The Chocolate Factory is a creative business hub located in the north inner city of Dublin. The former Williams & Woods chocolate factory, once known for its Mint Crisp bars and Toblerone, now houses a mix of independent creative businesses from home accessory designers to small-batch food and drink producers.

Here we speak to three business owners based in The Chocolate Factory and find out that, while 2020 has presented many challenges in business, it has also presented opportunities. 


Making gold from copper

For Emmet Bosonnet, founder of Kopper Kreation, 2020 has proven to be a steep learning curve but also a year which has brought surprising opportunities. Bosonnet makes recycled copper lamps, lights and other homeware products and had seen considerable interest from retail buyers at Showcase in the RDS pre-pandemic – many of whom had placed orders for his products in January.

“Within three days email after email came in postponing the orders indefinitely,” says Bosonnet of the first lockdown announcement in March. “Kopper Kreation was really flying, it was a fledgling business that was on an upward curve, then there was a period at the start of lockdown when there were no sales at all.”

Bosonnet had already made the products to fulfil many of these trade orders so he turned to online to promote his handmade lamps directly to consumers.

“A couple of weeks after the start of the first lockdown I began to see a swing in customer buying habits and in support for Irish products. National and local radio stations were great at giving small businesses a chance to showcase their products and a small amount of media coverage ignited my online sales.”

Emmet Bosonnet, founder of Kopper Kreation

Bosonnet says though that he was unprepared for the reaction online when he linked in with cook, author and influencer Gina Daly aka @thedalydish on social media.  “A friend of mine put me in touch with Gina Daly. I made a lampshade for her and she encouraged me to do some videos of the process. The response was off the charts,” he says, describing the collaboration as natural and organic.  “It was not contrived and I think people could see that. I then ran a 20 percent discount to capitalise on the traction I’d gained and that really boosted my sales,” says Bosonnet. “I had a lot of wholesale orders ready to go so I was able to fulfil all the online orders with my existing stock.”

Bosonnet says that the first lockdown taught him to focus on the online side of his business. “I now find that online is more manageable for a small business. You’ve a finite amount of items for sale, you can see trends more easily and you can promote items you may have more stock of,” he says. “The first lockdown taught me that having a website is absolutely essential for business. I could improve lots about my website but it is the best investment I have made. Having a shoppable website is very achievable – all the information is out there online and there’s a YouTube video for everything.”

While Bosonnet, who lives more than 5km from The Chocolate Factory, is now working from home again, he says that he felt more prepared for the current lockdown. He says that working from a smaller home studio has allowed him to streamline his production methods and that he can now make his products 25 percent faster while maintaining the same quality as before.

Bosonnet has recently gained a number of new online stockists including The Holding Pond and Mimi+Martha with more in the pipeline in the run up to Christmas. “I feel these online platforms are attracting a lot of attention with people searching for Irish-made products. It’s important for me to be in this space. I have also signed up to Gifted from Ireland as it seems to be gaining some traction in the media. Thankfully with wholesale and retail through my website I am exceptionally busy, almost at last December’s levels already, so I honestly can’t complain.”

Adapting to the new normal

Benoit Nicol is the founder of The Nature of Things

Benoit Nicol is the founder of The Nature of Things which produces and retails high quality essential oils and related products such as oil diffusers. Originally from Brittany, Nicol has lived in Ireland for many years having travelled worldwide in his various roles in the food flavour and perfume industries.

During this time, Nicol built up a network of the very best essential oil producers in the world and learnt the importance of terroir, timing and the art of extraction when it comes to producing the finest essential oils – whether that is bergamot from Italy or cedar from the Atlas Mountains.

The Nature of Things had been in development for a number of years but 2019 was Nicol’s first full year on the market. His oils and associated products are bottled and packaged in small batches by hand in The Chocolate Factory and distributed to health stores, pharmacies and gift shops countrywide.

