Minal meets… Russell Pullan and Albert Chau, Fifth Dimension Chocolates
Getting your business ready for the Christmas rush can be a bit daunting. What should you prioritise? How should you promote any offers you have?
That’s why I decided to interview my good friends, Albert and Russell, who own Fifth Dimension Chocolates. Every year, I watch as they seem to effortlessly manage the busy Christmas period.
So, I decided to ask them what they do to ensure it’s a success for them. This interview is packed full of tips that you can use to inspire you to plan your Christmas period.
Minal: Tell me a bit about your business. What do you specialise in?
Russell: We are a London-based chocolate company, specialising in luxury handmade chocolates and caramel sauces. Our aim is to create a sensory experience in fine chocolates, by combining classic and unusual flavours with premium, fine-flavour (fino de aroma) single-origin cacao. Less than 20% of the world’s chocolate can be considered as fine flavour, and we work with suppliers who can trace back to where their cacao comes from. Many of our chocolate inspirations come from our travels around the world, and you would not find some of our award-winning flavours elsewhere e.g. Cambodian Curry white chocolate.
Minal: When and why did you start Fifth Dimension Chocolates?
Albert: We started the business in October 2013. After many years working in the media, Russell decided to do something completely different. He had been making chocolates as a hobby at home for many years before that, and it was a natural progression to turn a hobby into a business.
Getting ready for Christmas
Minal: As a product-led business, and chocolates at that, when are your busiest periods?
Russell: The run-up to Christmas is our busiest period – it usually it starts around October time and the peak is the first three weeks in December. Over half of our annual sales come from November and December!
Minal: Talking of Christmas, when do you start thinking about getting ready for that particular time of the year?
Albert: We usually start thinking about this in the summer which is actually late compared to many big brands, who would have got all their Christmas products sorted out by early July. But sometimes we do start earlier too.
Forecasting the volume of sales is hard. Obviously, you need to make sure you order sufficient ingredients so that you don’t run out of chocolate. However, packaging is also important as you will need to make sure you have sufficient packaging to last the season. Last year we nearly ran out of our 18-chocolate boxes because of various delays with the printing of the boxes. Fortunately, the new boxes arrived when we still had about a dozen boxes left!
As we rely on the postal service to ship our chocolates, we also need to plan the deadline for taking orders against the last date for posting to various countries. We usually allow for a few days extra so that we have the time to fulfil the orders and send them out.
Minal: I’ve seen quite a clever thing you do. You offer a discount for people placing Christmas orders. What was your objective here?
Russell: Yes, we usually offer a discount for Christmas pre-orders. We have found that many customers like to do their Christmas shopping before the December rush.
As our chocolates do not have a long shelf-life (they do last 8-10 weeks but they are at their best within the first few weeks – we don’t use any artificial preservatives in our products), we encourage the customers to place their orders with us in November. But we will ship the product about 2 weeks before Christmas, so they don’t have chocolates that have been sitting around at their home for 4-8 weeks.
This also helps us to estimate how many of each flavour we need in the run-up to Christmas and to spread out some of the work such as printing the personal messages for our chocolate boxes and the address labels before the December rush.@5DChocolates: Offering a discount to encourage people to pre-order from us helps us manage time and stock. No all-nighters for us! #MinalMeets #MarketingTips Click To Tweet
Minal: I guess getting the pre-orders helps you plan how many hours you have to work to get the orders out. What about last-minute orders. How do you manage those?
Albert: In the first few years when we didn’t have some of these forward planning in place, it was a nightmare. We would be working till 2-3 am to sort out the orders, and then wake up at 7 am again to make more chocolates! In the last few years, it has become easier but mid-December is still very busy, as we get a lot of orders at that point.
We have to be very careful with the inventory especially in the one week before the Christmas ordering deadline. If a product stock level is getting very low, we will have to decide whether to make a new batch or change the product to “out of stock” once we have sold out.
We usually allow an extra 1-2 days to make sure we can fulfil all the orders. If a customer places the order the day after the deadline, there’s still time to have the chocolates delivered to him/her before Christmas.
We would also put messages up on our website after the deadline, saying that we won’t be sending any chocolates out until mid-January, as we usually take a few weeks off and go travelling abroad, to have a well-earned rest and also get some inspiration for new products.@5DChocolates: We've tried a number of different promotion types. The pre-order discount seems most effective for us. Test what works for you. #MinalMeets #MarketingTips Click To Tweet
Minal: Is offering a discount the best way to do what you do? Have you experimented with other offers?
Russell: In the pre-COVID years when we could do chocolate fairs, we tried doing special offers such as multi-buy discounts and product bundles. But for what we do, the most effective way seems to be a pre-order discount as a lot of our business is via our website.
We have migrated to a new email marketing tool as well as introduced 5DRewards Points (a loyalty membership scheme) this year, and so we will try to see if we can offer some extra rewards for our newsletter subscribers and regular customers.
Also, in previous years, for Small Business Saturday (the first Saturday of December) we would offer a free gift or upgrade option (e.g. free personalised message for our chocolate boxes).
Promoting your offer
Minal: How do you promote your Christmas offer?
Albert: We usually promote our offers on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin), and we definitely include the information in our newsletter. Our subscribers get offers exclusive to them usually (we like to look after our regulars!) We also tell people at events such as chocolate fairs or chocolate tasting events and encourage them to sign up for our newsletter.
For a few years, we have used different discount codes so that we can track the effectiveness of these different channels, and that has been very useful to help us understand what methods we should concentrate our effort on.@5DChocolates: When trying to raise your visibility for Christmas, focus on a few things that work well for you, rather than try out everything. #MinalMeets #MarketingTips Click To Tweet
Minal: What impact does this offer have on your Christmas sales?
Russell: I think many customers like the idea as they can buy the chocolates for Christmas at a discounted price (who doesn’t like a bargain?) And they can do their shopping in advance without having to worry about the shopping rush in December.
Also, they know that they can place the orders early but they will get the fresh products, rather than something that has been sitting in their homes for several weeks, risking going past the best-before date when they open them at Christmas or New Year.
It helps us to plan and spread out the workload over a longer period, rather than everything concentrating on a few weeks in December. If some of the flavours are particularly popular, we can take that into account when we plan the production.
Minal: Do you have any other tips to help increase visibility in the run-up to Christmas?
Albert: Different businesses will require different strategies. What we have mentioned above are the methods that work for us, and they may work for you too.
Some people might use paid advertising on social media or search engines to increase visibility. I would advise you to do your research and get professional advice if necessary so that the return on investment from the promotional campaign is worth it.
Focus on a few things that you know would work well for you, rather than trying out everything.
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from Russell and Albert about how they approach Christmas sales. Getting organised, as you’ve read, is a really important part of making a success of this period.