She knew Chocoley was as real as it gets.
In late 2009 Coley returned home and stepped back into Chocoley, as her mom “retired” (mostly so they wouldn’t kill each other working together forever!). Coley quickly settled into her new business/personal relationship with her parents, with Steve continuing his CEO responsibilities and Coley running the marketing side of the business.
In 2010 the company moved into its second, much bigger, office-warehouse. The following January the family took the entire staff to Las Vegas to thank them for their commitment to the company (the following year the company trip became a week-long Caribbean cruise!).
The Chocoley family celebrated big time when they broke into the “Internet Retailer Second 500” which recognized them as one of the top 1000 e-commerce companies in the United States in 2011 (an honor they repeated in 2012).
Shortly after Chocoley’s 9th anniversary, we launched our newest website in November of 2013-- an e-commerce site that puts Chocoley on the same level as the biggest players in internet retail (this time we finally hired someone to help—and skipped the “how to” book, though there’s a lot of family blood, sweat and tears that went into building this site, too). No sooner had we launched, when we realized that there was a revolution underway in how people used the internet, as smart phones were taking the market by storm and the missing piece with the new site was not having a website that would perform on cell phones.
As the mobile revolution has continued, we had to do something and finally in June, 2016, with the technical knowhow and marketing guidance of Wes Ledford (Chocoley’s newest family member and Director of Marketing), Chocoley has launched it’s newest and most comprehensive website ever, and most importantly, it’s designed to make your mobile visits a truly pleasurable experience.
No matter how much we grow, we’ll always be a family business-- with an amazing group of employees and customers old and new that we consider a part of the family.