Hotel Chocolat beats the high street blues

CEO Angus Thirlwell says Hotel Chocolat uses less sugar and more cocoa than most other brands
CEO Angus Thirlwell says Hotel Chocolat uses less sugar and more cocoa than most other brands
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Luxury chocolate maker Hotel Chocolat is one of the few high street chains that managed to buck the gloomy festive retail trend.

Despite consumers cutting back on spending over Christmas, Hotel Chocolat said its total revenue rose 15 per cent year-on-year during the 13 weeks to December 30.

The firm has identified Yorkshire as one of its best performing areas and it is scouring the county for new sites.

The group's co-founder and chief executive Angus Thirlwell said: "Yorkshire is a real jewel for us and we anticipate opening more stores in the county.

"We are still looking for sites in Huddersfield and Halifax and there are other ones we are looking at.

"All our Yorkshire stores are performing extremely well and we've had a very successful Christmas."

Mr Thirlwell puts Hotel Chocolat's high street success down to the strength of the brand.

"Physical stores have to add something you can't get online," he said.

"The brand is the most important thing. People need a compelling reason to go into a store. You need to generate excitement among the customer base."

He said it is essential that stores offer products you can't get online. For Hotel Chocolat, that means free chocolate sampling, ice creams in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter.

"We offer a warm welcome. A lot of our stores have a cafe offer and we sell the best hot chocolate anywhere on the planet," he said.

"We will offer you a taster of what we're selling. We give away millions of chocolates a year.

"If you like them, you can buy some to take home with you."

He says another key element is getting the right location.

"We look for a really high footfall. We don't like areas that are too rarefied. Just because we are a luxury sector doesn't mean we need a luxury shopping mall.

"Anyone can afford to buy Hotel Chocolat. We like busy, vibrant locations. As long as you've got a good footfall, you can open anywhere as we've seen with our Sunderland store."

Hotel Chocolat has seen great success with its seasonal themes, which is something every high street store could adopt. Forget just celebrating Easter and Christmas, Hotel Chocolat celebrates no less than 10 seasonal occasions a year.

The obvious ones are Valentine's Day, Mothers' Day, Easter, Fathers' Day, Halloween and the run up to Christmas.

However, Hotel Chocolat has invented another four ingenious events: end of exams, early summer, high summer and the start of the chocolate eating season in September.

The end of exam period includes teacher gifts as well as pupil treats. Early summer introduces chilled chocolate drinks whilst ice cream becomes very popular in high summer. Then September brings autumn and the start of the chocolate eating season as the weather changes.

Mr Thirlwell said that while some high streets are thriving, others are clearly not.

"You've got to offer things that are relevant to what the consumer wants," he said.

"Humans have a need to be where other humans are. Maybe it's a counterbalance to the smartphone culture.

"You've got to sell things you can't buy on the internet.

"Maybe we could have new start-ups above shops. The high street needs innovative ideas."