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Thinking Outside the Box

In this business you can sense fairly early on who is going to make it and who isn’t. And when asked who are the shining stars in the retail ice cream business, one of the first names that come to mind is the Mulberry Street Creamery, owned and operated by Linda and Rick Mercurio of Kittanning, PA. To say they are perfectionists in creating the best possible gelato, ice cream, and sorbet products is not even close to the truth.

Linda and Rick are “out of the box people,” and that’s why I like them so much. Following is an article Linda wrote in a recent NICRA newsletter which truly reflects how they think.

It’s FINALLY Spring!!! Here in the Northeast we’ve had a long, miserable winter and are so anxious for warm, sunny weather. We’re also excited about reopening our store and seeing all of our customers again! So, what new frozen novelties or specialty desserts do you have planned to offer that will WOW them this year? Nothing new from last season? Hmmm!! Let’s think outside the “cake box” to come up with some incredible ideas for new and exciting ice cream cakes for your customers.

The ice cream dessert business should be more than just regular vanilla/chocolate cakes with the fudge and crumb coat center. Pies can be more than popular flavors in a graham cracker crust. While these cakes and pies are very popular and are great for birthdays, etc. so much more can be done with your ice cream to bring customers into your store to buy desserts on a regular basis.

Here’s an idea. Think about your local bakery. When you walk in, you see cakes, pies and cookies. The cake case is filled with so many varieties, chocolate, yellow, pumpkin, carrot, lemon, but when you really think about it, they’re all just cake. All of them are some sort of batter baked into different forms and shapes; some plain, others are made to look fancy with whipped cream, gooey frosting, pretty flowers or sprinkled with something that gives a hint of what’s inside. The same can be said for the pies and cookies. But when you stand back and look at the hundreds of items the bakery has to offer, it looks overwhelming, and exciting and delicious!

That’s exactly what your customers should experience when looking at your frozen dessert case. You can make this happen using your ice cream. It’s that simple!

It never pays to think negatively. It gets you nowhere. Even better, the possibility of failure, or failure itself, has an upside. Failure, and coming out of it makes you tougher and more aware about the consequences of making any kind of decision, Butter yet, it builds confidence within yourself that you have been through the worse.

We can’t control the weather, and to make matters worse, the economy. But within our own business, survivorship is what its call about. You will do what’s necessary because there is no other way

And to help us, we have customers. If we treat them right, they will help you beyond your wildest imagination. So, give yourself a pat on the back for surviving.  And trust me, we will continue to survive.

I am a great believer in survivorship. When things get really bad, I simply wake-up and start thinking how am I ever going to overcome this disaster. And in the end I always do and for the better. So, let’s start thinking positively.

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It’s All About Kids

That’s right, ice cream retailing to a very large extent, is all about kids. How to get them into our stores, make their ice cream experience pleasant and fun, finding a way to get them to want to come back.

While many of you might think this is no big deal, and not very difficult, it does require a maximum effort on your part to capture the imagination of kids in general, that your place is something special. So, how is done? With six integral parts:

  • Your attitude
  • Kid’s menu
  • Kid’s flavors
  • Birthday party room
  • Kid’s toys given out as a promotion
  • Kid’s birthday club

So let’s begin, because if you think kids, you can’t lose!

Your Attitude

Too many ice cream store operators have relied too much on ways business was done in the past. Simply having great tasting flavors in a dipping cabinet to appeal to the “high school and up generation,” “yuppies,” and an “older sophisticated crowd,” won’t work today.

The driving force behind ice cream retail decision-making is the “kid,” ages 5-12. They bring in the whole family, and to a large extent, tell their parents where they want to go.

To really learn how important this age group is, simply stand next to a cashier at a large supermarket, and see what is purchased: ice cream and ice novelties galore, and tons of snacks. And when it’s time to go for that after dinner dessert, parents go where their kids will be most happy.

So, start thinking, how can I attract kids to my place?

Kid’s Menu

The idea around designing a kid’s menu is to play to the market of what parents want for their young kids in size, at a very good price, and is so enticing that the kids themselves ask their parents- “Can I have that.”

Kid’s Cup or Cone

So what’s so wrong with having a designated size strictly for kids? Many ice cream storeowners are very resistant to having this size because they say that parents in many instances want this size, and by giving it to them, it reduces the price of the overall sale. My retort to this is “So.” What’s wrong with satisfying the customer? That is what we are in business for. The reality is that some parents might ask for a kid’s cone or cup for themselves, but the percentage is so small, that it isn’t worth getting worked up about.

So what is the proper size and cost of a kid’s cone or cup?

  • Price at .99 cents. Why .99 cents? It’s below $1.00 and is an easy sale.
  • Size at 2-2½ ounces hard or soft serve ice cream with ¼ ounce rainbow sprinkles- free of charge. In this instance the toy is the free sprinkles.

