British entrepreneur Nicholas and his wife Elkie came up with the idea for LetterBoxChocs at the end of 2007. Their unique product incorporates a tray of 16 luxury Belgian chocolates that cleverly slide out the back of a greetings card and will fit through any letterbox.
The husband-and-wife team spent £80,000 of their own savings getting the idea off the ground and producing samples. After clinching deals with WH Smith, Fenwick’s, Beales and more than 100 other independent retail outlets, LetterBoxChocs hit the shelves in November 2008, retailing at £5.99 plus postage. LetterBoxChocs has recently been taken on by two of the top distributors in the UK – The House of Sarunds and Bespoke Foods – and Nicholas has his sights set on international expansion.
“I was keen to attend the ISM show in Germany in February – the world’s biggest confectionery trade fair. But we were running out of cash and I was half inclined to just focus on the UK market,” he explains. “Then I called UK Trade & Investment.”
Nicholas says he was absolutely “bowled over” by the assistance he received: “They answered the phone within a minute, which you wouldn’t expect from a government department. They said: ‘Send us some details about your company and we’ll call you back within an hour.’ They were true to their word and offered me a grant of £2,000 to fly to Germany and attend the show. They also told me I was eligible for the Enterprise Guarantee Scheme, so I now have a £120,000 loan.
"Every time we trade with a new country, they give us £1,500, which covers the cost of translating all our product information. And when I told them I was attending the Fancy Food show in New York, they immediately sent me documentation on trading in the States and a contact who could help us in San Francisco. I haven’t once had to go grovelling for help.” LetterBoxChocs is now working with distributors in seven countries and Nicholas is forecasting sales of £2m in the first full year’s trading.
“I’m not politically minded but I met Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson at Number 10 Downing Street last week and they instilled me with so much confidence,” he says. “The slating they have received is unfair. After the quality of help I received from UK Trade & Investment, I really do believe the government has a fighting chance of getting this country out of recession.”