When Kit and Ross opened a shop in Camden in 2014, they had to become pastry chefs, grocers, business owners, sales assistants, and children's entertainers all in one go.
Now over 24 months later, they are wholesale distributors, online retailers and entrepreneurs with a factory in Peckham and a sales and marketing base in Vox Studios. They shift about 20,000 chocolate honeycomb bars a month.
Before opening up on Camden Lock they hadn't had any experience in retail, although Ross's family had always worked in chocolate, running factories for big brands like Cadburys. They became friends at the start of their careers while working on Richard & Judy as runners. Kit went on to work in marketing, eventually setting up the San Francisco branch of the agency he worked for and building up a team of over ten and attracting clients like YouTube and Google. Ross worked on TV cookery shows.
"Let's just give it a shot rather than talk about it," Kit explains the basic thinking behind the two friends' decision to set up a business. They looked at market trends, the fact there was growth in high-end chocolate, and thought the "high street could do with some revamping." After six months of planning, they opened the shop doors.
With a shop, customers can look into the whites of our eyes... You've already taken four or five touch points out of the process.
Kit Tomlinson, Mighty Fine Honeycomb
They sold bacon-flavoured chocolate, tequila truffles and made chocolate robots and organic lemon slushies - when it was hot. The experiential approach was always their preference: with an online shop, "market penetration is even more difficult," Kit says. "There's no trust value there. With a shop, customers can look into the whites of our eyes... You've already taken four or five touch points out of the process."
The shop was self-funded. "It was a relatively low-cost and low-risk way of trialling a concept," Kit says modestly. Upfront costs included decking out the shop and paying the deposit on the lease. They had no staff costs, and as Ross explains quite practically, "you'd get a bag of chocolate in the morning, make the bars of chocolate, and you'd sell it in the afternoon. It was quite lean."
They opened in March 2014 and immediately the business benefits of doing it this way became clear. "We got to stand in the shop and watch how people pick up products. They didn't know it was our shop. You get to hear people's honest opinions about packaging and presentation. You see how they want to interact with the different products."
What the two men were sure of was that one product flew off the shelves. They couldn't make it quick enough and they "heard people talk about the nostalgia of honeycomb, or had never having tasted a honeycomb product like it before."
It made Kit and Ross reconsider their proposition as one thing became clear to them, Kit explains. "If we want to build a powerful brand, our success lay in going more niche and focusing on being the best honeycomb producer in the UK." The turning point came about eight months after the shop's opening when they succeeded in getting Harvey Nicholls in January 2015 to sell their honeycomb. "It sold really well, without us having to talk through every sale."
The uniqueness of their product - lighter and crispier, and cased in high-quality chocolate, they say - was appreciated by customers. This lead them to decide to pivot from retailer to wholesale distributor, close the shop in July 2015 and open up a factory in Peckham - where they "handmake the products, package and then distribute them" Ross would look after production and sales; Kit after business operations and marketing. Mighty Fine was ready for the next stage.
They now make 20,000 bars a month, about the same number of honeycomb chocolate bags, and they're 'barely keeping up with demand.'
It turned out to be a good move. They now make 20,000 bars a month, about the same number of honeycomb chocolate bags, and they're "barely keeping up with demand." They work with Booths, Cook, Wholefoods, Harrods, Liberty, Picturehouse Cinema Group and have started selling online. They're sold in USA, Spain, Germany, Holland, Bahrain, South Africa and they're looking for more growth in the UK. "We are really honest with every retailer we go into and we've never felt the need to pretend to be anything we're not," Kit says. "There's a real appetite for new brands and new stories."
It's feeding this demand that led to them to setting up in a separate office in Workspace at Vox Studios, just a short walk from where they met on Richard & Judy. They wanted to be as close to the factory as possible - to check the quality at all times - but not too close. There was the danger that they would be pulled in to help with packaging or if extra help was needed, instead of concentrating on building the business. The idea was to "build a sales and marketing team that sits slightly away from production."
Coming to Workspace mirrors their lean approach to business. Their office is a perfect fit for them now - their newest employee has just settled in - but it gives them the opportunity to move to a bigger office when they scale.
Meeting rooms that are available to book are convenient for hosting distributors and potential partners, Ross explains. "It's a much easier place to have a meeting. It offers you more facilities than many other offices I've worked in." They aim to reach 1,500 stockists in the UK so the team has been busy out and about introducing the brand to retailers. Luckily being based near Vauxhall station makes it easy. "It's a great location here; it's really easy to get anywhere here," Ross explains. "And it's an aspirational motivating place to be. There's an automatic network of businesses to work with. There are lots of interesting businesses based here."
With their fascinating business story and their ambitious plans for expansion, Mighty Fine Honeycomb is definitely one of them.
A former Marmite factory, Vox Studios has undergone spectacular refurbishment, with over 65 new studios for New and Growing Companies. It boasts abundant natural light and stunning city skyline views just 350 metres from Vauxhall tube station. If you'd like to arrange a view of our available units, please don't hesitate to click here.
Read the stories of other businesses based at Vox Studios, including the media agency Spoke and Tom Harvey and Steven Duke, the experienced journalists behind it. Read more here.