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You might say that over the years I've been around the block a few times! Here are some of the most often asked about subjects that I have run into over the past thirty eight years. I hope you find them helpful.
THE LOOK - The decor of your store should look wealthy but not cost an arm and a leg. Thirty-five years ago your customer was thirteen years old and a single scoop of ice cream cost about fifty cents. Today your customer is me - married with children. I'm the decision maker as to where we'll go tonight to buy ice cream. It's no longer fifty cents - a visit to your shoppe will cost me about fifteen to twenty dollars. A decor of clowns and balloons is out of style. Whereas Laura Ashley wallpaper and chair rail molding around the store are in. You want to make the store look warm and expensive like a fine dining room. That's not to say it can't be high tech or bright - just make it appeal to the age group that is doing the purchasing!
SIGNS - Get rid of them! I walk into some ice cream parlors and they have signs up for every product ever sold - from 4th of July rocket pops to Santa Clause ice cream cakes. I'm so confused by all the choices that I end up walking out with a vanilla cone. And please, don't sell someone else's name. I don't want to "have a nice day with a Coke." You want me to leave the store remembering your name.
BATHROOM ACCESS - I've been shopping all morning and need to find a bathroom. Don't make it embarrassingly inaccessible. Do me and my children this one favor and we'll remember you forever. Oh, and since I'm a bit embarrassed and I am heading home anyway, I'll take a pint of ice cream with me.
A BRITISH QUEUE - A well designed store has a definite flow to it. You know who is next in line. We've all been in stores where getting waited on is survival of the fittest. If I'm twelve years old and mom sent me down to order a cake for fifteen kids, give me the same chance to be served as the adults.
WHOLESALE - It's snowing out and there's ten inches on the ground. Your worst nightmare walks into the store - me! "So, how's the wholesale business we talked about last spring?". Reply: "Oh, I'm much too busy to start up wholesale accounts." Or, "I'm not a salesman. I wouldn't know how to approach a chef." Baloney. The weather's horrible so you're not too busy and you don't have to sell the product - let it sell itself! Walk into the restaurant at 9:30 AM with a tub of your best ice cream or sorbet while the executive chef is doing his buying. Bring along a sheet of paper that lists your flavors, your terms and your delivery schedule and then leave! You have a tremendous advantage over the big wholesalers in that they require a minimum order of fifteen tubs and can only deliver once every two weeks. You on the other hand have a minimum order of three tubs and can deliver with as little as two days notice! The chef doesn't have room to store fifteen tubs and he doesn't know ten days from now what flavors he wants to offer. You've just solved two of his major frozen dessert problems. One last thing. Give him what we in the selling biz call "the hook". "Oh by the way chef, if you have any ideas on how I can improve my product or any ideas for new flavors, please tell me." He'll be your friend for life and he'll tell all his chef friends how well you take care of him.
SALESMEN - Or Salespersons if you insist. These people make their living selling new and hopefully better products to you. The wrong approach on your part would be to say, "No, thank you. I've been using the same wigits for the last five years." The right approach would be to listen to the salesman and possibly give his product a try. It might just be better than what you're using now.
PINBALL MACHINES AND HOT DOGS - Yes, I know they're not related. So why are they in your store? Pinball machines attract kids to hang around while driving off young mothers with children. Hot dogs give off a greasy smell that ends up affecting the taste of your ice cream. Know what business you're in and stick to it!
DIABETIC ICE CREAM - This is not a popular view but then I'm a diabetic. I have no business eating any dessert with sugar in it or any product that would tempt me towards sugar. I am a small (though vocal) minority that cannot be successfully catered to. Tubs of Diabetic ice cream will sit in the dipping cabinet for weeks longer than your regular ice cream. They begin to look unattractive and will then drive down the overall appearance of your other ice cream. If you must sell Diabetic ice cream, try to limit the number of flavors.
FLAVOR OF THE DAY - Stores that run a flavor of the day find that they have to carry a very large inventory of flavors. How about a compromise and feature a flavor of the week. Some of my customers are even advertising the flavor of the week on their internet sites. A great way to get people to log onto your site.
USED EQUIPMENT - A great idea if well thought out. If you have two dipping cabinets and one goes bad, you're still not out of business. If the hardening cabinet goes down on July third, you might have to wait until late August to get a new one - you're out of business! Buy wisely.
I'm sure you also have plenty of observations from your time in business. If you have a favorite tip that you would care to pass along, please e-mail me at STEVE@EMERYTHOMPSON.COM.
Five Decades of Observations