|Store Name Alpine Chocolat Haus
Marketing through Priceless Community Goodwill
Business Type Restaurants (Food Service and Drinking Places)
NAICS Code 722
Location 208 W. Main Street, Gaylord, MI 49735
Owner/Manager Bruce Brown
Special Store Activities Ice cream socials benefiting local charities
Year Opened 1985
Phone (989) 732-1077
Community Profile Gaylord (population 3,681; 10 mile radius 19,444) is a well-known regional golf, snow mobile, and skiing destination located in North-Central Michigan. Downtown Gaylord styles itself as an “alpine village”, with many buildings modeled after the Tyrolean Swiss style. Other popular activities include cycling, hiking, fishing, trout angling, and hunting
Products Sold & Niche Developed
Alpine Chocolat Haus produces locally famous handmade chocolates, unique novelty candies and treats, and Carmel corn. This includes their #1 seller, chocolate covered potato chips. Additional products include gift baskets of assorted goodies, and gift boxes of chocolates. Alpine Chocolate Haus also has a full service ice cream counter serving shakes, banana splits, and 40 varieties of Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream. Treats also include chocolate covered frozen grapes and other fruit – chocolate covered everything!
Market Segments Served
Families with children and women 25-55 make the largest segments of patrons. Winter holiday period creates great demand from all around the county for gifts. The Alpine Chocolat Haus is very popular with both local residents and tourists.
Contributions to the Business Community
Alpine Chocolat Haus organizes a number of fundraisers for community organizations, including Little League and the United Way. Although not listed on any historic registries, the Alpine Chocolat Haus building was built in 1880 and located in the center of Downtown Gaylord. Alpine Chocolat Haus building has traditional Swiss styled exterior, as is required by downtown design district guidelines. The store front and retail space occupy the 2,500 square foot first floor, 1,800 square foot kitchen on second floor – including live kitchen cam on the website. The 2,500 square foot basement is utilized for packaging of boxed candies and gifts. The ice cream counter is an immensely popular downtown destination all year around, most especially in the summer.
Owner Bruce Brown is the President of the Gaylord Downtown Merchant’s Association, organizing events, activities, and joint advertising activities. This includes Alpenfest, a week-long Swiss and Alpine themed celebration of art, music, and culture. Alpine Chocolat Haus offers an ice cream social, at greatly discounted prices, with the local Little League program the week before Memorial Day. The Local Radio Station donates 4 hours of time to promote the event live for no charge, and receives live local television news coverage. This event raised over $4,000 for the Little League program from this single event in 2008, with all costs covered by Alpine Chocolat Haus. During the event, busses pick up students from local schools and have a field trip to the downtown, and Alpine Chocolat Haus staff is accompanied by volunteers, often including the Mayor, Chief of Police, and other local celebrities. This event creates great downtown image, business coverage and advertising, and priceless good will.
Alpine Chocolat Haus has a Carmel Apple sale for two weeks in October to support the local United Way. All Carmel Apples are made to order for local businesses, with proceeds exceeding $7,000 donated to United Way in 2007. Sales do not cover 100% of costs, but supports local charity while creating unparallel business image.
Alpine Chocolat Haus works with a number of businesses in a gift certificate program, where if a customer purchases $25 in merchandise in a participating business, the customer receives a $5 gift certificate for use in other participating businesses – drawing additional business and circular traffic in the downtown.
Alpine Chocolat Haus philosophy is that staff has to greet everyone like family and treat everyone with respect. A tray of samples is always available so that people can try a product first, creating personable service and increasing sales. Samples are the best way for Alpine Chocolat Haus to promote their freshly made chocolates and candies, produced right in the store. Having samples is important, because Alpine Chocolate Haus is unique, unexpected, and different than pre-packaged commercial products (think: chocolate covered potato chips). “You’ve got to find your niche as a small business, be unique; which is often quality, service, and experience. Have to have a genuine interest in the community.”
Additional Lessons: Growth has created more management activities for ownership, which is a challenge. Owners must maintain commitment to quality product, personable service, and involvement in downtown organizations. The keys to success are making yourself visible in downtown organizations, get involved, be creative, get out there and know people. Community involvement is the way to compete successfully with corporate chains, giving local establishments an edge; people want to support good businesses.
“Go after the WOW factor”
Review by: Joshua Clements, UW Extension CCED