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Love of chocolate an ingredient to start of successful fudge business

Monday, October 15, 2012 - 12:01 am

CARLSBAD, N.M. – Some people are born with a strong business sense and believe with hard work, anything is possible. Former Carlsbad resident Robin Strickland falls into that category.

In the past few years, Strickland and her business partner, Kevin Graham, have gone from running a successful pipeline consulting business to making and selling fudge. But not just your run-of-the-mill fudge. The flavors and add-in ingredients have caught the attention of the home shopping network QVC and its customers.

On Aug. 24, Strickland and Graham hit the big time on the shopping network, selling out their fudge quota within six minutes. The success on that shopping network resulted in a second appearance on QVC on Oct. 9.

Strickland said she and Graham launched their company, Big Little Fudge, in 2010, offering special occasion gifts online and through their retail store in Montgomery, Texas. They hit the big time and landed on QVC after attending a trade show in California in early 2011.

“The purpose of those (trade) shows is to get in front of buyers from department and grocery stores and gift basket companies,” Strickland said.

"At that show, we were approached by the QVC buyer. She fell in love with our fudge. It's not easy to get on QVC, but we were invited,” Strickland said. "…Since the show, Neiman Marcus stores are also carrying our fudge. The fudge has also captured the interest of Central Market and many other retail stores."

On Sept. 24, the first shipment of QVC Big Little Fudge orders went out to customers.

What makes her fudge stand out above the others?

"When we purchased the company, we also purchased the rights to the recipes. Since then, we have tweaked those recipes and have definitely come up with some unique flavors," Strickland explained.

Strickland added that each of the bite-sized pieces of fudge is individually wrapped and with a shelf life of six months, it has also been a strong selling point in the new markets that have opened to her company. The fudge currently comes in 12 flavors. Strickland said she always knew she wanted to be involved in some type of business.

While at Carlsbad High School, she worked at Carlsbad Floral and Pizza Inn and was involved in the Business Professionals of America. It was that involvement that put her on the path she continues to travel in the business world.

When she graduated, she started working at the Blenden and Diamond Law Firm. After working there for a few years, Strickland left to work at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a nuclear waste repository about 27 miles east of Carlsbad.

In 1995, Strickland was involved in building the Technology Training Center in Carlsbad that provided waste management training for Waste Isolation Pilot Plant employees.

It was when she met Graham that Strickland's natural business acumen kicked in and she hasn't looked back.

Graham, who also lived in Carlsbad at the time, graduated from New Mexico State University with a master of science degree in agriculture economics.

Together, in 2001, they co-founded Veriforce, a company that provided compliance tracking systems for pipeline operators and contractors.

"Because most of our clients were in the Houston area, we relocated the business from Carlsbad to Houston," Strickland said.

There, the company continued to flourish and when the opportunity came, they sold it in 2009. Strickland said after the sale of Veriforce, she and Graham began to look for another business opportunity that was not related to the oil and gas industry.

With her love for chocolate, and Graham's expertise in compliance issues that are important to know when dealing with the Food and Drug Administration's rules and regulations, they purchased the small fudge manufacturing company in Montgomery, just outside Houston.

As in their last business venture, the business partners worked out what role they would play in growing the business.

Graham's day-to-day responsibilities include the management of all warehouse operations include shipping and receiving and ensuring that their fudge company exceeds all government quality standards and requirements.

Strickland combines her two passions, business and fudge, and handles the day-to-day operations that include accounting, packaging, and research and development, which entails creating new flavors.

With the QVC exposure, Strickland said the next step for the fudge company will be to expand its online gifting and the corporate gifts market.

"We can put company logos on gift boxes and with the long shelf life of the product, we hope to build up that part of our business. We have gained the attention of the stores and now we want to gain the attention of corporations and the public through our online sales," she added.