WHEN Carol Cairns took her young son to visit a sweet factory, she never thought for a moment it would lead to a new career.

“The whole thing came about completely by accident,” explains the 43-year-old chocolate entrepreneur, who also works as a community firefighter. “I’ve always been a chocaholic and seeing how chocolate was made was a revelation. Soon I was making chocolates of my own, buying different moulds, trying out flavours and textures.

“My fire station colleagues loved the chocolates and at an open day they sold out in minutes. That’s when I realised I was on to something.”

Three years on, CC’s Chocolate Creations is a thriving business selling a full range of artisan and fun chocolates, with 20 agents selling across the UK, a busy online store and a thriving calendar of kids’ workshops, all run from a workspace in Kilmarnock.

Ms Cairns made an early call to make all the chocolate gluten-free, not least because she herself had recently been diagnosed coeliac.

“It was important that I could taste everything, but most of my customers don’t even know our chocolate is gluten-free,” she says. “It’s definitely something that makes my range stand out and I wanted a chocolate that everybody could enjoy regardless of dietary restrictions. But the most important thing about the chocolate is how good it tastes. Taste always takes priority.”

Being a chocolatier couldn’t be more different than Ms Cairns’ other life as a fire prevention officer, and variety is part of the appeal.

“Working with chocolate has really unleashed my passion and creativity,” she adds. “Getting to play with chocolate all day is amazing. The business made me realise I have good ideas and people like what I do.

“I’ve surprised myself in the number of new skills I’ve learned – I designed the website myself and do all the social media – and how much I enjoy the management side of things.

“But the thing I love most of all is seeing kids leave our workshops covered in chocolate, with huge smiles on their faces. That’s the best feeling.”

In the years to come, the Kilmarnock-based businesswoman plans to concentrate on chocolate full-time and extend the workshop element of the company, opening a second branch and introducing new products and flavours.

Flexible workspace CoVault has been a key partner in growing the business.

“CoVault has been supportive from the off, providing the ideal flexible workspace to make, sell and run the workshops,” she says. “Before moving in I was doing everything at home, which was becoming a nightmare. Having my house back is fantastic.”

With more people than ever before looking to turn their hobby or passion into a business, what advice would she offer those thinking about taking the plunge?

“It’s certainly not easy,” she says. “You need to be prepared to take that leap of faith. But if you don’t follow your dreams you’ll never know whether they can become a reality. Try your best and if things don’t work out, have a go at something different.

“Setting up a business requires a considerable outlay – it’s a risk because you don’t know whether you’re going to get that money back. That’s why it’s so important to research your business model thoroughly.

“If you come up with a quality product that is unique, you’ve got a good chance of succeeding.”

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