Gail Warner considers chocolate to be a necessary luxury. What she found even more necessary for building her chocolate business is the ability to borrow money.
Today she tells the story of a sweet relationship with Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union, which helped her grow. But getting credit for her small business wasn't always so easy.
First, it's important to know why Gail became so passionate about being a chocolate entrepreneur. At the age of 18, Gail lost her father, who died at age 48. She was devastated and unconsciously set an internal clock to take stock of her life when approaching that age.
Her career had taken several turns over the years. With a bachelor's degree in Business Management from Eastern University, Gail first went into healthcare. She did sales and marketing; she managed an orthopedic and sports medicine practice; she consulted for a medical malpractice insurance company. By age 40, she was eager to do something different. She went to work for a private financial services company, and it became as much an education in running a business as a job.
"I learned about gross and net profit, contracts and agreements, deliverables and payables. It really laid the foundation for me to step out and be confident I could run my own business," Gail says.
About six months before she turned 48, she asked herself questions: Gail, if you were to pass in six months, would you feel you had done something remarkable with your life? Did you make a difference or pursue your dreams? Or were you just climbing the corporate ladder? She knew the answer. She had done quite well in the corporate world, but it wasn't enough for her.
While in her 20s, Gail planned to open a chocolate business on Bridge Street in Lambertville, NJ and she picked the name Bridge Street Chocolates. While knowing she loved chocolate, Gail realized she didn't know much about being a chocolatier. With all the business experience she gained over the years, Gail was ready to make her chocolaty rich dream a reality. Her first step was to take courses at the Chocolate Academy located in Chicago and operated by the Belgian chocolate icon Callebaut.
Gail decided to open her store in Phoenixville, PA. She could have chosen to be in a strip mall, but rather wanted to be part of a community. She also had parked her car downtown before picking the store's location, calculating exposure by the passing cars at rush hour. It was providence the road was named Bridge Street. Gail opened Bridge Street Chocolates in December 2010. She made rounds to banks trying to secure a business loan, but lending policies were tight. She didn't let that stop her, deciding to draw on her savings and keep her operations small.
Gail has been a Credit Union member since 1989, when she worked at a hospital. For a business account, she went to local banks and grew frustrated when they would not approve a loan. Then she spoke with an FMFCU business services representative, who said the magic words of "Let's see what we can do."
The solution was a business account and line of credit, co-signed by "the most supportive parents on the planet" as Gail calls them. The credit line has allowed her to buy an additional melting machine to temper chocolate. "The Credit Union did more for me than anyone else would," Gail says. "Because they took a risk on me, I promised them all my banking business."
Banking on Gail isn't much of a leap of faith. She sells something for everyone. Beyond milk, dark, and white chocolate, she sells soy-free, organic, sugar-free, fair trade products, vegan, and gluten-free treats. In colder weather, she has sipping chocolate, unlike hot chocolate, as different as coffee and expresso she explains by way of analogy. Summertime, she makes frozen kickin' bananas dipped in caramel, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, pecans, or chocolate.
Gail also enjoys making bark because there are so many varieties: almond, blueberry, espresso, wasabi, salt & pepper, bourbon, and strawberries & cream. "It's always fun to experiment and discover something new that customers love!" Another favorite: Red Hawaiian Sea Salt drops.
"We may not have a huge selection in each category, but we do have an amazing one. And I'm always open to suggestions," Gail says. "Like the Middle Eastern treat Halvah. A customer asked if we could make it; we did our research; and in no time started adding it to our selection."
Perhaps, her best recipe is the one her business is built upon: a passion for quality products, mixed with a philosophy of caring for customers, while remaining open to opportunities.