June 11, 2004

It’s always "sweet" to see a dream become a successful business, especially when no one gave it a chance.
When Mill Creek Chocolates was established in the town of Port Elgin in 1997, Owners Paul and Christina Becker never imagined that they would someday hit the $1 million mark in sales.  At the time, the area was being hammered by cutbacks at the nearby Bruce Nuclear plant, and the mood was sullen.  But from those muted beginnings, Mill Creek Chocolates has grown substantially from its beginnings and now has another store in Owen Sound, as well as a seasonal kiosk in the Heritage Place Mall in Owen Sound -- all the while, producing quality chocolates and developing a fiercely loyal customer base.
“It’s really phenomenal to me,” says Christina Becker.  “I don’t think we ever realized how much potential there was.”
After completing business courses at Fanshawe College in London, the two decided to start a business together.  After exploring many ideas, the Beckers knew they wanted to sell a product that would appeal to everyone.  Chocolate seemed to be a perfect choice.
Mill Creek Chocolates is constantly redefining what goes on in the stores.  The customer has become the most important aspect of the business.  The Beckers closely watch what their clients are looking for and develop new products accordingly, using old-fashioned recipes, and new technology and equipment.  They have also worked closely within the community and business groups, and have created a wonderful line of fundraisers and corporate gifts and incentives.
The quality of Mill Creek Chocolates's product line has helped the Beckers acquire a devoted base of local and tourist clientele.  The superior excellence of their product and customer service is evident upon any visit to one of their stores.
Mill Creek Chocolates has expanded from Christina and Paul working by themselves, to more than 40 employees during its peak season.  Many of the employees are mothers who appreciate the flexibility and understanding that the Beckers offer all of their employees.  They’ve created an energetic, creative and fun place to work, and the enthusiasm and passion that the Beckers have for their business is clearly reflected in the attitude of their employees.
The Beckers have managed their business exceptionally.  They’ve grown seven times over since their first year of business.  They have been careful about how they expand and develop new products – they don’t want to grow too fast, too soon.  Their goal is to establish what they do best in their stores and do it the very best they can.  Then they may decide to grow again.  “There are lots of opportunities,” says Paul.  “We just have to decide what our best ones are.”
Currently, Mill Creek Chocolates distributes a small quantity of their product to other retailers, such as The Sweet Shop in Tobermorey, Shoppers Drug Mart and Pine River Cheese.  They have decided not to start shipping out their products online through internet sales or mail orders, but that could change in the future.  They constantly get inquires from people wanting to open franchises, but currently, they’ve turned down all requests.
The Beckers have received awards for:  Young Entrepreneur of the Year from the Owen Sound Chamber of Commerce; P.E.A.K Award for Entrepreneur of the Year from the Bruce Community Futures Development Corporation; and a provincial award for small business success.
Chris’s advice to others wanting to start their own business:  “It’s very important to be highly motivated and to set your standards very high, because there’s nobody there telling you it has to be done better.  Don’t jump into anything without doing your homework.  My job as a business owner is to make this particular business look easy and that it’s well-run and works no problem, but there’s so much more than meets the eye.”
The future looks bright for Mill Creek Chocolates, with plans for them to open a store in Kincardine.  Eventually, the Beckers hope to build their own combined chocolate factory/retail outlet in Port Elgin, one that would allow the public to view the processes of chocolate making.  With solid management and great marketing, Mill Creek Chocolates has become a destination for chocolate lovers everywhere for years to come.