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How to employ 52 staff in a business that’s all about chocolate

/ Dec 24, 2012 8:08AM / Print / ()

How to employ 52 staff in a business that’s all about chocol...

Working on a property about an hour out of Melbourne, Leanne Neeland explains that she has no choice but to try up to twenty different chocolates a day.

"The chocolatiers will bring them in and I'll suggest something, they'll make a change, and then of course they keep coming back until they get it right," she tells Women's Agenda.

It's been a tough life since opening the doors of her Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice creamery earlier this month, a new "destination" spot expected to attract 60,000 visitors a year.

Really, it hasn't been easy. Even for Telstra's 2008 Business Woman of the Year.

Neeland came up with the concept of creating a destination to "experience, taste, see and indulge" in chocolate while working at the Margaret River Chocolate Company, which has given its blessing to the new Victorian venture.

"I couldn't believe how everyone went so crazy for chocolate," she says. "Everyone who works there thinks they have an amazing job, and everyone who visits is on holidays."

She came across the 16 hectares to build her own version of the Chocolate Company in a region better known for producing wine than chocolate. There, she created the architectually designed chocolaterie – including a showroom, ice creamery, driveways, 500 orchards, conservation area, manicured lawns, large truffle cabinet and a cafe -- managing the construction project herself within an incredible tight deadline. Council only approved the facility earlier this year, and only after Neeland got the local community on board.

She's already employed 52 staff in the chocolaterie, and sponsored six chocolate experts to come out from Europe to help. Her advertising dollars, she says, are spent on the free tasting. "They come in and say 'I can really just try that?' And then they're filling up their pockets and handbags and I'm left wondering 'is this really going to work?'"

Neeland's also got the family on board. Establishing the new business with her husband, their 16-year-old daughter was serving ice cream as Neeland spoke to Women's Agenda. Even her mother's been helping out, washing and ironing uniforms.

A self-described "born entrepreneur", Neeland says her family and friends weren't surprised when the explained her latest idea. "I've always been an entrepreneur, it's kind of expected from my family," she says. "Sometimes, I wish I didn't have that instinct! It's not always easy."

This is Neeland's sixth business. She's only worked for somebody else once – during her stint with the Margaret Valley Chocolate Company.

"I never went to university, just always worked hard. There's been lots of up and downs. There's this resilience that I have that you do need as a business owner," she says.

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