Colin Green answered our questions on how was the idea for Captain Chocolate born, what was the reason he decided to name his brand “Captain Coffee” and why he changed it later to “Captain Chocolate”. Here, he shares lessons he learned along the way.
When and how was the idea for Captain Chocolate born?
From around 1995 to 2001 I was an Australian/New Zealand General Sales Agent to Key3Media Events. They produced iconic trade shows including COMDEX in many locations worldwide, the most notable being in Las Vegas which was the largest IT trade show worldwide at the time. They had many trade shows around the world including N+I in Paris, Chicago, and more. Plus COMDEX’s in Singapore, Chicago, Atlanta, London, New Delhi, Buenos Aires, Basel to name just a few.
My job was to procure Australian and New Zealand exhibitors for these shows. The Australian and New Zealand Governments part-funded exhibitor participation and also provided training for the exhibitors to ensure their success.
For training they often contracted me to provide the training. Sadly, in 2001 Key3Media collapsed along with the various trade shows and of course my agency was terminated.
For some years afterwards, Australian State Governments continued to contract me to provide exhibitor training for both international and domestic trade and also consumer shows and some of the largest exhibitions in both Australia and New Zealand used my services.
In 2008, the Global Financial Crisis engulfed the world, and all of my arrangements collapsed as Governments and Businesses strove to shave any expenses they could.
One of the last jobs I had was to train exhibitors in Regional New South Wales (Australia) for a series of trade and consumer shows. On my flight back to Sydney I was seated next to one of the participants of the training I had just delivered. It transpired that he owned a Coffee Expo and asked me if I could train his exhibitors with a focus on coffee marketing. That became my introduction to the world of great coffee and the training was deemed a high success!
After that coffee training was complete, I was “out of work”. I had no further contracts and the various people within the State Governments that had formerly employed me had all been “let go” in an effort to save Government funds. The various Expos that had given me voice were also trying to save funds and that work was over too.
I mentioned to my wife that having just had a “baptism of fire” in the coffee industry, perhaps I should try marketing coffee. Basically I planned to buy in bulk from a coffee roaster and resell to whoever I could. My wife agreed that it was worth investigating and thus the next stage of my very strange “career” was born.
What was the process of choosing a brand name like?
Choosing the name for marketing coffee was quick and easy. I asked my wife “what should we call it”? She instantly said “Captain Coffee”! I asked, “why?”. Her answer was “well, you sail a yacht and you’re the captain. So “Captain Coffee” it was.
I didn’t do so well at marketing coffee. I could not roast the coffee as I didn’t have the facilities nor immediate knowledge and equipment and the margins I had to work with were insufficient to make it work.
I came up with the idea of doing gourmet chocolate coated coffee beans and contracted panning companies to do the panning. Panning is the process of depositing layers of chocolate on solid centres, in this case coffee beans.
In a very short time the contractors refused to do more panning for me as it did not work well with their processes. My gourmet flavours (eg chilli) required full clean-up following each batch which was time consuming and costly and didn’t work for them. Also I insisted on top quality couverture chocolate which is NOT what most panning contractors use.
So I imported panning machinery, installed it in our townhouse and taught myself to pan. Believe me, that was a mammoth task. But I kept at it and acquired results I was pleased with.
When I could pan with coffee beans I started panning all manner of products. Including blue berries, ginger and even chocolate centres – which in time became my most popular range – especially the Salted Caramel Nibbles.
Being “self taught” I was sure that there were aspects that I could improve on so I entered various Royal Show Chocolate Competitions in the hope that the judges could give me hints for improvement.
They did – but to my huge surprise they also gave me medals! Gold, Silver and Bronze!
To make sales and to get feedback from the public I set up at Farmers Markets and also did some major Consumer Shows.
While these were very helpful and successful, I was still working under the name “Captain Coffee” and a good number of people simply walked away. Some called over their shoulder “I don’t like coffee!”.
So I changed my name to Captain Chocolate which I stayed with until I sold the business.
You operated on Captainchocolate.com.au, why did you pick that address exactly?
