Sarabeth “Yeli” Marshall is the founder, CEO, and head chocolatier of her own artisanal chocolate company, her primary passion and personal business venture since 2013. In the wake of COVID-19, where lockdown took its toll on many companies, Addison-based Yelibelly Chocolates is more successful than ever.
Yeli uses high-quality and ethically sourced ingredients to make a variety of delicious treats, including turtles, bonbons, flavor-infused delicacies, and other tasty items, all of which feature Yelibelly’s signature fine chocolate.
Chocolate was not always part of Yeli’s career path. In fact, she began in a career that might seem surprising given her current field – Yeli has both a BA and an MA in Food Science and Nutrition and spent fourteen years as a dietician. “My work as a dietician had always been kind of in the food science side of things, and there’s a lot of science in chocolate-making.”
Yeli’s passion first began when she visited Italy, where she discovered flavor-infused chocolates. Inspired, she returned home and began making her own chocolates in 2007.
Initially, making chocolate served as a hobby for her, something she enjoyed and shared with family and friends. Eventually, friends urged her to sell her chocolates in boutiques and craft fairs around the metroplex.
When her so-called side project began to show promise, Yeli dedicated more time and energy to her chocolate-making until she finally decided to quit her job as a dietician and sell her chocolate full-time in 2013. Thus, Yelibelly Chocolates was born, and the company has been growing steadily ever since.
When asked about the difficulties that the Coronavirus imposed on her business, Yeli’s answer was rather unexpected: “We have thrived during this time,” she told Dallas Express.
The reason for this lies in Yelibelly’s business model. When it was originally founded, Yelibelly was a traditional storefront, where chocolates were displayed in glass cases, and customers strolled in from the street to buy a box of bonbons.
But in 2017, Yelibelly left this concept behind and moved into a production facility, a decision Yeli made when she realized their custom chocolate sales for special events far outweighed their retail sales. Moving from a storefront to a production facility allowed more flexibility in her hours – and in her bottom line.
In 2017 when Yelibelly shifted from retail to primarily bulk production, their sales doubled. Yeli says this move is what sealed her company’s success during the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020. Because her customer base is different than her chocolate-selling peers, she worried less about the loss of in-store retail sales than other shops.
Her online sales to corporations continued – even surged – as companies sent boxes of her delicacies to their clients and employees while office spaces were shut down.
Another reason behind Yelibelly’s continued success, even during the social-distancing era, is its chocolate-centered classes, including chocolate making and chocolate tasting. Yelibelly already offered virtual options for these classes, so as many companies rushed to adjust to the virtual workspace, Yelibelly was ahead of the curve.
In fact, according to Yeli, hosting these classes online was even more convenient for the chocolate company, as it made for easier cleanup and faster transitions.
Yeli also accredits much of her company’s success during lockdown to her staff members, who helped her brainstorm ideas to continue bringing in revenue.
“I really give my staff a lot of credit for helping us make that transition,” she told Dallas Express that she believes firmly in listening to her team. “Maybe someone’s got a better idea than I do. I don’t know everything. I fully own that. I know a lot, I’ve built a successful business, but I certainly have not done it by myself. If it was still me by myself, I would have been in a storefront still and probably would have closed down too,” she says.
This CEO’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is “Don’t be afraid to try something different. If I tried to stay like all my other chocolatier peers, I wouldn’t have a business anymore. I think people get stuck in an idea of what their business is supposed to be because of what everybody else’s business looks like. If I didn’t look at the option of doing something different, we wouldn’t be making the revenue that we are right now.”
Yeli also spoke briefly about the challenges of entrepreneurship that fall outside of the business itself. As a female entrepreneur, she says she must work harder to be taken seriously.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s really cute that you have your own business.’ It feels very demeaning, like it’s not a real thing,” she said. “Like it’s not a half-million-dollar business. We are way bigger than, ‘Oh, that’s cute.’”
In the end, however, Yeli’s feelings towards the good and the bad of owning a business are net positive.
“I love the entrepreneurial lifestyle. I love every customer that buys something from us, and it does mean so much to me when someone places an order with us or hosts a class with us. It’s not just that we’re paying the rent this month, it’s someone believing in our business, and I absolutely love that,” said Yeli.
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