21/04/2011 - 00:00

Now that’s my kind of ‘salon’

21/04/2011 - 00:00

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Perth chocoholics have been given an early Easter surprise with the opening of the first Koko Black ‘salon’ last month. Carolyn Herbert reports.

Now that’s my kind of ‘salon’

SHANE Hills chose the new Claremont Quarter shopping complex to pursue the dream of expanding his business empire into Western Australia.

Having worked in banking for more than a decade, Mr Hills’ love of confectionary led him to open Suga Lolly in 1998, a lolly shop specialising in handmade rock candy that can now be found in three locations around Melbourne.

A subsequent trip to Bruges in Belgium inspired Mr Hills to create what he calls a unique chocolate experience for Australians and to open his first Koko Black in Melbourne in 2003.

Koko Black’s arrival in the west adds to a handful of chocolatiers and chocolate cafes that have emerged in Perth in recent years as the long-time family favourite sweet finds a new market niche.

“If you look at movies like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Chocolat, chocolate has a personality like no other food,” the chocolatier told Gusto.

“Chocolate has been popular as a bar product for a couple of hundred years and it’s almost a certainty that the want of better quality chocolate will grow over time.”

The Koko Black business has expanded rapidly since its inception and sports seven locations around Melbourne, one ‘salon’ in Canberra and the new store in Claremont.

Mr Hills told Gusto that bringing the Koko Black name to Perth was the next best opportunity to grow the business.

“We saw Perth as being quite similar to Canberra, it has a sophisticated type of customer and we felt the market was underserviced and that there was nobody else doing what we did,” Mr Hills says.

The Melbourne businessman is confident the Claremont Quarter was the most appropriate site to launch the Koko Black brand in WA.

“With the development here in Claremont it felt exactly right. There is a lot happening in Perth generally and there is a lot of growth potential, particularly in Claremont and the Perth CBD,” he says.

Mr Hills sees plenty of upside for Koko Black, despite the presence of other players in the market. Spanish chocolateria San Churro opened its first store in Fremantle in 2009, and has since opened two other stores in Leederville and Subiaco, with another due to open in Northbridge in July.

Theobroma’s Chocolate Lounge has more than 20 stores across Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.

The company opened its first store in WA in February at the Waterford Plaza shopping centre and will open its second store in Fremantle in June.

Mr Hills says he does not see these chains as competition, as he feels that they target a different market to Koko Black.

“Our main business is our boxed chocolates and our gifts, so we see ourselves as a retailer and not a hospitality business,” he says.

But Mr Hills says Koko Black offers much more than your stock-standard chocolate shop.

“Other chocolate businesses are often just a product on the shelf and a transaction at the counter, but we really try and create an experience around a product that has amazing character and flavour to it,” he says.

Koko Black uses some local ingredients in its products sold at the Claremont store.

“We have partnered up with the Wine and Truffle Company in Manjimup, the largest producer of truffles in the Southern Hemisphere, to create a truffle caramel, and we have also teamed up with Little Creatures to create a stout caramel,” Mr Hills says.

Mr Hills told Gusto he plans to expand the business further and is currently looking for a site in the Perth CBD.

However, there are no plans to franchise the business in the near future.

“We’re a young family business which really means we haven’t gone down the road of wanting to franchise,” he says.

But when asked if he would consider expanding the business internationally, Mr Hills acknowledged that his ultimate goal would be to give Swiss chocolatiers a run for their money.

“Our ultimate dream would be to open somewhere like Switzerland and we could do that if we keep honing our business and developing what we do.”

 

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