Chocolatier takes sudden path to entrepreneurship

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Dawn Wagner, owner of Daily Chocolate. Courtesy photos.

by Amanda Kuhnert When Dawn Wagner took up a position at Lake Champlain Chocolates as a student at the University of Vermont, she had no intention of becoming a chocolatier. Her focus at the time was on the theater. After graduating, Wagner moved to New York City, where she worked as a stage manager for on and off Broadway productions for the next 20 years.

But her experience of making chocolate in Vermont threw a light. In New York City she took a part-time job with a chocolatier who supplied the Bellagio with chocolates.

“The chef eventually closed the shop, but at that point I had a passion,” said Wagner.

She started making chocolates from her kitchen for friends and family.

Over the years, Wagner maintained ties with Vermont. While traveling to see her mother in Vergennes, she was impressed by the revitalization of the city center.

When she and her husband decided to leave town, Vergennes was a natural choice.

“I’ve always wanted my own shop,” said Wagner. “I knew this was going to be prohibitive in New York City. When I got back to Vermont I tried to prioritize that. “

But Vergennes already had a chocolate shop – Daily Chocolate, owned by a family friend, Jen Roberts.

So Wagner did the next best thing: She worked in the business for the next four years, mostly on a seasonal basis.

When Roberts decided it was time to sell last spring, Wagner was ready to buy. But she wasn’t sure how to start the process.

A friend recommended that she contact Sarah Kearns, a consultant with the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC).

“The scariest part was reaching out, beyond that it was easy,” said Wagner. “When I found Sarah, I had no idea what exactly I was doing. She helped me find the right people in the right order. “

From employee to owner

Wagner closed the shop on December 1, 2020 and got to work. One of the first things she did was invest in a POS to keep track of inventory and sales.

“When I started on December 1st, all of the product was there,” she said. “It was a lifesaver.”

She has also worked with a Kearns recommended accountant to become fluent in Quickbooks so she can keep an eye on cash flow.

“Right now I’m a one-person company,” she said, “but if you hand those reins over to someone else, you still need to understand how your business is doing and how your money is being used.”

P.hoto: Dawn Wagner, owner of Daily Chocolate. Courtesy photos.

More recently, Kearns has been posting to Wagner about all of the scholarships she may be eligible for.

That winter, Wagner launched an e-commerce platform that was very popular with customers. Wagner assumes that other Covid-inspired services like Curbside will continue to be relevant in the future.

“People made the transition to online ordering and roadside collection very easily,” she said. “We are now open to the public, two people at the same time. I love interacting with customers, but I think even if we are maskless and can have people in the store, some customers will still be working on the curb because it’s easy. “

In addition to expanding her website offering, she has used social media to spread the word.

“I took over Instagram long before I bought the company, but I didn’t post regularly,” she said. “It’s free and it works.”

Even though the shop has been open for 13 years, she said there are people walking in for the first time. For Wagner this is a sign that their marketing efforts to date are working.

Wagner hasn’t gone on air since the purchase. After a stressful winter and spring with one “chocolate vacation” after the other, Wagner is looking forward to having time this summer to concentrate less on operations than on business.

“At some point I want to grow and improve processes,” she said. “So I have to start planning for the next phase, whatever that is.”

Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) success story. We know our way around. Find an advisor in your area. Check out our training workshops. Visit: www.vtsbdc.org