You don’t have to drive to Louisiana if you want some of their homegrown candies, instead you just need to click over to Chay J’s. Home to the original creole pretzel, Chay’s treats are anything but dull.
Channon “Chay” Powell is the driving power behind this tasty business. Originally launched in 2001 after being laid off from her job, Chay started Chay J’s and, with the guidance of her father, she was able to turn it into a flourishing part-time business. As times got tough and she once again faced another lay off, Chay decided it was time to put herself to work by turning Chay J’s into something she could do full-time. It is now almost one year later and business is sweet.
Tell us a little about Chay J’s New Orleans Candies.
Chay J’s New Orleans Candies, LLC is a premier confections company with a Creole flair. Chay J’s encourages customers to take a walk down “Sweet St.” and indulge in handmade confections made from scratch with the best ingredients. Offered is “A Taste of Southern Sweets” such as Peanut Brittle, Sweet Potato Pie, Pecan Pie, Creole Pralines, Creole Pretzels-BEST SELLER, and Chocolate Covered Strawberries.
What inspired you to launch your own business?
I started the business in 2001 after a job layoff. I was actively seeking a new job and realized I could sell homemade sweets in the interim. I created a route and sold my sweets to neighboring businesses in the Atlanta area. People fell in love with the products which encouraged me to keep it going even after I secured a full time job one year later. In December 2008, I was affected by a job layoff again. At that time, I decided to pursue the business full time.
Tell us a little more about your dad, what part did he play in inspiring your business to become what it is today?
For as long as I can remember my father, a savvy self-taught businessman, had several businesses he created. Even as a little girl, I was his helper and understudy. I was there for the conception as well as the unfortunate demise of some of them. When he had an opportunity to become part owner of his own candy store, as always, I was right there by his side. I was there when the doors opened, the recipes were designed, and the customers finally walked through the door. I watched him as he used his natural charismatic abilities to sell his products. I watched him as he spent countless hours honing his talent and refining every recipe. I also watched him as he made a little known candy shop into a local treasure. All of this and countless immeasurable experiences were passed down from my father to me. His passion and determination has influenced me as well as fuel the fire to succeed. My father is the driving force behind my business. He is my inspiration and I am determined to carry on his legacy.
You mentioned that when you first got started, you were shy about selling your products. How were you able to overcome some of that shyness so you could get out there and promote your candies?
I was extremely shy due to lack of confidence. I doubted my capabilities and potential. I was fearful of approaching possible customers and was scared of rejection. I was coached by my dad who was miles away ( I was in Atlanta and he was in New Orleans at the time). He encouraged me to never be afraid of people. He always told me that, “Nothing beats a failure but a try.” People have insecurities and weaknesses just like you. There is nothing ventured, nothing gained. In addition, I thrived with the initial help of my extroverted younger brother. I followed his lead. He would initiate the sales pitches and I mimicked him until I was comfortable taking the lead.
Any tips that might help others get over their own shyness?
I say, “GO FOR IT!!” What is the worst that could happen? The worst that could happen is you’ll hear the word NO. If you possess a willingness to succeed and the drive to never quit, you’ll most likely hear a lot of yeses. Keep striving. Keep pushing to exceed your fears. It is better to try then to never have tried at all.
My business has gone through different life cycles. In the beginning, I had no idea what to expect or how to proceed. I spent a lot of time worrying about my fears and doubting the path that I inevitably would take. I was a neophyte in a game that seemed too big for me to enter. Today, I am strong in my conviction that this is what I was meant to do. I seek every opportunity to grow and learn as an entrepreneur. Even though I still have a long way to go, I am confident that with extreme focus, hard work, and dedication, my business will continue to grow and become a huge success. Chay J’s is gaining SWEET fans all over the country and it is my duty to not leave myself or my existing and future customers disappointed.
What are some of the goals that you hope to accomplish over the next year.
What are your long term goals?
My goal this year is to create brand awareness and brand loyalty around Chay J’s. I am seeking to get my products into local specialty stores and markets. I also want to be a premier vendor in the wedding, event, and corporate sector. Long term, I’d like to have a local storefront and secure my products especially the Creole Pretzels in national markets. My ultimate goal is to make it on the Oprah Winfrey Show and/or ‘Oprah’s Favorite Things’ list.
What are some of the lessons your business has taught you?
I’ve learned to plan for the worst but expect the best. People aren’t as intimidating as they may seem. Great mentorship and unwavering support is priceless. Mistakes will and do happen. How you react to them will set the tone for your business.
Has your business felt the effects of the recession?
The challenges I face are relative to normal start up companies. Creative approaches are needed to make your business stand apart from the rest. I see the recession as an opportunity. Because my business is relatively new, (I decided to pursue my business full time January 2009), I have no former internal trends to compare and can create strategies that reflect today’s market. The recession historically means that consumers shop less and spend less. My industry, however, is not impacted as much because people love to eat! Indulging in sweets brings a sense of comfort.
Do you have any advice that you’d like to offer anyone hoping to launch their own candy-based business?
Create a product that you will be proud of. Become passionate about what you do and the rest will follow.
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