Kid’s Sundae

Kids like simple things with lots of color that they can easily see with their eyes at first glance. That’s why a kid’s sundae must be bright, and easily identified with what they like in general. Price these at $1.59. Below are a few examples:

LITTLE BITTY KIDDY SUNDAE

Offer what kids want, and if you make it simple, it will sell.

Ingredients:

2 ounces          Soft ice cream

½ ounce           Bittersweet chocolate fudge

½ ounce           Whipped Cream

¼ ounce           Rainbow sprinkles

1                      Cherry

Preparation:

Dispense two ounces of soft or hard ice cream into the cup. Spoon chocolate fudge and rainbow sprinkles over the ice cream.

Dispense ½ ounce of whipped cream on top of the ice cream. Sprinkle more rainbow sprinkles over the whipped cream. Using the tongs, place the whole maraschino cherry on the peak of the whipped cream.

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Starting a Business in a Kiosk

Selling ice cream from a kiosk at a mall. Great idea. Here’s why. You’ve seen all those nifty kiosks in your local malls. They sell everything from hair products to cooking utensils to candy and cookies. Customers crowd around these carts and pony up big money for their wares. But can ice cream retailers really make serious money in these smaller venues? And what makes an ice cream retailer having a kiosk ultra-successful?

Like any other retail business looking for a location, finding one at a mall is no different. Most kiosk success stories start with a good location, and first that means finding the right mall. Not only do you have to pick the right mall, with the right demographics that fit your product, but your specific location within that mall is also crucial. If you have the choice between two spots in the mall, and one of them has a premium rent tacked on to it, there’s usually a reason for that. In my opinion, choose the best and negotiate for a better rental fee. If possible, check out the “50-yard line” section of a mall: It’s usually a wide, straight line in the very center of the mall, with the best tenants located on each side. But you’ll want to stay away from a crowd of carts- if you’re one in a long line of kiosks, you could get lost in the crowd.

The location decision can even come down to which stores are around you. Ice cream kiosks tend to do well when they’re located where there is high traffic, preferably near a food court or at a center point in the mall where traffic is going in four different directions.

When you find the right kiosk location and you’re ready to sign the lease, you should enlist the help of a kiosk leasing expert. When you get to the leasing point, try to find out what revenues the best cart operators in your particular mall are earning, and at other high-end malls in your area.

An ice cream retail operator needs to research each location to find out state and county regulations as well as the mall’s own guidelines. Research everything, from food-safety requirements for food-related kiosks to the limits on how high kiosk walls can be if you’re located in a mall.

Once you establish your locations and meet all the requirements, you’ll have to focus on one of the keys to kiosk success:

  • Customer Service- Since your business is mostly a one-on-one contact with your customers, you have to be stellar in serving their needs.
  • In a kiosk environment, “It’s all about being customer friendly.”
  • And while you may be gung-ho for customer service, you’ll have to train the employees who man your stores in your absence to be equally as enthusiastic about the ice cream you are selling.
  • Take the time to interview and train employees before you open your kiosk. If you want to grow and expand your kiosk, you’ll need a manager. Many people think they can open their carts themselves and hire employees later. But if you’re working the cart, when are you going to interview employees? When are you going to train and develop them? Invest in hiring people and setting systems in place ahead of time.
  • To really make your kiosk go from good to amazing business, you need to take the time to plan your next steps. Dedicate time to plan and set goals. How am I going to ensure that happens? “Ask yourself what sales volume do I want to do next month?
  • Don’t get caught up in a month-to-month survival mentality.
  • Look for ways to excel and expand. Though they may be small in size, kiosks can be big business.

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REFLECTION TIME – TIME TO THINK – TIME TO ACT

This is the time of the year when we all reflect on why we are in this business. The days of long hours are over, it’s time to relax. So I say to you, we all should be thankful we are in a business we love, we have passion for it, and if we are smart in our decision making, we can actually make some money.

It is also time to think about 2016. What can we do better? Think in small steps. If we could improve our business by 15%, what would these improvements and ideas be.

  • New products that don’t compete with your current mix- especially anything that is packaged for take out
  • Sugar free and non-dairy- this base of customers is your largest opportunity to actually increase sales
  • Marketing strategies- actually lower your prices
  • Fixing up your shop- a new paint job can make your shop look new

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Top 10 Ice Cream Shops in America

The top ten ice cream/gelato shops selected by Ice Cream University were chosen for many reasons other than the fact that they all make a great product. Each in its own way is unique because each is an innovator, not a copier of someone else’s ideas. This to me is the ultimate test of greatness. Visit them and see for yourself!

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