Because Nicol supplies pharmacies and health shops his products are considered part of the tranche of essential products and this helped maintain brand presence in some physical stores during the initial lockdown period. Earlier this year he experienced some issues with sourcing due to supply chain interruption but says that those issues were quickly remedied as suppliers got to grips with logistics in the “new normal”.

The Nature of Things is stocked in some 80 locations in Ireland and, while many of his stockists were closed, others were doing well as demand for essential oils increased. “People were at home and wanted to keep busy and to enhance their lives and living environments, so essential oils got a lift as people wanted to treat themselves. My online business therefore exploded,” says Nicol who reports sales up 1,100 percent online when compared to last year’s online sales figures for April to June.  

During April, Nicol began working with a distributor for the European market where he is now selling to retailers in 15 countries, while in May luxury store Brown Thomas took on the brand – a move which has proved to be a great boost to the business.  The reputation of The Nature of Things has grown on the Irish market since the start of the year and Nicol says that he has a very high rate of customer return on his website.

“We have learned two things from the first lockdown,” says Nicol. “Firstly, that there will be a surge in demand for our essential oils and diffusers and a surge in online shopping. This took us a bit by surprise the first time so it means now keeping larger stocks of products and of packing and shipping materials. Secondly, because many of us are spending so much time at home, we are focusing on making our dwellings more positive places. To support that, we have created a new line of five simple ritual sets in time for the Christmas period.”

From wholesale to direct to consumer

Julie and Owen McLoughlin run Jando

Julie and Owen McLoughlin run Jando, a multi-award-winning print studio based in The Chocolate Factory. Celebrations for the brand’s fifth anniversary in business had to be curtailed this year but that hasn’t stopped Jando experiencing a phenomenal response from consumers to their products despite the two Irish lockdown periods in response to the coronavirus.

As many of their stockists, which include large tourist sites, department stores and independent shops, were closed earlier in the year, the husband and wife team put all of their effort and budget into upping their game online with the bolstering of both their website and their social media presence. Long nights, teary days and hard work have paid off for them as Jando reports higher than predicted sales for the year 2020.

Co-founder of Jando, Julie McLoughlin, attributes the brand’s success in part to a “Zoom effect” whereby people were spotting their designs on the walls of others during Zoom calls thus leading to sales. The geographical and architectural tone of their designs has also been a key selling point for sentimental consumers – if they couldn’t make the family trip to Hook Head this year, then they were sending a Jando Hook Head print to their loved ones instead.

“What we found during the first lockdown was that people wanted to support Irish businesses but also businesses whose product they were familiar with. We found that people were leaving notes saying that they wanted to see us on the other side of this pandemic,” says McLoughlin who admits that it was an emotional time in business too as the couple were inundated with notes to loved ones from customers. “We were asked to write some very emotional messages to loved ones. They were attracted to our products because the places depicted have emotional resonance.”

Having an existing shoppable website helped Jando transition quickly from a largely wholesale model to a direct to consumer model. “The first week we were in meltdown and then we realised that we needed to weather the storm so we shifted everything online,” says McLoughlin. “Any budget that we had went straight into online and we began to work on things like SEO that we might not have focused on before.”

“Our online sales have continued to grow and we are getting more and more followers on social media all the time. Before the first lockdown we had 3,500 followers and now we have 11,500 so we have had massive growth this year. Obviously we have advertised but we don’t buy followers so it’s amazing to see such organic growth,” says McLoughlin who has taken on two additional staff members to cope with demand. 

“In a way the situation this year meant that we got to do things that we never had time to do before such as really focus on our website and our social media. I would advise other people to be very critical of their business. Step back and examine your business from all angles, identify what you can or can’t do and get help with the things you can’t.”

While a surge in interest for interiors and DIY during lockdown has certainly helped Jando’s sales this year, McLoughlin says that she has also seen a desire by Irish consumers to shop local. “Everyone has someone who has been affected by the pandemic in one way or another and I think that people really want to support Irish brands this Christmas,” she says. “We will soon be announcing a pop up shop with a major retailer and while we won’t get the full eight weeks we expected, we are really excited to have 24 days to sell our prints there in the run up to Christmas.”