Owner of chocolate-themed store in Langley ‘pulls them in by their nose’

At the store, people are drawn in by the wafting scent of chocolate in the air. Online, word-of-mouth has garnered a significant following around the world.

Marie Lincoln, owner of the Chocolate Flower Farm in Langley, has developed a successful retail store, online product business and farm based on chocolate.

“We are on the verge of transitioning from a mom-and-pop store to a product line,” she said.

Lincoln said the scent of all the products draws customers into her store.

“I pull them in by their nose,” she said.

Lincoln said she always wanted to be a gardener and own a specialty nursery. She fell in love with the dark maroon color in plants with a chocolate scent. The farm was intended to be a hobby, not a business. But, after plans for another project-development company abruptly ended, Lincoln and her former business partner put their focus on the nursery.

“I thought, ‘Here we go,’” she said.

The garden carries a dark dahlia called the “Karma Choc” and a tiger lily called “Night Flyer” along with many other plants with a black-purple hue. Lincoln even developed her own flower variety called the Nicotiana “Chocolate Smoke.”

To complement the plants, she began to sell chocolate-scented candles from a separate business partner. The candles were a hit right out of the gate with people coming to the store just for the candle, she said.

“We were selling them like mad,” she said.

Lincoln acquired a space on First Street in Langley and opened the retail store in August, 2005. She began to buy materials to make her own candles and soon after also bought the materials for jam, fudge and body products. The store now carries its own line of candles, jam, bath and body products, garden seed kits and other chocolate-themed gifts.

The business currently has nine stores selling her products on Whidbey Island and more than 50 other accounts in the nation and around the world, including Canada, Taiwan and Brazil.

Her largest wholesale account still remains on the island at Freeland’s Ace Hardware. In her largest sale to date, she sold several hundred products to the New Jersey-based Hudson Group for Valentine’s Day.

Lincoln does no marketing and relies on word-of-mouth to promote her product line.

Lincoln attributes her success to hard work. The recession left many in the horticulture industry out of business. She said having her products for sale online and at the store helped her get through the recession. The retail side is now a bigger part of the business than the plants, she said.

“We’re a little farm that could,” she said.

A lot of support came from the community both moral and financially, she said.

“Local people have helped me get through this and have been the wind underneath my wings,” she said. “I hope everyone can be proud of this business.”

Lincoln is now expanding to include a 300-square-foot commercial kitchen with the help of her brother, Mark Lincoln. The kitchen will allow her to work on the products and production at the same time and help her be more efficient, she said. She was also able to hire two employees to help in the shop and at the farm.

Mark Lincoln said it’s wonderful to see his sister’s business develop after a long, tough road. The demographics for the store and nursery are changing; it’s great to see her add different products, he said.

As part of the expansion, she plans to add more products to her line including a hot chocolate version of her successful raspberry jam, which will include chipotle peppers.

Lincoln said she uses the “spaghetti system,” when trying out new products.

“I keep throwing things against the wall hoping something will stick,” she said.

Lincoln said she wants people to smile when they leave her store.

“That’s the thing I love most about this store, it makes people happy,” she said.