By Cindy Waxer @CNNMoneyFebruary 28, 2014: 6:26 AM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)
Ally Sinclair knows all about the jet-setting, celebrity schmoozing and red carpet treatment that comes with attending the Oscars. But Sinclair isn't an up-and-coming Hollywood starlet. She's the owner of Cocopotamus, a five-year-old, artisanal chocolatier in Albuquerque, N.M.
Every awards season, small businesses like Cocopotamus are given the rare opportunity to get their products into the hands of celebrities by participating in charity events or contributing to nominee gift bags. Sinclair first got the chance three years ago when an Academy Awards organizer happened upon Cocopotamus' salted, dark chocolate fudge and asked to feature its gourmet truffles as gifts.
Since then, filling the mouths of celebs at the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes has helped Cocopotamus triple sales and strike a distribution deal with Whole Foods(WFM) that spans the entire Rocky Mountain region.
But unbeknownst to many star-gazing entrepreneurs, there's a price to be paid for turning products into swag. For starters, there's the bill.
Last year, Cocopotamus was invited to participate in one of the Oscars' three-day charity events where Sinclair says nominees and presenters "traipse" through hotel ballrooms lavishly decorated like "a Saudi Arabian princess' wedding," helping themselves to everything from gourmet treats to diamond jewelry.
Cocopotamus' price tag for hobnobbing with the rich and famous: $10,000 on airfare and hotel, and $6,000 worth of truffles -- 2,400 to be exact -- given as free samples and as part of celebrity gift sets.
And then there are the three additional days of production and manpower that Cocopotamus needs to prep for the event.
Cocopotamus has a staff of seven part-time workers -- all of whom are called on for last-minute manufacturing and packaging for the Oscars. Sinclair says the company has long relied on this flexible workforce to accommodate spikes in demand around holidays like Valentine's Day and Christmas while "keeping staffing expenses to a minimum."
And because preparing for the Oscars is a full-time, six-day job that involves traveling to Los Angeles, setting up and tearing down displays, retail orders are rushed through ahead of time or put on hold until the event is over.
It's a logistical hurdle that wouldn't be possible if not for the truffles' lengthy shelf life, says Sinclair. While most natural truffles last only 14 days, Sinclair worked with a food scientist prior to launching the company so her truffles have a six-month life span, which lets them prep for special events several months in advance.
Winning over celebs can also mean a sudden spike in orders, which small business owners need to be prepared for.
"It's kind of like having Oprah call you," says Sinclair. "You're going to have this phenomenal surge and there's no way to control it. We've had random orders come out of these events for super-posh weddings, NFL team owners and stars wanting to send holiday gifts."
Managing this deluge means having to pick and choose which events make the most financial sense. Because Sinclair doesn't "really relish the thought of giving truffles to an entire band," Cocopotamus has turned down invitations to both the Grammys and the American Music Awards.
The Emmys and the Golden Globes, on the other hand, deliver the most "bang for the buck" with the high-profile TV personalities, calculates Sinclair. As for the Oscars, she says, "The stars are a lot more stressed out." Small business owners working the awards circuit can certainly relate.