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Posh choc a fair deal in business partnership
Surrounded by chocolate and fudge all day, entrepreneurs Sarah Hobbs and Jenny Silverthorne-Wright are living the dream.
The two women run Cotswold Fudge and Plush Chocolates from a unit on Blur guitarist Alex James’ farm near Chipping Norton.
Five years ago they were both working at Oxford-based charity Oxfam, where buying manager Ms Silverthorne-Wright was Ms Hobbs’s boss.
A mid-morning coffee break chat about the lack of luxury Fairtrade chocolate on the market was a light-bulb moment.
After some research they started Plush and 18 months ago launched sister firm Cotswold Fudge.
Most of the chocolates are made by artisan chocolatiers but Ms Hobbs, 42, and 41-year-old Ms Silverthorne-Wright cook all the fudge themselves.
Both have children under the age of 10, so running their own business allows them more flexible hours.
Ms Silverthorne-Wright, who lives in Chipping Norton, worked in the retail industry as a buyer after completing a degree in French and Italian and a masters in history.
Ms Hobbs followed a history degree with a marketing diploma and spent time at restaurant chain Bella Pasta as marketing manager before joining Oxfam.
Ms Silverthorne-Wright said: “My youngest was six months old when we started, so I wanted to do something that didn’t involve commuting to the centre of Oxford every day.
“We wanted to continue working in the Fairtrade world. Although both of us had strong organisation and business skills, nothing prepares you for setting up on your own.
“Business is about common sense and rolling up your sleeves and getting on with it.
“You have to sweep the floor, wash up, talk to customers and negotiate with suppliers.”
They employ a small army of local mums to help with packaging and distribution.
Although they have their own online shop, most sales are made through shops and delicatessens such as Planet Organic.
Their fudge is also stocked by tourist venues, including National Trust properties and Kensington Palace.
Some is even exported to Australia and Hong Kong. With a turnover of just under £250,000 they are hoping to carry on expanding slowly.
Ms Silverthorne-Wright said the aim was to have a wide range of customers while keeping the niche appeal of the businesses.
“We work with lots of smaller, independent shops and also love going to food festivals like The Big Feastival. Meeting our customers face-to-face and getting feedback always gives us a buzz.”
Running a business with someone else required give and take.
She explained: “It’s like a marriage in that you have to make it work, even when you are under pressure. But we are great friends and a good team.”
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