With sales of its treats booming, Seattle Chocolate Co. has the sweet problem of needing more space. So it's moving to a bigger site in Tukwila.

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Seattle Chocolate Co., the candy maker that brings us Frangos, is shutting down its chocolate-making machines next month to move nine miles south.

It may seem odd to close a chocolate factory during the most romantic month of the year, but Chief Executive Jean Thompson says most Valentine’s Day orders have long been filled, some as early as November.

The chocolatier needs more storage to handle the business it has gained since Thompson took the helm in late 2002.

She joined Seattle Chocolates part time after spending 11 years as a stay-at-home mom. She had been a corporate communications manager at Microsoft for four years before that, and wanted to help with marketing at the chocolate company in which she and her husband, Rick, are majority owners.

Within six weeks of her coming aboard, the CEO left and Thompson took the reins.

Since then, sales have more than tripled, creating cramped quarters at the factory in South Park. The new location in Tukwila has quintuple the storage space — 50,000 square feet — for holding ingredients, gift boxes, ribbons and other goodies.

Seattle Chocolates plans to turn off the machines, which are longer but skinnier than a city bus, on Feb. 16 and spend two months moving them to the new facility.

It should be easier than the company’s last move. That was a rush job after the Nisqually earthquake in 2001, when workers donned hardhats to retrieve candy from the company’s condemned building south of downtown.

The Thompsons, majority owners since 1999, spent millions preparing a new site on the fly in South Park.

Moving isn’t the only thing that’s taking more time for Seattle Chocolates.

Thompson plans to slow the company’s growth to just 20 percent this year, down from the recent blistering pace that has brought sales to between $10 million and $15 million annually.

“Absolutely my biggest lesson of 2006 was that bigger isn’t necessarily better,” she said. “We grew too fast.”

She was spurred initially by the company’s heavy debt and the fact that two pricey chocolate-making machines had operated for years at just 15 to 20 percent of their capacity.

To pay for the machines, she decided to look for sales beyond Seattle Chocolates’ boutique customers.

Within months of becoming CEO, Thompson won the Frango account for Macy’s in the Northwest.

Now that prestigious account is not even Seattle Chocolates’ largest. With a sales force of six, it sells to grocery stores, drugstore chains and other mass-market customers like Costco, and its products are available from coast to coast.

Seattle Chocolates is known for its truffles, which retail for roughly 33 cents apiece or $7.99 to $11.99 in 8-ounce gift boxes. It also has truffle bars that cost $1.99 to $2.60.

Thompson also launched a line called “Chick Chocolates” that targets women with images like “Strong Chick,” “Extreme Chick” and “Nutty Chick” on boxes that hold three individually wrapped chocolates.

Profits from “Survivor Chick” go to Athena Partners, a Seattle nonprofit that also sells water to raise money toward finding cures for breast and gynecological cancers.

The colorful names and box designs are Thompson’s answer to traditional chocolate marketing, which often features elegant earth tones and seems aimed mostly at men buying chocolate for women.

“That seemed silly,” Thompson said, “because most women buy their own chocolate.”

— Melissa Allison


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Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Monica Soto Ouchi covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-515-5632 or msoto@seattletimes.com.