George Mason UniversitySchool of Business

How Sweet it is to Own a Chocolate Shop

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McBrideMeryl McBride, BS marketing ’86, has been an entrepreneur for more than 30 years. Her original career path led her to working in insurance, and eventually opening her own business, MRM Associates, Inc. Then, nearly 10 years ago, a new business venture came her way. McBride is also co-owner of Sweet Signatures, a family owned and operated chocolate store based in Sterling, Virginia, with her niece Monica and sister Sherri.

McBride, originally from New York, decided to move to Northern Virginia after visiting her sister. “Marketing is a background I already had. I had a two year degree from a school in New York, so when I came down here, even though I had a full-time job, I still wanted to finished my degree. It took me 11 years to do, but I did it,” she said.

McBride said she took one or two classes at a time, graduating in 1986, while working full-time in insurance. In 1988, she opened her own insurance agency. “I do my own accounting, something I learned from being in school. I pay the taxes, I do the filings, all of that,” she said.

After successfully owning her own business for decades, McBride started to consider retirement. However, she was “rejuvenated” by the opportunity to co-own a chocolate store with her family.

McBride’s niece, Monica, worked for a dessert company and started bringing her own desserts to parties. Friends began placing orders, and Monica decided she wanted to go into business.

“We talked about how to market it, how to get corporations involved. She found a way to be very unique. We do corporate branding, something very few people in the area do,” McBride said.

The family worked out of a commercial kitchen. In one year, Sweet Signatures baked more than 18,000 cookies, for only one of their many clients, and was shipping nationwide to 3,200 different locations. “Little by little we just continued to grow,” McBride said.

After customers asked about visiting their store, the family decided four years ago it was time to look at space to house a kitchenDSC 0004 and storefront. Three years ago in June we opened it up. In September, we celebrate our 10 year anniversary of being in business,” McBride said.

While she spends the majority of her time in insurance still, McBride said she heads over to Sweet Signatures in the afternoons to help with baking or anything else that needs to be done. “Anything and everything, from marketing, to finances, to making chocolate or sweets. I do it all. There is very little here that I can’t or don’t do,” she said.

She credits her cell phone and assistant with helping her manage both companies. Because she’s passionate about her work, she’s “not thinking about retiring yet, not for a while.”

She finds the work fun, and has the opportunity to meet a lot of people. “When you hear the response from customers, it’s really good to get the feedback. I’ve been giving cookies to my clients for years when I sell something and every one of them loves them,” she said.

As a School of Business alumna, her role as a local business owner also serves as “a way to give back.” Sweet Signatures has sponsored the Annual Business Celebration, and McBride has been back to the school as a guest speaker, encouraging students to find their passion and enjoy what they do for a living.

“I’ve talked to students about being a female entrepreneur, and I can tell you in the insurance industry it was not easy, but I just kept at it. I didn’t let it bother me. In the chocolate business, it’s the same thing. You can’t let criticism get to you.”