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.


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:


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


2 ounces          Soft ice cream

½ ounce           Bittersweet chocolate fudge

½ ounce           Whipped Cream

¼ ounce           Rainbow sprinkles

1                      Cherry


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.



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


Ice Cream & Frozen Dessert Industry Trends: 2011

One thing is for sure, this coming year is going to be terrific for anyone in the frozen dessert industry. With the economy coming back, ice cream will be in vogue big time. All we need is good summer weather. The following are a number of trends and predictions for ice cream and frozen desserts in the year to come. (Read More)

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