On Monday evening, July 11th, Chef Phillip Ashley Rix, founder of Phillip Ashley Chocolates came as our guest speaker for our weekly Founders Dinner accelerator meeting. The now notorious Chef started out working in sales positions for corporations such as FedEx, UPS and Apple. He flourished in sales because he enjoyed working with people, it was where he found a niche. However, he sensed early on that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and had an “itch” throughout his corporate career. He decided to take a three year period to focus on himself; he ended up starting his own company and getting his “PhD” and became a master chocolatier. He “learned the rules so he could break them” and differentiated his chocolate company as much as possible, and ultimately created a luxury brand. We were glad to have Mr. Rix in the office to share some of his experiences in building his company.
Although he is a small business, Rix built his company on many of the same building blocks that startups do. Many chocolate shops don’t consider themselves B2B, but Rix found a niche in the market after working for corporations. There, he realized that there was dysfunction in the way corporations handled corporate gifting; meanwhile the rest of their company functions were very much structured. His solution was to work closely with his clients through retainer programs for a more efficient and structured schedule for gifting chocolates. This move ultimately shifted his company into a partially B2B category.
Today, Philip Ashley Chocolates has small storefront locations in cities such as L.A., New York City, and Miami. To name just a few of his many other crowning achievements: he was the official chocolate provider for the 2016 Grammy Awards and the 2016 Oscars Salute, and was also named the “Real Life Willy Wonka” by Forbes. To gain such a status, Mr. Rix said he surrounded himself with the right people, the “top” people, and his network became a major “door opener and deal closer” in the early stages of his company.
One of the greatest things the accomplished Chef has learned is “people gravitate towards good stories”, so he made telling stories a major part of his company. Part of being a luxury brand is paying close attention to detail, which is why the company puts in a lot of time and effort to carefully and creatively naming each piece of chocolate, choosing which types of chocolates to use, and focusing on the presentation of the chocolates. “We tell stories that taste like chocolate” said the Chef. A prime example is the ‘Taste of Memphis’ box, which the chef says tells the story of the Bluff City in 12 unique flavors. Attention to detail and appealing to customers through stories is a major component in differentiating his brand from the rest of the major players in the chocolate industry.
Elegant, But Simple
To close, Rix emphasized that he patterns his business much like a tech and medical device company. He closely evaluates scalability, investment offers and branding. Through the years he has found it important to stick true to your brand as well as your vision and the model you’re trying to follow. Lastly, he advised that the most complicated part of the process is to be simple in piecing together your business’ brand and product. “Try to make everything elegant, but simple so your product can easily connect to people.” Achieving that to the level Mr. Rix has is difficult, but a good goal to aim for nonetheless.
Alec Marshman is a Start Co. Summer Associate and a rising senior at Rhodes College. She can be reached at email@example.com.