By John Kostrzewa in The Providence Sunday Journal, Money & Business.
Posted Sunday December 19, 2004
Ed Patterson’s marriage had come apart. He’d been laid off from his job. At 34 years old, his life was a mess.
He drove to upstate New York to visit his father, John, at the family homestead.
After the two men caught up, they turned to a different subject — chocolate. They discussed a recipe that had been in the family since ancestor, Capt. John Patterson, had ventured from Scotland in the cocoa trades 200 years ago.
His father gave him $300 in cash, and sent him on his way.
Just a decade earlier, after graduating from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, he was in Los Angeles, where a business lunch could cost that much.
He started out to seek his fortune in film production before moving on to sell Gallo wine. In California, he fell in love with a woman from Newport and they moved to Rhode Island, were married and had two children.
He sold advertising for a radio station before going to work for Merrill Lynch, where he spent six years selling financial products to wealthy people across New England. He left for a six-month stay at Fleet before moving to Citizens.
Then came the summer of 2003 — a time when everything seemed to go wrong.
He had separated from his wife, lost his job and was doing some construction work to pay the bills when he made the drive to Binghamton, N.Y. to talk to his father about the chocolate business.
“Even when I was working for Merrill Lynch, I was trying to figure out a way to do chocolate,” Patterson said.
He took $300, and the more valuable advice (including some thoughts from his grandfather) and $75 to join the Newport Chamber of Commerce to get a member’s list.
He created Patterson Family Chocolates Inc., bought some brochures and business cards, and made a deal with a manufacturer in Vermont to make three lines of truffles from a blend based on the family recipe.
Then he went on the road selling packaged gourmet chocolate truffles. He networked with Chamber members and pitched that his ready-to-go product would save them time.
If a company, or law firm, or trade association was planning an event and needed a gift or a small token of appreciation, he could provide a box of specialty truffles branded with the company logo and ready to hand out.
“It’s all about time management,” Patterson said. “I spend the time people don’t have to take care of what they need.”
He racked up some sales: Edwards & Angell, Merrill Lynch, State Street Research. He even sold 800 boxes to the Los Angeles Lakers, beating out Godiva to the contract.
For 2003, he sold $17,858 worth of chocolate (much of it to Newport Chamber members) and began the new year realizing he needed to expand his territory, and ask for help.
He joined several chambers in the region and found some advocates, whom he calls “angels.”
One in particular, Lisa Konicki, executive director of the Greater Westerly-Pawtucket Chamber of Commerce, helped him find a less costly place to live and put him in touch with a businessman who offered him 1,500 square feet of office space in Stonington, Conn.
“Ed is a charismatic person with energy who understands marketing and sales,” she said.
Patterson also contacted Don Cotham, program manager at the Small Business Development Center at Bryant University, for tips.
“He has a unique concept that companies can use to brand their products,” Cotham said. “He’s building a business by the numbers and his challenge is to get it to the next level.”
Patterson took out a $21,000 Small Business Administration backed load from the Rhode Island Coalition for Minority Business for working capital and to buy inventory. The coalition’s help is available to all small businesses. Patterson is exploring additional financing.
“Holiday sales should be able to carry him into 2005,” said Kariem Kanston, business development specialist at the coalition.