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Peterbrooke Chocolate: One Sweet "Accident"

Thursday, 30 Aug 2007 | 9:56 AM ET
Peterbrooke Chocolate Fountain
Source: peterbrooke.com
Peterbrooke Chocolate Fountain

Sometimes 'accidents' are the best money makers. About 20 years ago chocolatier Phyllis Geiger needed something to put outside her shop for a local street fair. The items she made took too much time and cost too much to 'donate' to the passing crowd. So in a hurry, she ran next door to the local movie theater, bought a bunch of popcorn, took it back to her shop, and covered it with milk chocolate. She set the concoction outside and watched as people strolled by, picked up a handful and kept going.

And the next day they came back looking for more. And the day after that, and the day after that. Peterbrooke Chocolatehad just discovered its 'signature' product.

Today, Peterbrooke's corporate offices are on the 19th floor of a downtown office building in Jacksonville, and there are over 30 Peterbrooke stores across the region. How fast are they expanding? In the period it took photographer Bill Irmscher and I to complete our story about Peterbrooke, about two hours, they sold two more franchises!

Making chocolate is nearly as time consuming, and fiscally risky, as being in the restaurant business. There are roughly six weeks a year a chocolate candy maker has to make money. The holiday periods, with Christmas and Valentines Day being the biggest. The other 46 weeks you're just holding on. And while the specialty chocolate, or premium, sector is estimated at 2 billion dollars in value, the reality is that nearly the entire chocolate market is controlled by the 'big' guys, the international corporations. The rest of the chocolate business is regional, a succession of 'mom and pop' operations.

Except for Peterbrooke. Named after her two children, Peter and Brooke, Phyllis Geiger knew she wanted to open a different kind of candy store. No glass cases, now 'country kitchen' decor. No sales by the piece. She was determined to deal in the 'premium' end of the business, and to cater to clients that may eat one piece of chocolate at a time, but who bought in larger quantities. Corporate clients who purchased product for their customers, whole companies that would hand over a list of their employees birthdays and leave it up to Peterbrooke to make sure each one got a present of chocolate on time.

Geiger's son, Peter Behringer, is president of the company now and has been working with his wife Allison over the last two years to franchise the concept. Using allot of capital to contract with the best designers and franchise experts they've designed a store and concentric circle roll out strategy that is working ahead of schedule. Each franchise goes for about $300,000 all in.

'It's all about the brand,' Behringer says, 'That and a top quality product.' There are chocolate covered pretzels, Oreos, and cherry cordials. There is 72 per cent dark chocolate. And of course there is the popcorn.

Will Peterbrooke really become a national brand name? No way of knowing, except, while I've been writing this I've eaten half a bag of the chocolate covered popcorn. Can't stop. Research.

MOA is back on the road. Have a great and safe Labor Day weekend, and don't forget to watch the 'Mike On America' special airing on Monday, at 11 am eastern time on CNBC. A lot of your favorite stories are back for another run. And thanks to all the folks from The Villages who got a kick out of my recent visit and the blog entries from there. Good to hear from you. Keep smiling and swimming.

AdQuestions? Comments? mikeonamerica@nbcuni.com