Starting Up A Small Business — La Maison Guimauve

Mum has always made marshmallows, ever since we were very little. I have many fond memories of toasting many a fluffy homemade treat over a roaring fire. Whilst in Paris in her twenties, she engaged in a French patisserie course, little more than a hobby at the time. Consequently, my sisters, brother and I have all been shown how to craft Parisian marshmallows — it is truly now a family recipe.

La Maison Guimauve (The Marshmallow House), was only created last April, but we are very much looking forward to the many events we have lined up. Small business planning is difficult — the ‘look’ has to be exactly right — not too different but not too similar to existing brands. Since artisan marshmallows are more usually found in France, people tend to associate marshmallows with the dried and vacuum packed saccharine on supermarket shelves — as such, we decided to style ourselves on macarons as the closest well-known equivalent, with simple blue boxes, and an intricate logo (a cherub).

We have been attending markets for the last 6 months — Shepherd’s Markets host artisan creators in markets at Sloane Square, Victoria, Covent Garden, and it has been a delight to talk to customers. I love introducing people to the artisan marshmallow. “A chocolate marshmallow?’ is the usual bemused reply as they hold a sample to their lips; as soon as it’s tasted the response is overwhelmingly positive, and it is always so satisfying that every customer finds at least one flavor they love.

The next stage, getting into retail, is more difficult, particularly due to the need to sell only the freshest marshmallows for the best taste experience, and the fact that deli owners tend to buy in bulk for several months. However, we have a tasting at Dulwich-based deli Romeo Jones in several weeks’ time, and several large Christmas markets planned over the holidays. When back home in the holidays I will start pitching again to deli owners, but it is important not to take rejection too seriously. Of course one must think critically about a product and be realistic about its image, but there are a number of reasons why a retailer might not want to sell a product (fear of the unknown, a similar product already in stock). As such, persistence is key!

To spread the word an active social media presence has to be regularly maintained (we have even had people come to Victoria in person having seen us on Instagram). With over 1000 followers on Twitter social media is incredibly helpful at promoting our message as far as possible. We were lucky enough to go to the Specialty Food Awards at Kensington Olympia over the summer, which introduced us to several other marshmallowists, who were very friendly and gave us great advice on how to proceed.

Attending the markets, handling the website and advertising, and generally helping out with the business has enriched my life so much. I love engaging with people as a salesperson as I am able to meet so many people in one day. I love thinking of new creative ideas to expand the brand (some ‘How to’ cookery videos may well appear soon), and I love thinking of new ways to present the marshmallows — both in taste and look. It has given great insight into the way small businesses work, and I would love to set up another next calendar year, whilst maximizing the potential of this one.

Written by Helena Khullar, Founder of La Maison Guimauve