Hotel Chocolat is preparing to launch ‘Chocolate Lock-Ins’ at stores across the UK as it ramps up its experiential retail credentials, Retail Week can reveal.

The chocolatier is harnessing the skills and knowledge of its workforce to offer its most loyal customers tasting sessions at its shops outside of usual trading hours.

The retailer’s boss Angus Thirlwell said the business was in the “early stages” of developing the idea, but expected it to be rolled out “over the coming months.”

It comes as Hotel Chocolat builds on the range of experiences it offers to customers.

The business already runs two restaurants in London and Leeds and is focusing on rolling out its shop-café format, seven of which opened during the second half of 2016.

“The experiential side of the business is vital to us being a brand that has emotional connections with our customer base.”

Angus Thirlwell, Hotel Chocolat

Outside of the UK, Hotel Chocolat hosts ‘Tree to Bar’ experiences at its Rabot Estate in St Lucia, which allow customers to make their own bar of chocolate from scratch, while it also operates a Cocoa Spa on the island and is developing another “new visitor attraction”, due to open in 2018.

But speaking after Hotel Chocolat unveiled a 28% spike in pre-tax profit to £11.2m during the 26 weeks to December 25 2016, Thirlwell revealed his plans to grow that proposition further.

He told Retail Week: “The experiential side of the business is vital to us being a brand that has emotional connections with our customer base.

“The loyalty uplift we know we get from enabling our team to interact with our most engaged customers is such a win-win. Our teams love it and our customers love it.”

‘Just the beginning’

Thirlwell added: “One of the most interesting things we are looking at is the ‘Chocolate Lock-In.’

“We’re going to be using the hour after stores normally close to host a ‘Chocolate Lock-In’ for invited guests and in that experience they will have tutored tasting with one of our School of Chocolate graduates, so people will get a tastebud experience as well as acquiring knowledge about our products.

“We’ve got an engaged and interested customer base, we’ve got a cohort of graduates from our School of Chocolate who are desperate to start talking to people about everything they have learned about cocoa and chocolate and we’ve got beautiful spaces.

“Put all of that together and it seems to really make sense.

“We are in the early stages of that, but you’ll see us start stepping that up over the coming months.”

Thirlwell said the ‘Chocolate Lock-In’ was just “the beginning of us doing more in that area.”

A number of other retailers are driving their experiential propositions in an effort to drive shoppers into stores and build customer loyalty.

Tesco opened a pop-up wine bar in Soho last year, while Ikea launched pop-up do-it-yourself restaurant and food store in Shoreditch.