Fudging the Numbers

Michelle Brisebois
February 18, 2009
Written by Michelle Brisebois
When our culture observes successful entrepreneurs, we tend to say they have the “Midas touch.” In other words, their success is a gift from on high and these people are simply born to succeed – and we mere mortals need not apply.
Chantelle Gorham’s journey from policewoman to successful fudge maker

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 Chantelle Gorham with a couple of batches of freshly made fudge .
 
When our culture observes successful entrepreneurs, we tend to say they have the “Midas touch.” In other words, their success is a gift from on high and these people are simply born to succeed – and we mere mortals need not apply.
But Canadian writer Malcom Gladwell, in his book Outliers, defines success as a mixture of luck, pluck and a heck of a lot of hard work. In fact, hard work, he argues, is a better predictor of success than anything else.

Chantelle Gorham of Northwest Fudge Factory is one of those young entrepreneurs who embody the Outlier model. In her 30s, she’s already onto her second career as a wholesaler of gourmet fudge, and while success is sweet it’s also a function of great business instincts and, yes, good old-fashioned hard work.

Northwest Fudge Factory is located in Levack, Ont., a small town at the point where the Canadian Shield meets the Sudbury Nickel Irruptive, which was caused by a meteorite strike two billion years ago. Enter Gorham, in her mid-20s and working as a police officer.

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 Northwest Fudge Factory’s Guiness World Record-setting slab of fudge, weighing in at 5,050 pounds.
 
“My mother told me at I could be anything … except a police officer,” she jokes. “It must have been the rebel in me that decided to go in that direction.”

It was a few years into her policing career that Gorham’s parents noticed a local general store, the Northwest Trading Company, was up for sale. They encouraged Chantelle and her brother to consider buying the business and running it together. Chantelle was 26 and her brother was 22.

“Our parents have been so incredibly supportive from the beginning,” Gorham says. “We pulled double duty and kept our day jobs in addition to running the business for a while, but eventually, a choice had to be made and I gave up policing.”

Once she had a chance to gauge the ebbs and flows of the business, Gorham couldn’t help noticing that its fudge was a key business driver.

“It’s not like fudge was a childhood passion of mine,” Gorham says. “I’d never really eaten much fudge before we started the business, but it quickly became clear that it was an everyday treat that had huge appeal to tourists.”

Gorham worked to develop a base formula that could easily morph into more than 100 varieties. As her product continued to gain fans, requests came in from other retailers to sell her fudge in their stores.

Gorham learned to keep the product line tight and efficient so costs could be managed. A turnkey training program for retailers was also developed to help front line staff understand the product’s attributes and unique qualities.

“Fudge is well suited to selling wholesale because its shelf life is longer than most other baked goods,” Gorham advises. “I also learned to understand where there was a true fit for my product and my customer and to target those situations where it worked for both. Sometimes, the traffic just won’t support it and you have to be able to identify that up front.”

Her business model also takes advantage of her location.

“This is a wonderful place to set up a wholesaling business,” she says. “We don’t have to deal with city-like costs and the post office is virtually next door. Having grown up here, policed here and now building a business here, I’m eternally grateful for what this community has helped me experience.”

It’s that sense of community that propels Chantelle Gorham to host bike derbies and other local activities as a way of giving back to the community.
“As a police officer I went into the schools to give drug awareness education. That sense of giving back to the town is one aspect of my previous career I wanted to maintain.”

While her story to this point is compelling as is, there is still an elephant in the living room – a 5,000-pound elephant.

Northwest Fudge Factory holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest slab of fudge. It’s a distinction Gorham has held three times in the past few years. Northwest beat Eagle Brand by creating the world’s largest slab of fudge at more than 2,000 pounds in 2002. Her latest behemoth slab, in 2007, weighed in at a staggering 5,050 pounds. These records have been of great benefit to organizations such as St. Joseph’s Villa in Sudbury.

“We sold the fudge to St. Joseph’s Villa in a ‘wholesale’ format,” Gorham explains. “They then sold it in 20-pound slabs at a cost of $200 to local businesses, groups, etc. The profit they made the first time on the 4040-pound slab was $23,000 and the 5050-pound slab was $25,000.”

When asked to distil the personality attributes and conditions that have contributed to her success, Gorham echoes the sentiments of many entrepreneurs.

“Don’t be afraid to fail,” she says. “You may send out a 100,000 fliers to only get back 30. You’ll learn valuable lessons from that exercise that will improve your business skills.”

Good-old fashioned peddling of one’s wares is also a key ingredient to success, she says.

“There were weekends where I’d pack the cars full of product, marketing materials and displays then participate in three trade shows in one weekend. All of that slogging and driving did pay off in the end but you have to trust that it’s all adding up in your favour. [But] this is my passion – it doesn’t feel like work and that’s how it should feel.”

So what’s next for Gorham?

“Well, I’m continuing to consider new product introductions and to grow the fundraising side of the business,” she says. “Fudge is extremely popular as a fundraising tool for schools and other charities.”

Her products are also being used as wedding favours – a segment of the market Gorham has been focusing on professionally and personally.

“Sometime in the next few months I’ll be getting married,” she says. “I also plan to continue to defend that Guinness World Record title.”

Luck, pluck and a lot of hard work? Let the record speak for itself. / BJ

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