BY HEATHER LALLEY
A year ago, Teresa Greenlees, ’09, oversaw a global portfolio of brands. She was a frequent flier and often on the phone before sunrise. But in June 2018, she hit pause on fast-paced corporate life, opting to move to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to become a growth consultant for her uncle’s artisanal chocolate company.
Confections with Convictions isn’t an everyday high-end candy shop. The small business operates with a big mission: to employ and empower young people who’ve been in jail or have had any contact with the criminal court system that might present barriers to their employment.
“I was really looking for something that would fuel my sense of personal purpose,” said Greenlees. “I’d been successful in my career, but it felt hollow compared to the very real impact my uncle was having on the lives of his employees.”
Now, Greenlees is discovering a renewed sense of personal purpose—by creating a path for Confections with Convictions to grow.
She is using her brand and marketing know-how to build the company’s digital presence with an online store and advertising, redesign the visual identity, and build a stronger wholesale and corporate business.
Behind the scenes, she is working to codify the culture and document standard operating procedures to enable growth. “We’re trying to create a culture and an environment that is safe, healing, and transformational,” she said. To help achieve that goal, she wrote an employee manual to define expectations around conduct, attire, and more.
She has also started sharing weekly updates on business performance with all employees, and she plans to set up a real-time dashboard so all workers can see how their truffles and chocolate bark are selling.
“I wouldn’t be a Booth alum if I didn’t talk about metrics and results,” Greenlees said. “And I can already see how knowing more about our sales performance gives our team a sense of pride in the work they are doing.”
Greenlees’s uncle Dale Anderson worked for several years as a counselor in the court system. He realized, though, that 30 minutes of weekly talk therapy often wasn’t sufficient in preparing his clients for jobs and outside life.
One day, Anderson bought a box of fancy chocolates and joked that he should open a chocolate shop called Confections with Convictions. He had no previous experience in the sticky, messy, and highly scientific world of chocolate making. But he saw a future in that chocolate box, a way forward for the community he served. So he studied the craft for three years, renovated a previously condemned building, and opened shop in 2010.
About two dozen employees have worked at the mission-driven chocolate shop since then. One of the company’s first employees had five felony convictions, and was pregnant and living in a homeless shelter when she started there, Greenlees said. By the time she left Confections with Convictions after five years, she had completed her associate’s degree, become a homeowner, and purchased three rental properties. The young woman now works for a community mental-health organization and is earning her bachelor’s degree.
The company pays its employees and covers its overhead expenses but has yet to turn a profit, Greenlees said. She and her uncle currently serve as volunteers.
“It’s a business that has survived without much investment in sales and marketing,” she said. “That says a lot about the product.”
Greenlees, who previously worked for spirits company Diageo and the InterContinental Hotels Group, said she is mulling over her future with the chocolate company while she takes a break from the corporate world. She hopes she will give Confections with Convictions the boost it needs to fuel its mission for years to come.
“The only way to make it possible to hire more people is to sell more,” said Greenlees. “That’s why we have the growth imperative that we do, to give more young people a chance at a new beginning.”