Most of my business is now done abroad – by the end of this year I reckon international sales will make up more than 85% of the business. It’s much easier to sell my chocolate in other countries. Firstly because the chocolate bars I make have an ethical stance – 10% of the profits go animal conservation charities and I find that other countries get the concept of charity affiliation much faster than the UK. Secondly, the British chocolate market is swamped so there’s much more competition.
I started Chokolit at the age of 12 in 2005. Because I have dyslexia and dyspraxia I was educated at home from 11. I got into the chocolate business after making chocolate cakes for family and friends; and these products were then picked up by commercial clients. By 2006 I’d become the youngest-ever supplier of Waitrose at 13, then Sainsbury’s followed when I was 14 and Selfridges at 15. My product was an edible chocolate box, which had a combined order of over 100,000, but I don’t sell these any more as the idea got copied a couple of years ago. I’m now selling a chocolate bar called ‘Biting Back’ which aims to promote and protect ocean habitats.
Monday and Tuesday were spent following up the American leads from my office at home in Kinver, South Staffordshire. My routine changes all the time as I’m away travelling so much. The first three days of this week were pretty hectic. I haven’t been getting to bed till the early hours of the morning, but this is fairly normal. Early evening I’m normally dealing with business in America, and after that it’s Asia. I had a conference call with Vietnam at 1.30am on Wednesday morning, and then had to spend the day visiting a potential new manufacturing site in Kendal. At the moment the chocolate’s made in Northampton but we’re thinking of moving the manufacturing base.
We have an office in Birmingham and another in Telford, but my main office is at home. I still live with my parents – I have moved out about eight times but always end up coming back as the nature of the business means I never know where the right location is. Plus my parents are also part of the business. My dad’s the Operational Director and my mum’s the FD – she’s great at organising and keeping track of where the money’s going. I enjoy working with my family - you’ll never argue more with somebody but then you’ll never have so much trust and support.
By the end of the year I’ll probably relocate again, and I’ve got my sights on living in America, because that’s where I anticipate most of the business to be. If that doesn’t work out I’m doing a lot to grow the business in Asia, which has some of the fastest-growing chocolate markets on the planet. I’ve also been to Mexico and New Zealand - actually, I'm waiting to start selling the chocolate in New Zealand once their summer’s over, then next week I’ll be going to Paris. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it…
Louis Barnett is the nineteen-year-old founder of chocolate business Chokolit.