Oren Young, general manager of Ethel M Chocolates, hopes redesigning the brand’s Henderson, Nev., factory store will help Ethel M reach a younger subset of chocolate enthusiasts and connoisseurs.
As the premium chocolate division of Mars, Inc., Ethel M emphasizes its tradition of creating handmade and preservative-free confections. However, over the last two years the brand has looked for ways to “reposition itself” and make new connections, Young says.
“Ethel M has always been this crafty, small-batch chocolate, but I believe our message wasn’t totally hitting the right cues with our consumers,” he says. “I think we need to modernize that message and really try to bring it to Millennials and Gen Ys.”
In conjunction with its 35th anniversary, Ethel M has embarked on a $2-million upgrade featuring an open design concept and new avenues through which customers may engage with the brand. The store’s interactive elements and the floor plan’s improved flow are expected to draw young visitors seeking unique experiences within Las Vegas as well as Henderson, which is about 16 miles to the southeast.
Among the enhanced amenities is a self-guided viewing aisle with digital displays illustrating Ethel M’s history and Mars’ sustainability efforts. Shadow boxes with original artifacts will also be installed along a timeline exhibit.
An upgraded chocolate tasting room will overlook Ethel M’s signature Botanical Cactus Garden, which has more than 300 species of cacti and desert plants. In the tasting room, guests will learn how chocolate is made and sample freshly-made treats. An Ethel M chocolatier will also prepare chocolate-covered strawberries, caramel apples and other sweets in a new demonstration area.
Furthermore, a wide selection of confections will be displayed in the store’s 7,500-sq.-ft. retail space. Young hopes the expanded retail area, in addition to other upgrades, will in two to three years attract 1 million annual visitors, up from the 600,000 the store now sees.
“We’re really trying to make it more of an integrated experience,” Young says. “When people come to see the three-acre cactus garden, they can come and see the factory, but they can also see the shop, the demonstrations. It’s really about tying all that together.”
Ethel M hasn’t forgotten the local patrons, though. Young says the remodeled café and an expanded menu will offer a welcoming atmosphere in which customers can spend any amount of time.
“Sometimes visitors don’t have a full day or hours to stay, but locals - we’d really like to make that spot for them as well to come and sit down, maybe have coffee or hot chocolate, peruse the garden,” he says. “We’re really trying to make it a spot where you can stay for hours or 10 minutes.”
Construction began July 5 and is expected to wrap up in time for an Oct. 1 soft opening. A grand opening celebration will be held in the following weeks.
In the meantime, Ethel M put up a 2,400-sq.-ft. tent near the factory that has access to a full retail line and a private tasting room. Two air conditioning units have kept the tent at 68 degrees, cool enough to keep chocolate from melting in the 110-degree highs brought on by the Nevada desert.
“I didn’t think this tent would be able to keep its temperature, but it did and it does,” Young says.
While it’s not the same as touring the finished factory store, Young says guests have still enjoyed the Ethel M experience in the temporary location.
“Generally speaking, they’re understanding and are excited for our business to take this next step,” he says.