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Peter Harris, Hotel Chocolat: Recession apart, we still like chocolate

Peter HarrisInnovation, authenticity and ethics are the key principles behind the highly successful Cambridge-based Hotel Chocolat brand. Now 25 years old and with a turnover of £65m, listening to customers and reacting is of paramount importance.

According to Peter Harris, Hotel Chocolat’s Co-Founder, “It’s not only listening to the customers, it’s quizzing the customers and asking them the right questions so that you understand what they want from you.”

The award-winning luxury chocolate maker has prospered during the recession and continues to buck the high street trend of independents closing down.

“We’re very careful. We take on limited length leases. We don’t pay excessive rents and we use the data from our shops to determine where our other shops will be successful when we’re selecting them for the future.

“We have been very sensible in an interesting market. Rents have actually come down for new tenants. Those who signed up on long leases years ago are really suffering badly.”

In an interview for Cambridge Judge Business School’s website, Hotel Chocolat’s co-founder says the growth and development of the last 25 years has not been easy, with many challenges which have always been resolved.

“Everybody makes mistakes in business but you have to learn from them and you have to get better, more refined with better knowledge and better data.”

On fear of failure, Peter Harris said the privately owned company, now employing over a thousand people, has posted losses in only one year in its history.

“We have faith in our abilities. We’re very grounded. We love reinvesting our profits in the business, developing the business, and we’re never short of new ideas.”

At a time when many firms have complained of little support from the banks, he added that Hotel Chocolat enjoys a good relationship with its bank based on a personal philosophy that he returns better figures than he forecasts.

“In other words you present figures to the bank and you do better than those figures, that way they feel more secure with you. Conversely, if you undershoot your figures you unnerve them. I’ve always taken the approach to give them figures that are cautious which I know we can beat and that leads to a good relationship.”

Peter Harris was a guest speaker on the Cambridge Leadership Seminar Series.