Helen Pattinson - Co-founder and director, Montezuma’s

Helen Pattinson - Co-founder and director, Montezuma’s

Even after 18 years, Helen’s passion for chocolate hasn’t dimmed. Her greatest thrill is still arriving at the office to a new concoction dreamed up overnight by Montezuma’s R&D team. A lawyer by trade, she left a lucrative career in the City to launch the business with her husband. They worked 24/7, making chocolate by night and selling it by day, and together have built a brand that is expanding fast both in the UK and US.

Montezuma’s chocolate

Q&A

What drives you?

I just love chocolate. The idea for the business was borne out of a trip around South America. Simon was poorly, so I went exploring a village in the Argentinian lake district, where every other shop was a chocolate shop. What I tasted was unlike anything we had in Britain at the time. Neither Simon nor I wanted to be lawyers anymore, so we came home with the idea of launching our own chain of chocolate shops. We worked 24/7, making chocolate by night and selling it by day. The business model has changed over the years - we have just five of our own stores and supply major retailers - but our love of chocolate has stayed constant.

How do you stay ahead of rivals?

We’re so small compared to the likes of Green & Blacks and Lindt but we take advantage of that by innovating fast. It takes the big companies two years to bring a product to market; it takes us two months. So we’re always one step ahead. Last year we invested £800,000 into our factory, which will help us meet the increased demand. It’s such an exciting time. I feel like we’re on the launchpad and ready for the next phase of growth.

What’s been your toughest moment in business?

During the 2008 crisis, we nearly ran out of money. There was a catalogue of small disasters - a bad debt, a snowy Easter, which led to a stockpile of Easter eggs - and suddenly we couldn’t pay our VAT bill. When we realised we would struggle to pay our staff… That was really tough. But we got through it and it the experience made the business stronger. We now have measures in place to ensure we are never in that position again.

What’s the secret to your success?

We really look after our staff and our customers. Montezuma’s is a fun, happy place to work. Our absence rates are less than 1pc compared to 8pc in the wider industry, and we regularly celebrate 10-year anniversaries. As a lawyer, I didn’t enjoy going to work so I strive to make sure everyone feels fulfilled. Our office and factory are two minutes from the beach and we promote a 9-5 day: if people are working late, I want to know why. We’re also really good at customer service, making sure that everyone who contacts the business has a fantastic experience. That’s rare in retail these days. Our customers test new products and suggest recipes. They are very loyal – and very vocal!

Fast facts:

  • Helen is 47 and Simon is 52
  • Montezuma’s employs 150 people
  • New product development takes just two months
  • 28pc of revenue is generated from exports
  • Bestselling product is a 100pc cocoa dark chocolate
“Helen, together with her husband Simon, has created a unique chocolate brand that is beloved by customers and staff alike. While she, by her own admission, knew nothing about the industry when she started, the ambitious duo learnt how to make chocolate and how to source the best ingredients. Over the years, the business model has shifted away from proprietary stores, to expand the wholesale business both in the UK and US. Over the last three years, many new retail partners and the founders have come on board and Montezuma’s is poised for a major growth spurt: turnover is set to rise from £7m to £20m by 2021.”

Jonathan Caswell, LDC