Danita Johnston used to work part-time at her mother's Melbourne chocolate store. Now she's in charge of its online spin-off.
With three kids under the age of ten, Johnston is the eptiome of the modern businesswoman. She works on the go, whether it's at her mother's Hahndorf Chocolates franchise in Doncaster East, or her own factory some twenty minutes away. Laptop always at the ready, Johnston is in charge of growing her online business while simultaneously managing and branding it, which certainly isn't an easy task.
"At the moment I’m doing everything, except that I’ve outsourced the delivery side of things," she says. "But my business could be easily adapted to somebody taking care of the orders, stocking the hampers, that kind of thing. I already know where people could slot in and take over bits of the company so that I could manage it from the top end."
Boutique Chocolates and Hampers went live last December, but has experienced rapid growth in six months that means Danita is always busy. "I spend a lot more time on the computer; you do really get the feeling that nothing is perfect enough," she explains. "Because it’s so new, I’m still adding stuff all the time. I’d love to do more on Facebook, but I’m actually running out of time. I have to remind myself to keep coming back to it and social media is a whole job in itself. You could honestly do it all day."
With all her chocolates being made locally, the biggest challenge from Danita's business is replicating the store tasting experience online. "The hardest thing is that we know our product is good, and people who have tried it know that too. So now it’s getting other people to understand that without trying it. So you’ve tried the chocolate with your coffee, but I can’t really do that online. So I really worked on the design elements to push that through, making sure it was exceptional, elegant and really gender neutral, so anyone can approach it like they do in the store."
Johnston's largest clients are Victorian brides and corporate event planners, but customers find her from anywhere and everywhere. "We’ve sent stuff to weddings up in Dubbo and down to Adelaide. At Easter time, we had emails from other countries like Sweden as well as lots of interstate customers sending gifts to their kids," she says. "Some people often write to us and ask to come to the store and arrange a meeting. You can’t eliminate that offline experience totally. Face-to-face is still quite important, especially with meeting brides. "
As a Mum of three with a husband who also works full-time, Danita has to be very judicious about how she spends her days. "I never really work a 9 to 5 day," she admits. "It’s always in and out. I really have to get everything done before 2:30pm, because then its school pick-up [and I have the kids again]. And if I do work later in the evening when everyone’s gone to bed, that’s a bonus."
Johnston is very careful to separate business from family, even though her mother and sister are peripherally involved in her venture. "We moved [our factory] away from the shop and away from the home. We knew it was going to grow and we knew we needed space, especially given that our family already works in the field," she says. "When I come home talking about SEO and keywords, my husband says ‘can you build my website?’ He’s also self-employed, he’s an electrician. It’s scary, but it’s exciting. He’s been in it for a lot longer than I have. With regards to business, he’s been really helpful, and then my sister does our accounting, so it’s still all quite family-oriented."
So how do you keep young children with two generations of chocolatiers in their family away from the goods? "My kids were born into it, so they don’t know any different," laughs Johnston. "It’s not something over-the-top for them. You know when you see little kids with chocolate and they get really excited? That doesn’t happen with them. Sometimes they don’t have any at all!"
For more yummy stories and hampers, head to the Boutique Chocolate & Hampers site.
See also: Getting It Right Online