My Business meets AnnaMaria Lapetina of Hillier’s Chocolates

AnnaMaria Lapetina is general manager of Hillier’s Chocolates and since taking over the 96-year old, family-owned company has led it to new heights. She shares some of her approaches in this Q&A.

AnnaMaria sees the key to good management as having a hands on approach to every aspect of the business - from hand packing chocolate boxes on the factory floor to developing business plans. Her vision for Hillier’s is to position the company as an innovative, quality brand rather than a generic organisation. She stresses the importance of Hillier’s proud Australian heritage, which is carefully communicated across all of their consumer touch points, and this is what sets Hillier’s apart from all the other chocolate manufacturers.

Q: What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you started in business?

A: I wish I’d known about the rate of rising costs within the manufacturing industry. The uncertainty surrounding the rising costs of our key ingredients such as cocoa butter, sugar, etc. has been an ongoing challenge for the business.

Q: What are your most effective work habits?

A: Every morning and afternoon I do a factory walk-through. This is highly effective as it gives me the chance to check that all of the machines on the production line are working OK, an opportunity to talk to staff and get their feedback on the products and the packaging. The walk throughs enable me to engage with the factory staff and ensure that the chocolates are being produced to the highest standard.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in business? How did you fix it?

A: When I started out in the business, I completely under-estimated the cost of the necessary commodities for production. I have fixed this problem by locking in the cost of commodities long term, signing six to 12 month contracts to lock in a price so that if the market shifts, our business is not affected by it.

Q: How do you delight customers?

A: At Hillier’s we are dedicated to delivering all stock on time and ensuring that 100% of all orders is received within deadline. We carry out regular consumer surveys to ascertain consumer sentiment around chocolate in general and our own products. From the results of these surveys we enhance our chocolates or develop new products to respond to consumer demand. Consumer satisfaction is crucial for us and we are dedicated to delighting our customers.

Q: Share your number one sales technique with us.

A: Get to know your customer. Know their likes, their dislikes, their habits etc. That way you can ensure that you know exactly who you are targeting and can develop products and sales and marketing techniques that will really engage them. In the chocolate business we have to be acutely aware of who enjoys our chocolate, who we are selling to and ensuring that we engage with them on an ongoing basis to ensure their satisfaction with our products.

Q: What’s your secret team-building tactic?

A: Connect with your staff constantly. We hold regular informal weekly meetings with all staff to discuss any issues people are having, how management can assist, listening to ideas staff may have for developing new or existing ranges etc. It’s vital for everyone to work as a team to maintain and increase productivity and for them to know that management are as much a part of the team as they are.

Q: Favourite piece of business technology? Why?

A: I couldn’t live without our amazing computer system MFG.  It’s a manufacturing system that calculates quantities of ingredients for us for huge orders. All we have to do is key in the quantity of chocolates required and the system calculates how many shifts for the number of staff that will be required to deliver the chocolates on time.

Q: Best tip for managing people?

A: Be hands on, approachable and solutions driven. I am regularly out on the factory floor with staff helping to pack chocolates or teaching staff how to package different assortments so they look their best for the consumer. Ongoing feedback is vital when managing people. I like to constantly engage with staff and share any tips or advice with them.

Q: What’s more important in business: passion or preparation? Why?

A: In the chocolate industry, preparation is vital. We work in accordance to the seasons so right now we’re working on our Christmas range for 2011 which means we have to be prepared months in advance to ensure orders are met and stock is delivered on time. Without this preparation we simply wouldn’t have the stock to meet demand.

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