For Amy Lochner Camargo ’94, working her way through an online class in the fine art of chocolate making hearkened back to her years in the Science Center.
“It was really a lot of fun for me because it was like lab reports from biology,” Camargo says of the three-month Professional Chocolatier Program she enrolled in through the Ecole Chocolat in San Francisco. Camargo took the course after she, her husband, and a friend founded their business, ChocolatesU, in Quincy, Mass.
For years, Camargo and the friend had enjoyed making treats for friends and family. The feedback was always positive, and people suggested they turn their hobby into a business. That led to their first business idea: teaching people to make chocolates at house parties. To generate interest in the parties, they realized they needed a product line.
“We started making chocolates and selling them at farmers markets,” Camargo says. Next came craft shows. People liked the chocolates, but the sales weren’t translating into more party requests. Camargo says people would say, “I’d really like it better if you just make the chocolates for me.”
It was while the chocolate products were stealing the show and the partners were rethinking their business model that Camargo did the chocolatier course.
“I felt like I really learned a ton through that class,” she says. “It helped solidify [my] confidence that I actually knew what I was doing.”
The class also helped her understand the business side better. She learned that the most delicious products may not be top sellers and that it’s important to listen to customers when that happens. The most popular item ChocolatesU sells is hot chocolate balls—spheres of chocolate wrapped in different colored foil depending on the flavor. Unwrapped, they are heated with just the right amount of milk for a decadent cup of hot chocolate. Last fall, as the Christmas season approached, the company had a blitz of marketing genius. One of them—Camargo thinks it was her husband—realized “chocolate balls don’t have to be round.” They squished some into odd shapes, wrapped them in black foil, ordered some tags that said “naughty” and packaged them as lumps of coal.
“They took off,” Camargo says, even though the only place they promoted them was on the social media site Reddit. Within 24 hours they had sold out of the 100 units (three lumps of coal in each) they’d made. They restocked, and in a flurry of activity sold another couple hundred bags of chocolate coal before time caught up with them. When they could no longer guarantee delivery by Christmas, they stopped taking orders.
“I was amazed at how powerful the internet can be,” Camargo says. “We completely exceeded my expectations.”
ChocolatesU is currently a labor of love that supports itself, Camargo says. It’s also at a crossroads.
“We’re trying to figure out what our next steps forward are because we do like doing the craft shows, and we do like doing these sort of limited events,” Camargo says, “but it is very spotty and it’s also very seasonal.”
Whatever they decide, Camargo says internet sales will be a part of it. Hot chocolate balls are available at www.chocolatesu.com, but you’ll have to wait til Christmas season for lumps of coal.