Like Mother Like Daughter: Ann Finch & Melanie Finch-Keshwar
In our next Like Mother, Like Daughter series we talk to business owners, Ann Finch and Melanie Finch-Keshwar. Since starting their business three years ago, The Chocolatiers have carved out a special niche of their own, with their premiere, handcrafted, ethically-sourced and beautifully wrapped treats. Here’s how the duo “make life a little easier” for themselves and for their clients.
Ann & Melanie: How would you describe each other?
M: Mom is the best business partner in the universe, I am so happy we chose to do this together. We get to spend so much time together, we are dreaming the same dream and that is such a great space. Mom is super smart, dedicated and because we are both good at making chocolate, and then bring different skills to the table beyond that, it really works. Mom is a numbers genius and I like selling, which is great!
A: I like flavour development and Mel likes decorating and playing with finishes. We both bring everything, which took us a lifetime to learn, to the table, and I think everything we have learned thus far is contributing to our business. I am more patient, more subtle, Mel is more extroverted and out there, it balances. We both do what we are good at, what we are naturally inclined towards.
How and when did you both get the idea to start The Chocolatiers?
M: It wasn’t even our idea, we can’t take the credit at all. My husband, Graeme, came across a chocolatier on his travels, came back and said: “you guys could totally do this”. So, we tried. And here we are, going onto 3 years later. It’s a love affair. Chocolate has been our teacher and our vehicle and we have nothing but gratitude. AND we get to eat the mistakes. It’s a win-win situation. It’s a little bit scientific, a little bit creative, a little bit meditative. It’s endlessly interesting – there is so much to learn, there are so many possibilities that is a sort of constant unfolding.
What were you both doing, before you founded The Chocolatiers?
A: Mel worked in the film industry and I worked in a corporate environment. We both reached a stage of wanting a lifestyle change, and this opportunity presented itself. So we took the plunge!
What are your individual roles in the business?
M: Our individual roles seem to have been somewhat organic. Mom is the financial wizard who works out the costing models. I am sales and marketing. We both manufacture and package. There are definite separate skill sets and then an overlap of the same, and it really works.
What are the challenges of running your business, as well as sourcing local?
M: The challenges are cashflow, cashflow, cashflow. You can have all the brilliant ideas in the world but no cashflow to make them happen, which means they just have to wait. The upside of this is that it forces you to take it slowly and really master each step, or level, before you reach the next, and in doing so, learn the relevant lessons. Sourcing local hasn’t been a problem, South Africans are amazingly inventive and if we don’t have it readily available, we make it happen. There are very few things that we genuinely cannot get here.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever had to make for a client?
M: We made a stethoscope for the 90th birthday of a cardiothoracic surgeon who LOVES chocolate. We were still quite new at it, and it was a little terrifying but at the end of it we found that actually, it was so much fun!
What have you learnt about each other since starting your business?
A&M: So MUCH! Mom is a perfectionist and is happy to re-do things until they are the best they can possibly be. She is also tireless and self-sacrificing in a way that is immensely humbling. She never gives up, ever – it’s incredible.
Mel is the most self-driven person I know. She pursues her vision relentlessly, never doubting that she will make it happen. It’s really inspiring seeing her never give up on an idea, no matter what difficulties have to be overcome.
How would you describe your relationship and how is it different from when you’re at work versus at home?
A&M: I don’t think that there is a difference really, there isn’t a separation. We chat about all things all the time and I have to admit that business does crop up a lot. My husband sometimes jokes at the lunch table that he feels like he is at a status meeting. But then we also chat about life in general and catch up while tempering a batch of rich melty chocolate. It’s all things, all the time.
How do you deal with disagreements or differing perspectives?
A: We take a time out, each go to our own space, and then return with calm, to talk it through. I don’t think there is another way. We are both stubborn and head strong, and thank heavens, we mostly have the same perspective. But when we don’t, we just retreat a little and give some space, some oxygen, to the problem, and it works.
What do you love most about working together?
M: We have a similar view of life. We are happy to go through an entire process, come to the end of it, realize it isn’t what we would like and so change focus, and it’s okay. There isn’t a fear of messing up, we realize that mistakes are a part of the journey and just take them in our stride, this too is okay. We allow the space for an organic process. I am an excellent morning person but pretty terrible in the evenings, whereas mom likes to package in the evenings, and that is totally cool. We never give up. That is basically the secret to starting a brand new venture, just do not ever give up. We encourage each other, recognize each others strengths and weaknesses, have each others backs. It is the most supportive environment to work in.
What advice do you have for mother and daughter partnerships?
A: Go for it! You don’t need to know it all up front, life isn’t like that, you will always be changing, growing, learning. Be open to each others ideas and way of doing things, communicate, let it be an exiting and adventurous space. Encourage each other – you will both have different aspects of yourselves which will shine through and that is great, versatility is great!
Where do you both hope to see The Chocolatiers going forward?
A: We would like to create a sustainable business that can contribute positively towards our beautiful country through job creation. We would love to be stocked throughout the continent and beyond, and have such fabulous ideas that we know will come to fruition. Chocolate for us is both an affordable luxury as well as a vehicle through which we hope to make a real difference. It certainly has had an alchemical effect on our lives – we are hooked, happy and inspired and working from a place of inspiration is a gift.
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