Sheer mad fantasy really, I was an art student in the days of punks and got a job in Harrods chocolate dept, I had always loved chocolate, and had the idea that there was a different way of selling chocolate to the old “are you being served” style which I met in that esteemed establishment. My idea was to create a theatrical world of chocolate, it seemed obvious to me, but most people told me I was crazy. My mother though, supported the idea and also guaranteed my first loan, so could have lost the family house if I had gone bust. At that time there were no small business loan guarantee schemes, it was a much harder environment to get funding, thank goodness that has changed now.
Describe your proudest business achievement and your most challenging time?
My proudest moment – sounds corny but it was an award which was a total surprise, given by my peers in the chocolate world, a bit like a lifetime achievement Oscar, for “changing the way people think about chocolate”.
My most challenging time, probably September 2008 post Lehman’s crash, when the world seemed to go into freefall and we had not long opened our Belgravia flagship store, having invested a huge amount of money in the shop fit. London just died for a season, and came back to life just before Christmas. We had to look at what we were doing and make some hard decisions, but ultimately it was a really good thing and I enjoyed the scarey ride. The truth is that even in difficult times, it’s hard to eat cheap chocolate when you have a taste for the good stuff…
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Never assume anyone knows who you are or what you are doing – communicate your core message really well – it can be as simple as a really bold shop front with wording that says not only ROCOCO but CHOCOLATES as well. We actually did just that for our first 10 years and a lot of people were confused about what we sold, when we splashed out on a new sign lots of people came in and asked if we had just opened! That was a long time ago, but a good lesson nonetheless. Also another one is that if you are creating a brand and want to protect the Intellectual Property, invent a name – like Haagen Dazs or Gu Puds, which have no precedent and are easy to protect, unlike Rococo which is a word in the dictionary.
What two business people (past or present) inspire you and why?
I would have loved to have met Mr Selfridge, he had such a talent for retail and was a true trail blazer – its interesting to see that the store is still doing some amazing projects, like its roof top restaurant. Secondly, Paul Smith, who is so true to himself, and has created a global brand so iconic and British. Each of his stores are different, so not following a formula, but a gift for creating beautiful spaces for his fabulous collections. Fabulous windows too!