Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Sonja Hoffmann, founder of RacletteCorner, located in Baltic, SD, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I operate an online specialty store for everything around Raclette. Raclette has more than one definition. Raclette is a Swiss cheese dish, a cultural landmark, the name of a cheese, a tabletop appliance, a dining experience, a great time! Special cheese is melted on a heating device and poured over boiled potatoes or a variety of cooked vegetables. I offer everything needed for a great raclette experience. Starting with a suitable appliance to melt the cheese to the perfect raclette cheese and some accessories that enhance the dining experience.
My customers vary. I have a lot of customers that grew up in Switzerland, Germany, or France who miss this traditional dish and are excited that they found a place that offers all they need for a raclette dinner like they used to have back home. I also have customers that learned about raclette at an overseas vacation and want to recreate the experience. Those customers usually need some additional help finding the right machine and the cheese that will be most enjoyable for them. In the last couple of years, I also started working with some wholesale accounts. Restaurants and Food Trucks start offering raclette. I usually help them find the right raclette melter and supply the cheese for their operation. I love to spread the word about raclette and help others to succeed with it.
Tell us about yourself
I opened my first online store 20 years ago when online ordering was still in its infancy. Growing up in Germany with a Swiss mother, family dinners were an important part of the day. This is where we told each other about our day and our plans. My husband and I kept that tradition. After moving to the US, I was disappointed about the quality of the cookware available in the US. So I started to sell European cookware online. One part of the product line was raclette grills. Selling online allowed me to work when I had time and still take care of our three children. It started as a part-time job. The less my children needed me, the more I worked on my online presence and generated more business. After a few years, I realized that my true passion was raclette. I branched out that product line into a separate online store. RacletteCorner was born. With a dedicated store, it made sense to add the sale of cheese as well. I also became the US distributor for the Swiss company TTM, which produces traditional raclette melters. I love to spread the word about raclette and to teach my current and future customers about raclette. I also enjoy helping restaurants and food trucks to start offering raclette. I do some events myself, which allowed me to learn what challenges occur when offering raclette. That experience helped me to coach other businesses to get started.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I think being in business for 20 years itself is already a huge accomplishment. Regardless of what the business is. Staying in business as a small one-woman-operated online store is just adding to it. When I first started, I had to get permission from the headquarters of the companies whose products I wanted to sell to offer the products online. They soon began to develop their own online store, which generated tough competition. Raclette was almost unheard of, and I believe I was the first online store to offer raclette grills in the US. Now you can buy the grills at any major online retailer. I'm still the only store that will sell you the whole package.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
As mentioned before, staying afloat with increased competition from online places that might offer incentives that a small company like me isn't able to offer is hard. I had to adjust over the years. Adding a new product line of Swiss-made raclette melters was a big step, and starting to offer raclette cheese and the hardware. On a day-to-day basis, I would say the hardest thing is to be available all the time. People who shop online are not aware that it's just me. They call day or night any day of the week. I feel obligated to accept those calls to stand out from the competition. In general, I enjoy the conversations, and of course, it's always a good feeling if a call leads to order.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
The best tip I received when I first started was: Do what you are passionate about! If you don't like what you sell, it's hard to stay motivated and to answer questions over and over again.
Put in the work if you want to succeed! Don't fall for the get-rich-quick scams. You need to do the grunt work if you want to get ahead.
Be personable! I believe that my biggest asset is that my customers know who I am. I'm not just a salesperson, I'm Sonja, and I'm there to answer questions, help with orders, shipping problems, and anything else that might come along. Be ready to go the extra mile.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email email@example.com; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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