Helen Pattinson and her husband Simon had given up their jobs in Britain to travel the world for a year, and were passing through the town of San Carlos de Bariloche in the foothills of the Andes. They wandered around a town that was full of enchanting chocolate shops and the experience opened her eyes.
When she walked into one shop that was laid out like a chocolate supermarket, Pattinson had a moment of revelation.
“I just thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to work with chocolate,” she said. “How is it that a shop like this is sustainable here in what is a tiny town, whereas in Britain we consume so much chocolate and yet what is available is pretty poor?
“It was a eureka moment. I went back to Simon and told him he had to come out and look at all these shops because they were amazing. He could see what I meant immediately.”
Excited by the discovery of the Argentinian chocolate shops, the couple started researching the chocolate market in Britain in 2000 when they came home. They wrote a business plan and went round the country finding chocolatiers who could make products for a shop. Then they raised £160,000 – half from the sale of their house in London, the rest from friends and family – and found a shop to lease in Brighton, Sussex.
Originally the idea was to simply open a shop and sell high-quality chocolate made by British suppliers. But just before the shop was due to open their leading supplier, who was going to be the source of 50% of their stock, went bust.
Pattinson realised they had two choices – to give up their whole business idea, or make the chocolate themselves. Within 24 hours they had decided to become chocolate makers as well. They found a production unit, some equipment, and set about teaching themselves how to make high-quality chocolate.
Just a few weeks later they opened their first shop, calling it Montezuma’s after the Aztec emperor of Mexico, where chocolate was held in high esteem.
It was an instant success. “From day one we thought we have hit on something people love.”
The business broke even in its first year and the Pattinsons opened a second shop in Chichester. With the help of a £250,000 bank loan, they now have seven shops in southeast England and sell chocolate through their website.
Helen and Simon are inspiring examples of how ideas can be turned into a lucrative business if people would not only open their eyes and ears, but their hearts and minds to the everyday opportunities around them.
As they say, "Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration". Once you get an idea, it's critical to follow through on that idea. 9 out of 10 ideas end up on the KIV pile at the back of our minds because they were never followed through. Like Helen and Simon, you have to take the effort to find out all you can about the opportunity, go through the nitty gritty of beaureaucracy if needed and when the unexpected happens - like when their main supplier went bust - to take the bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground.
I believe Helen and Simon are strong souls and they complemented each other in their journey to making Montezumas what it is today. That's an integral part of how they turned a simple idea into a money making venture.
However, the first step is as simple as opening your heart and mind to the everyday, simple and often "boring" things in life, seeing the opportunity in those things and finding a way to bring them to life.