Four years ago I used to be busy climbing the corporate ladder on the trading floor of a large investment bank, when the banking crisis hit, and this helped me to decide that it was time for a change. I started Lavolio Boutique Confectionery with the desire to create something new out of my passion for cooking.
It was while cooking at home that I came up with the idea for my company: I was experimenting with sweet recipes when I thought of using a thin sugar-shell as a natural preservative (a little bit like sugar is used to preserve fruit in jam).
Inside these small shells I could place pieces of fruit, whole nuts, jellies, coffee beans and different types of chocolate. I was then able to create more than 30 flavours, using spices and fruit zests – and textures, from crunchy to crumbly to soft, and that’s when I thought I was onto something really special.
In my kitchen when I was just cooking, I had no idea whether there would be a market for my confectionery, which is a real alternative to a box of chocolate. I tried out my creations on my close friends and family, everyone got samples and I received enough positive feedback that I decided to try to selling my sweets to the public, setting up stalls at a handful of London food markets. These were a crucial step for Lavolio when testing things early on. Food markets were the first time that I got a real indication of whether people were willing to buy what I was making.
From that moment, to when I launched my product in Fortnum & Mason, it took one year.
After F&M we gained credibility and therefore we won more listings with premium independent stores across the country, and we started selling online directly to our growing number of customers.
I made the conscious decision to grow the business organically, and not to have other external investors, and I have not gone through any fundraising. There are a lot of more experienced business people who think this is very risky and not the best route to market, because with limited resources you inevitably lose time, in a very competitive market.
I have been lucky enough to have a little capital to invest from my savings which I used to buy the initial stock. Everything since has been growing organically, I only hired more people when my sales were growing to a level where I could afford to pay them a salary. I am still investing everything into growing the business which can be stressful at time, in particular as we approach our best selling occasion of Christmas and Mother’s day. My advice would be to start small, test your product with real customers, not just with your friends and family, then try to gauge your investment to be proportionate to your size.
Food markets are a great way to sell your product when you are starting up and still learning the most important thing: why clients buy my product? I discovered that my clients were mainly looking for a special and unique gift, to bring to a dinner party or as a thank you present, that would cost less than £15.00 and that made them feel like they had discovered something really new and exciting!
When Lavolio started to appear in food markets around London early buyers had never seen anything quite like it before. The markets sold out and ordered more stock! This is how we started to be noticed and gained our first stockists. Fast forward to today where we sell Lavolio confectionery in our own click & mortar store in Parsons Green, and in more than 200 premium independent stores across England, Scotland and Wales. Needless to say that the business has now moved out of my kitchen!!
Thank you for reading my story, always happy to connect and talk about sweets!