Life is sweet for the Malley family, but that’s not to sugarcoat the real challenges and sweaty nights that come with running a business. Founded in 1935 with $500 and a dream, Albert Martin Malley (Mike) opened the first Malley’s Chocolates on Madison Avenue in Lakewood.
Today, there are 21 Malley’s Chocolates stores, an expansive manufacturing facility on Brookpark Road and a robust fundraising business. A lot has changed since those early days, but the foundation of Malley’s brand has stayed the same.
“What my grandfather was known for when he made his first chocolate was that he had a good product at a fair price, and that is the key to our success and longevity,” says Mike Malley, part of the third generation of Malley’s running the business. Malley joined the family business after a career in publishing, now working alongside three brothers and sisters: Dan, “Bee” (Bill), Packy and “Sis” (Adele).
Mike Malley remembers his father, Bill, encouraging him and his siblings to attend COSE events when the third generation began growing their involvement in the family business. Malley’s Chocolates was part of the first wave of companies that joined COSE 40 years ago when our organization was founded.
“My dad was really big with getting involved with COSE,” Malley recalls. “It was a good way for him to meet like-minded business owners that were in the same boat with him, whether trying to find sources of financing or providing health care coverage for a growing number of employees. He met people who turned out to be lifelong friends, and they shared ideas in a non-threatening environment.”
This idea of sharing, giving and creating memories is exactly what Malley’s is all about. It’s where people gather for celebrations at the stores’ ice cream parlors, and their chocolates are just the sweet treat to make someone’s day special.
“Malley’s is in the business of making people smile and enjoy themselves, which chocolate does,” Malley says simply. “We are in a fun business”, he said. “The recent Easter catalogs that my brother Dan conceptualized were very clever and fun.”
It has always been that way. Malley remembers being a kid, camping out in a pup tent in the back yard with neighborhood friends. They would wait until after 11 p.m. when his father, Bill, returned home from work—stores were open late in summer because of the ice cream parlors. Then Bill would ask the crew, “Ready to go check out at North Olmsted?” That is the store with the carousel indoors.
“While dad counted the nightly receipts, we got to go into the ice cream parlor and make our favorite sundaes and bring home a bag of treats to munch on all night,” Malley shares. “We were quite a hit in the neighborhood.”
Today, Bill and Adele Malley have virtually retired, stepping out of day-to-day operations to let the third generation continue building on the sweet tradition of Malley’s and concoct the next chapters. Malley says the company has great opportunity for growth.
“We think our retail business has continued growth potential and perhaps beyond Northeast Ohio,” Malley says. “And, it’s no mystery the challenges that many schools are facing with renewing levies, and with more schools moving to pay-to-play, there is a real opportunity for Malley’s to provide a fundraising service, and we think we can grow that market as well.”
Of course, brand recognition and scaling up the business will present new challenges if the company decides to expand beyond the region. Here, Malley’s brand is a household name and enthusiasts put CHOC stickers on their cars in hopes of winning the company’s promised $500 if the mint, pink and brown emblem is spotted.
“It will take thought into how you service and grow a chain of stores as far as manufacturing facilities, logistics, infrastructure,” Malley says. “The key to all of these things is making sure we produce the best product and retain the terrific people we work with.”
Now in the business working alongside family, Malley says he feels a sense of servitude and obligation to help continue the tradition and support loyal employees who care very much for Malley’s. “The people here at Malley’s are looking to us, the third generation, and we’re in the business to make sure we sustain and maintain this,” he says.
Malley says his parents had “unyielding passion” for the business. “I mean, they really loved the business,” he says. “And they are genuinely fond of our customers, and that is one of our big-picture [keys to success]. You always hear people say, ‘Take care of your customers.’ My parents, when you came into their stores, made you feel special. And that has paid off in big dividends. As Malley’s has grown, we make sure we stay true to our roots. We may have 21 stores, but we want to make sure we are just as connected to the customers that come into every one of those locations.”