Appreciation of fine chocolate is link for owners of SweetTrio
The three women who own SweetTrio, the Grafton shop that specializes in gourmet chocolate, have parlayed their passion into a sweet success story.
The chocolatier at 1225 Washington St. was named a winner of the 2012 Business Excellence Award in the best retailer category by Action Coach, the largest business-coaching firm in southeast Wisconsin.
“There were 200 businesses competing, and we were selected as one of 17 winners,” said Chris Steeno, who started the specialty shop four years ago with partners Nedra Clague and Vicki Schaefer.
The business was also a finalist in the category Best Overall Company with Fewer than 10 Employees.
The impressive showing was not lost the award organizers.
“SweetTrio has chosen to ignore the economic challenges of the last few years and focus on building a growing, successful business,” said Jim Palzewicz, of the Elm Grove-based Action Coach.
Steeno shrugged off the suggestion that the shop’s success is even more impressive because of the lagging economy.
“We’ve only been in business for four years. This is the only kind of economy we’ve known,” she said.
If there is a secret to their success, the owners said it is their belief in the product.
“I don’t know that I would characterize any of us as ‘chocoholics,’ but we are all passionate about chocolate,” Steeno said.
Together, the trio has more than 25 years experience in the chocolate trade.
“We were all working together at the same company and looking to try something different when we saw the vacancy in the Grafton Village Center,” Steeno said.
“At the time, Vino 100 and Alterra Coffee were here. What better combination could you ask for than wine, coffee and chocolate?”
The wine store has since closed, but Steeno said she still appreciates the collaborative environment of the collective shops.
The empty neighboring space has allowed the chocolate shop to expand. The former wine store is now the assembly area for specialty treats assembled for corporate clients.
“Preparing gift items for corporate clients has become our niche,” Steeno said.
This week, a crew of temporary workers was busy assembling bags of a sweet popcorn confection called Grafton Gravel for Volvo.
“We are trying to balance our corporate accounts with walk-in trade,” Clague said.
The store also maintains a kiosk at Olsen’s Piggly Wiggly in Cedarburg and plans to open another kiosk in Mequon later in the month.
The owners agree SweetTrio has a simple mission.
“Our goal is to provide the finest chocolate and make it available and affordable to a wide audience,” Clague said.
“Everyone should experience great European chocolate, understand its versatility and take advantage of its health benefits.”
She said dark chocolate contains antioxidants that are believed to lower blood pressure, among other health benefits.
“Our customers prefer one piece of good chocolate to a lot of the other stuff,” Clague said.
Although chocolate in its many forms is the mainstay of the shop, the top sellers are sea salt caramels and specially made caramel apples.
February is the busiest time for any shop that specializes in candy, a fact confirmed by the buzz of activity in the Grafton store this week.
Few people shop very much in advance for their sweethearts as St. Valentine’s Day approaches on Feb. 14.
“There is a lot preparation that goes into getting ready for what, in essence, is a two-day season,” Clague said.
Image Info: THE OWNERS OF SweetTrio have turned a passion for chocolate into a thriving Grafton business. Two of the chocolate shop owners, Chris Steeno and Nedra Clague, posed with a national Business Excellence Award they received last month during a conference in Memphis, Tenn.
Photos by Mark Jaeger