Loddon Valley Business Network Dinner 15 September

Published on 08 September 2015

LIFE is sweet – and highly satisfying – for Bendigo chocolate maestro Hayley Tibbett.

Ms Tibbett’s journey from her native Swan Hill to the present-day whirlwind of her thriving business is a story of passion and one she is keen to share.

And she will be doing just that when she steps up as guest speaker at the next dinner meeting of the Loddon Valley Business Network, planned for the Serpentine Hotel on 15 September.

Ms Tibbett’s Indulge Chocolates, based at Bendigo’s Fountain Court arcade, sells hand-made Belgian chocolates, hot chocolates and Beraldo coffee, organic teas, home-made ice cream and gelato and cakes.

For a chocolate aficionado, Ms Tibbett’s working life has been varied, ranging from time in the insurance industry and food retailing to qualification as a gym instructor.

“I got into chocolate when a friend sold his business in Melbourne and that provided an opening for me to take my love of chocolate to the next level,” she said. 

“I then went to the chocolate patisserie school in the city and learned how to do it the right way.

“Indulge has been trading since December 2008, the same day then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was in town to officially open the Bendigo Centre for Bendigo Bank.

“Making chocolate is very much a niche market and how we have differentiated ourselves from others is by allowing people to see us producing the product and explaining the process to them.

“When you start something new, you never know how it’s going to go, so we added other lines such as coffee, cakes and ice cream to give ourselves other avenues of income.

“We make everything ourselves, buying in only our raw products and those as local as we can find them – local honey and shiraz, for example, and Pyramid Hill salt.”

Ms Tibbett has just opened a second shopfront in the same arcade where she plans to base her chocolate making.

“I’ll be making things right in the front window,” she said.

“I’ve worked closely all along with Bendigo Tourism and they’ve been a fantastic support.

“The business is part of the Food Fossickers walking tour, which takes groups of eight around five different businesses in Bendigo.

“Here at Indulge, participants hear a talk from me about the business, see the machinery, receive samples and hopefully come to understand there’s quite a process to it – our chocolate is not just something you bang out.

“People want to experience things, to see how they’re done – being part of the Foodie Tours opens us up to the tourist market and exposes us to a greater number of potential customers.

“We also do a lot of corporate work, too, plus functions and weddings.

“Christmas and Easter are just manic here, though – last Easter, we experimented with a ‘pop-up shop’, which was a great success.”

Ms Tibbett has high expectations of her six (soon to be nine) casual staff members.

“In the end, what you need is for people to walk through the door,” she said.

“Absolutely critical for me is making sure my customers are happy – and that I, my staff and my ideas are all on the same page.

“I want to see customers feeling happier when they walk out than when they came in – I want them to know that when they come in, we’re going to help them.

“It’s about the individual’s experience – when people arrive, they smell the chocolate, hear our music, pick up on our relaxing environment.

“Presentation, too, has to be right.  How does the shop strike customers?  It should look beautiful and the products appear consistent.”

Ms Tibbett said she believed it was important to never stop learning – “and take advantage of all the contacts you make”.

“You must be passionate about whatever you’re selling and believe in that product,” she said.

People wishing to attend the dinner at the Serpentine Hotel need to RSVP by 10 September to ssteel@loddon.vic.gov.au