By Andrea C. Pedrick
Ask any successful entrepreneur and they will tell you owning your own business is a twenty-four hour job. It’s not only about running the day-to-day business – it is about developing new ways of doing business to keep your products relevant and attractive to new customer bases and networking with others. It is about change management and managing the risks associated with change. Failed entrepreneurs will admit they were shy about ‘rocking the boat’ or trying something new when they already had a successful product.
The effervescent Jennifer L. McConnell is anything but shy. She and her mother, Susan M. Tanner are co-owners of Covered in Chocolate and they have built a reputation for their quality chocolates and professionalism. And they are embarking on a major change come February 2012.
Since 2008 they have created a line of chocolate products that have caught the attention of the public and super entertainment stars – Reba McEntire and Steve Martin and the New York Jets organization. Networking events, like the Clayton Wine & Food Show and the Business After Hours Events through the Greater Watertown North Country Chamber of Commerce are where Mrs. McConnell is connecting with people to secure these types of business accounts. “You just have to network. I am the official networker, my mom is the artsy one,” said Mrs. McConnell. For the New York Jets, Mrs. Tanner cut apples in the shape of football helmets and covered them with chocolate edible clay and other designs. These apples were handed out to people involved in the organization of the football training camp at SUNY Cortland. People loved it and they were invited back the following year and anticipate returning next year.
Locally, chocolate products are put in front of the public eye at the Farmer’s Market Kiosk at the Salmon Run Mall or at a wine and chocolate pairing event sponsored by Arsenal Wine & Liquor or a grand opening event of a local organization. Mrs. McConnell has watched the popularity of the chocolate treats grow – and therefore made the bold decision to open a storefront within the Franklin Building in downtown Watertown. Mrs. McConnell hopes the storefront, at 137 Franklin Street, will be a centralized one-stop place for a snack and hot drink. “We have more than one-thousand square feet of space. We will sell our covered in chocolate products, coffee and tea, as well as, homemade biscotti and scones from this location. Depending on the final renovation of the space people may be able to watch us through a window as we make our products!” said Mrs. McConnell. “We needed to get into a Watertown walk-in situation,” she added. The goal is to create a competitive advantage through increased visibility and foot traffic. Something she was finding difficult to do in Theresa.
Her dad is the Mayor of Theresa, but even he supports the move. “He obviously doesn’t want to see a business leave Theresa, but he understands the reasoning and is ecstatic at our success during tough economic times,” said Mrs. McConnell.
Having Covered in Chocolate move into the Franklin Building is a feather in the cap of local economic development professionals. “Our objective is to revitalize downtown Watertown. The Franklin Building is high end space at rents that are affordable,” said Donald W. Rutherford, Watertown Industrial Center Local Development Corporation president of the board of directors. Mr. Rutherford said the building is starting to fill-up. The public entrances face Public Square and Franklin Street. The newly renovated building with its warm inviting décor has attracted quite a few organizations and businesses already – including the North Country Arts Council, Whispering Angel and Resale America. New businesses opening in February include Covered in Chocolate, a Pilate’s studio and a new Salon/Barber Shop. “It is a nice combination of specialized shopping with entertainment and fitness”, said Mr. Rutherford. His organization owns the Franklin Building. Commercial rental agreements are made affordable through grant funding. Another quality of the building is the residential apartments on the second floor; Neighbors of Watertown (NOW) oversees this area.
Mrs. McConnell said Mr. Rutherford’s organization and NOW were a tremendous help in getting her to move into the Franklin Building. “This is the type of setting I wanted. It’s a great old building. It feels like a chocolate/coffee house. They helped me get in here when I really couldn’t or shouldn’t do it.” A bold statement from a local entrepreneur willing to take make changes to benefit her future.