The above shows the reason I chose “Captain Coffee” and why I changed it to “Captain Chocolate”. I have always maintained that branding should be as uncomplicated as possible. Especially on-line. “Captain Chocolate” to me hinted at a leader, adventure and quality. Like the gold, adventure, and “far away places” of pirates long gone. Thus the domain name was an easy pick – especially as it was available in Australia. It was already my trading name (I did secure the trademark too) and it said everything I wanted it to. I also had a logo designed – which I also trade-marked.
What would your advice be to entrepreneurs who are just starting out, in general, and when it comes to branding and naming?
When a door closes, there is always something else. And that “something else” just may be the best you never envisioned!
Do your SWOT analysis. Strengths. Weakness. Opportunities. Threats. But don’t hesitate for too long… That’s paralysis by analysis…
Be different. For me, I didn’t just want chocolate covered coffee beans. I wanted EXCELLENT chocolate coated coffee beans. Different flavours, a better product too. When others say that you have to toe the line, toe your own line.
Take risks – but take care too. In my last year I focussed on almost ONE big Customer. I knew that that would eventually crumble – and it did. But I made a lot of money in the meantime.
Branding needs to be simple. Ideally, your name should reflect what you do and what your target market aspires to. That said, “Apple” has nothing to do with innovative electronics. But it’s simple and consistent.
Listen to your target market. When it was clear that Captain Coffee was no longer a great name, I changed what I had to. But I remained “The Captain”… Personally I still am – people in the street still call me “Captain” – even after I’ve sold the business!”
Captain Chocolate was obviously chocolate. “Captain” indicated taking the helm, adventure, richness. BUT in Australia, where it’s not “cool” to promote yourself, I did experience some kick-back.
You sold the brand Captain Chocolate this year, what was the experience like?
Selling was a hard decision. I had turned 67 and while I had plenty left to give, I was becoming aware that most of my life had passed and I have things to do. Personal things. So, when a potential buyer offered to buy, with much prayer and thought – and plenty of negotiation – I sold.
Captain Chocolate was the most successful business I had ever run and it was going really well and it was fun! So, it was hard to leave.
The pinnacle of any entrepreneur’s dream is to sell. That’s the end game. So it was really a success in itself.
What role did intangible assets like your brand name, domain name, social networks, play in the sale? How were those valued?
The intangible assets were very large in my own mind – but not ongoing it seemed in the mind of the Buyer! As mentioned I had trademarked the name Captain Chocolate. I was very consistent in the use of the name with the domain name and all packaging and signwriting. I had a perfect 5-star rating on Facebook and Trip Advisor – and thousands of followers and comments. Google had just one bad comment – from a neighbor! I had little time for other social media. Just not enough hours in the day.
I know that all of these things persuaded the eventual Buyer that the whole package was a great deal. But sadly, when they bought, they absorbed everything into their own brand and Captain Chocolate lay dead. Many people did hunt me down to ask where they could continue to buy. So for me, the branding was critical and worked to add major value.
What was the hardest thing about building a brand in your industry?
I didn’t find building the brand hard – I simply stayed consistent and branded everywhere I could. As mentioned, people still address me personally as “Captain” and the brand was very well known locally.
My decision to focus on the one large Customer in the last year meant that their brand was most vital to them – but they gave me lots of money for that! Having the word “Chocolate” in my branding meant that I did well in the search engines. And the name the tended to “stick”. Hard to forget!
I mentioned that I won gold, silver, and bronze medals. In fact, in three years I won 71 medals and that got noticed around Australia. The Farmers Markets helped a lot as retailers and hotel people use them for new products and ideas. That built a lot of out-of-town business. Although very labor-intensive…
How has the pandemic affected your business this year?
I sold a little before the pandemic. When I sold I trained a staff member for the Buyer. Sadly, he had to travel overseas during COVID and they have had me back on occasion to oversee production. But for my business itself, there has been no effect.
What is next for you?
Next for me? I retired! Bought another home on a lake and a motor home to tour Australia. But I do literally dream of my Captain Chocolate days. The highs and the lows – but there were FAR more highs!
We hope the above information will help you in making informed decisions about your brand. If you want to say hi or have any questions about naming, branding, and domain names get in touch, we’re always happy to hear from you.