Edward Marc Brands reinvents itself with creativity and resourcefulness

 

For more than 100 years, Edward Marc Brands was a small family chocolatier, but it recently set out to become one of the next great chocolate brands in America — almost by accident.

It all started with a meeting at Costco Wholesale’s Northeast headquarters, says co-CEO Chris Edwards. They were hoping to get their new product Snappers, a pretzel caramel cluster, into the three clubs in the Pittsburgh region.

By the time the meeting was over, Edward Marc had 81 clubs.

“We had no idea what we were getting into, to be honest,” Edwards says. “We were very naïve.

“I don’t think since that day I’ve slept more than four hours at night,” he says. “Our lives have completely changed. The entire company changed. It has transformed who we are, how we do business.”

Making it happen

Edwards and his siblings Dana Manatos and Mark Edwards are the current generation leading Edward Marc. His parents are still involved every day.

So, in a 3,000-square-foot factory with equipment Edwards’ grandfather built, Edwards and his family had to find a way to produce their biggest order, which would ultimately fill four trucks. They needed to find a co-packer and co-manufacturer that could pass audit checks. It took four months, but they delivered on time.

And even though Edwards still calls the business small, since the first delivery departed April 15, 2013, nothing is the same.

In 2014 alone, the company grew 588 percent. Edward Marc added 50 jobs over the past few months and will probably add another 50 in the next six months.

The company built a 50,000-square-foot facility in Lawrenceville, and went from ordering pallets of chocolate to liquid tankers filled with chocolate. Snappers are now sold in 40,000 U.S retailers.

Edward Marc also runs The Milk Shake Factory, an ice cream fountain with 55 milkshake flavors that draws college students for milkshake happy hours — a Pittsburgh staple.

There haven’t been outside investors.

Edwards says they’ve been resourceful. For example, his dad was part of building out the new factory and line, and even helped weld the equipment together.

“You have to be like that as a small business in order to make it. And I think that that was something that really benefited us — that we figured out we’re the type of people that are very resourceful and very innovative,” he says.

In other words, you don’t take no for an answer, and you figure out how to make it happen.

Growing pains

Edward Marc worked with Costco for a year before building out its grocer network.

Edwards says they were lucky to start with Costco because it’s one of the easiest distribution channels to work with. Each has its own personality, buyers, systems and processes. Grocery stores also have different pricing matrixes, such as marketing promotions and temporary price reductions.

Edwards says they hired staff from bigger companies to help, while relying on the experience of his parents and their board of advisers.

“We utilize as many resources as we can when you’re talking about the people, but then we’ve had to also build new systems within the business,” he says.

The company constantly updates and changes processes, making internal audits critical.

“This is something that has really hit me lately,” Edwards says. “I developed our direct store delivery program six months ago, and our company doesn’t even look the same as it did six months ago.”

The pricing structure could be out of date, and efficiencies might not be passed down to the customers.

“There’s all of these things that we’re constantly having to do on a regular basis to audit our systems and processes internally in order to make our company stronger, better and more efficient and, ultimately, have more reach,” Edwards says.