Retail Insider held its first Breakfast Event this week with Angus Thirlwell, founder of Hotel Chocolat, providing some fascinating insights into his vertically-integrated multi-channel business.

Angus Thirlwell: in full flow
Held at the Gilbert Scott private dining room at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel Thirlwell ran through how he began selling corporate branded peppermints and it was only the need to broaden the product range that led to him selling chocolate.
Senior representatives from retailers including John Lewis, eBay, Ted Baker, A Suit That Fits, Cook, NotOnTheHighStreet, and Jacques Vert heard how the initial creation was ChocExpress. 
This then became Hotel Chocolat in a move to align the high quality of the chocolates Thirlwell was producing with a more upmarket sounding brand name. Inspiration came from the novel Chocolat in 1999 and Hotel California from The Eagles.
Early pillars of the business were its vertically integrated model – with the company operating a cocoa plantation in St Lucia – and its predominantly online nature. Expansion has resulted in a store estate being built up that includes outlets in Scandinavia.
A massively beneficial aspect of the business has been its Tasting Club. Not only does it provide great feedback on the company’s products but its members helped Hotel Chocolat raise £3.8 million through a unique Chocolate Bond.
Rather than paying interest to the bank Thirlwell reckoned it was much more sensible to pay his investors in the form of chocolates each month. Such has been its popularity that 97% rolled their investment into a new bond. 
This has helped the business grow its stores base, add a Roast + Conch cafe concept, and add a hotel and restaurant to the St Lucia plantation. More recently there has been a focus on the company’s website. Having been at the forefront of online in 2007 Thirlwell has spent some 18 months revitalising this offer and developing the company as more of a multi-channel operation.
Many thanks to the supporters of the event: K3 Retail and Research Farm, as well as James Clay who supplied the Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout.