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National "Check Out Your Competition" Day!

Posted by Lilly on March 19, 2014 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Every year, Rita's Italian Ice, the nation's (world's?) largest Italian Ice franchise, offers a free regular size Italian Ice on the first day of Spring.  That's tomorrow, March 20th.  No coupon needed, just show up!

Considering Rita's has launched a national campaign, called the Great State Race, to determine in which areas to open new stores, you can be sure the competition will be heating up when it comes to small town Italian Ice vendors.  Big Rita VS. the Little Guy!  It's on!  Get out tomorrow and claim your free taste of your competitor's product.  It's what you're up against!  And with that in mind, you can decide to copy their product or break out in a new, better direction! Then come back here to post your thoughts about their product, and the flavor or flavors you tried, in the comment section. 

(Feel free to visit multiple locations to try out more than one flavor. ;))

Oh, What a Night!

Posted by Lilly on August 8, 2013 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (0)

My last blog post recommended that vendors find and attend their local National Night Out event as a wonderful community involvement opportunity.  Who knew that, for me, it would be my biggest gig yet!  It was a huge success! 

The photo above is an actual shot taken last night from my booth.  For a solid two hours, this was the scene I saw every time I looked up to check my line.  And it was a very unexpected, happy surprise.  There's probably another entire blog post of the uncertainties of this business that I could write about.  But I'll share a few of those now.  This was supposed to be a small event, a name-builder of sorts, to get my business out there.  I had been asked to sell at a lower price, and I did so using smaller cup sizes.  Price could have been a factor, but this year, the event organizers added a car show and many more neighbors came out.  And how could I predict that on a night forecasted for rain, we would have one of the most beautiful evenings of the entire summer?  So, of course, Murphy's law kicked in, and I told my helper (daughter) she could stay at the shore rather than come home to sell Italain Ice with me.  I could handle it, I told her.  Well, folks...

Here are the highlights of my evening.

  • I started selling six flavors, and sold out of four of them by night's end.  What remained, lemon and blueberry, were down to the bottom.
  • I was the last vendor at the event's closing time of 10:00pm... still selling.  It was the first chance for the event volunteers and police officers to get ice, and who was I to turn them away?  I especially love that last guy who wants anything I have left and for whom I have to dig out a cup and spoon from my packed supplies (there's one at every event).
  • I had a line of customers from 7:00pm to 9:30pm!  Solid, non-stop action, with the new callous to prove it!
  • While putting away my gear that night, I picked up my business card holder to find only one card in it! 
  • The PA State Representative, Todd Stephens, whom I'd told I was starting a mobile ice business back in May, stopped by my booth and got to see it live.  Future private event, Representative?
  • I was personally introduced to a highly influential Chamber of Commerce businesswoman in our town who thought my water ice would be a great fit for an upcoming 5k she was promoting. Plus she wants me to attend the town's biggest, all-day event held every year, next June.  I've been wanting to get into that event for 2 years, but haven't felt ready. Now I am!
  • I made the most revenue on a per hour basis than I've ever seen.  And tips were pretty generous too. 

Like I said... Oh, what a night! 

Get Involved with National Night Out!

Posted by Lilly on July 20, 2013 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

If you're looking for a great place to sell Italian Ice in just a few short weeks, consider participating in National Night Out in your community.  As the name implies, this is a nationwide event tyically starting around 6:00pm and going on for a few hours. This one-night community event is a perfect opportunity for an Italian Ice business to showcase community involvement and a delicious, cold treat. 

What is National Night Out?

From the National Association of Town Watch (NATW):

The introduction of National Night Out, “America’s Night Out Against Crime”, in 1984 began an effort to promote involvement in crime prevention activities, police-community partnerships, neighborhood camaraderie and send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back. NATW’s National Night Out program culminates annually, on the first Tuesday of August (In Texas, the first Tuesday of October).

National Night Out now involves over 37 million people and 15,000 communities from all fifty states, U.S. Territories, Canadian cities, and military bases worldwide.

The traditional “lights on” campaign and symbolic front porch vigils turned into a celebration across America with various events and activities including, but not limited to, block parties, cookouts, parades, visits from emergency personnel, rallies and marches, exhibits, youth events, safety demonstrations and seminars, in effort to heighten awareness and enhance community relations.

Why Participate?

  • Excellent community partnership
  • Awesome marketing opportunity for new businesses
  • Usually no fee to participate
  • Hot nights and Italian Ice are a no-brainer!

Is a Community Near You Participating?

To find out whether a community near you is holding an event, visit the National Association of Town Watch's Map page.  You can view or download a list of participating areas.  For those vendors who have multiple carts, I would suggest you consider sending out additional carts to other communities.  Share the love!

You better believe I'll be at the event in my neighborhood!  Getting in with your community is something a business can't afford not to do.  Getting in with the police officers who patrol those communities is even better for those of us operating cash businesses looking for a partner who's "got your back".  Get to know your local police force!  It's a smart move for any vendor... as a single woman running my business, the support and protection I have from my local police department is something I could never buy nor repay.  And for the cops hosting that night's event, the ice is on me!

Storing Backup Italian Ice at Events

Posted by Lilly on June 26, 2013 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (4)

Selling Italian Ice from a cart is the first aspect Italian Ice vendors consider.  You need to find the right cart for you, the right ice, of course, an umbrella or tent, and the dishers (scoops).  In the beginning, we are so focused on instant selling that it can be easy to overlook future needs.  For instance, when I started out, I was certain I'd only sell at any gig for a maximum of 2 to 4 hours.  I wanted it this way for a few lifestyle reasons.  And frankly, I thought I'd go berserk sitting in a booth selling Italian Ice for any longer. 

Well, I have two official gigs under my belt now, both of which I'd chosen to participate for no more than four hours.  But, instead, for the first one I opted to stay an extra hour because my daughter and I were having so much fun!  We would have stayed longer, but the softball tournament ended, at which time all the food vendors were offered beer to celebrate.  See?  Fun!  And I don't drink!  The second gig was scheduled for the same amount of time, but we stayed for seven hours!!  Yes, seven, out of sheer enjoyment and because sales suddenly picked up dramatically around 5:00pm, more so even than the run of customers we expected would hit our booth between 12:00pm and 2:00pm.  Seems around Pennsylvania, Italian Ice (a.k.a. Water Ice) is a late-afternoon treat, which makes for an upcoming change in scheduling for me.

But one important lesson learned was the need for back up Italian Ice around the booth for when we sold out of a flavor, or when one flavor began melting too fast.  The latter was a nasty surprise that I have yet to figure out how to handle.  What didn't melt, however, was the stored Italian Ice I  had under our setup tables in different coolers. 

Let me show you what worked like a charm! 

I have two, 5-day Igloo coolers. Specifically, they are 5-day, 70 quart, marine coolers, purchased locally at Kmart last year for about $50 each.  These coolers have much thicker walls than typical coolers, which means better insulation.  And I found out that their touted "will keep ice frozen for 5 days!" claim was right on!  Of course, they mean regular ice, as in cubes, and not Italian Ice which requires even colder temperature to stay frozen, but who knows!  I haven't tested it out.  But during my selling events, I placed two tubs of Italian Ice inside each of my coolers, providing me with four backup tubs of ice.  Some were new flavors (to keep things interesting to customers), and some were intended to restock the best-selling mango and lemon.

Now, the Italian Ice in the coolers may have done well alone, but I didn't take any chances, being a new vendor.  So I decided to place a reuseable cold pack in each cooler, too.  I was amazed to discover that the reuseable cold packs fit absolutely perfectly inside the cooler, as though the two had been crafted for each other.


And the best part?  Picture me holding my breath when I was first trying this out... the lid also closed completely and perfectly.  I got a snug, airtight seal.  And I am happy to inform you, fellow vendors, that both sizes of reuseable cold packs by Nelson Manufacturing fit inside the cooler!  Note to you all: I deliberately placed my reuseable cold packs on top of the Italian Ice.  I think our first choice may be to place them on the bottom of the coolers or perhaps standing up on the sides.  But, here's an important tip.  We all know hot air rises, right?  Well, cold air drops.  So to keep the Italian Ice cold, placing the cold packs on top means that their coldness will drop down to the lowest level, where the tubs of ice are.  This is science applied!  Keep it in mind.

Now, for their performance!  At my second gig, the seven hour one, I ran out of a few flavors, with a line of customers, right around the 6th hour of selling.  At this point, I had to stop operations and get out my backstock.  Again I held my breath as I opened the lids on the Italian tubs to see whether or not they had stood up to the amount of time in the coolers.  Folks, let me tell you... I faced one happy, but anxiety-ridden, awkward moment as I learned that the ice was rock solid!  They had kept cold so well for seven hours, that when I needed them, they were actually too cold to scoop.  How awesome is that?!  I had to face my customers and tell them the problem.  And it was remedied shortly after by simply leaving the tops off the new tubs and letting them sit, exposed, for about eight agonizing minutes.  They were still difficult to scoop at this point, but were somewhat workable. 

Finally, to counter my own "cold air drops" reasoning for placing the cold packs on top of the Italian Ice tubs, I have to say, I may try placing the cold packs on the bottom the next time I'm out selling.  I have a new theory that maybe this way, the bottom of the Italian Ice will stay hard, but the top portion, where we scoop first, may be less solid.  What do you think?

So, there you go.  Trust these coolers!  Slap in those cold packs, and plan to get your backstock out about 15 minutes before you actually need to scoop them, and you'll be right as rain! 

How about you?  What do you do to keep backstock at events for long periods of time that has worked for you?  Click on the comment link above, and share your knowledge.

Introducing the "Awesomest" Hand-Sink for Italian Ice Vendors

Posted by Lilly on May 28, 2013 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (6)

"Where there's a will,

There's a way!"

I know you've heard that cliche a million times in your life, but it bears repeating when you're starting an Italian Ice business.  I'm sure it works just as perfectly in any business startup, but knowing the challenges and obstacles pushcart vending faces, it's got a richer message.  Whatever you do, folks, don't get discouraged and don't give up.  Anything you can imagine can be yours if you go after it hard enough and persistently.

Now that I've passed on that motivational tidbit, I'll share the backstory of why I'm saying it.  If there's one thing that has held me back from this Italian Ice business, it's been my Health Department's rule that I have an onboard sink on my pushcart.  I have heard that this is the way many states are heading, if they're not already there.  Standardization of mobile food is on the way.  Not even obtaining a commissary was as difficult as meeting the sink requirement.

After creating a custom cart last year to allow my petite body the chance at pushing four heavy tubs of Italian Ice, plus several gallons of water for a handsink and a propane tank to heat it, I had hit the wall.  It is just too physically taxing, as well as time consuming, to load and unload the 350 lb. cart onto and off of a trailer for the relatively quick events I plan on attending (2-3 hours). 

That custom cart I had made was the result of over-optimism, to be sure.  But I'm not letting anyone fool me into believing I'm not cut out for business if I make mistakes at the beginning.  I've read of many entrepreneurs whose mistakes cost millions of dollars, and still they eventually hit the big leagues.  Obviously they didn't set out to sell Italian Ice, but you understand.  It doesn't scare me that I've made mistakes, because they've taught me ways to make my business even better. And with that mistake in mind, I approached my Health Department once again a couple of weeks ago. 

I drafted up a custom sink, one that would use the Coleman Hot Water on Demand system.  This all-in-one hot water heater would sit on a custom-made sink cabinet that would house the fresh and waste water tanks underneath.  It will be only 20 inches by 20 inches and the HD-required 36" high (a.k.a. counter height) and weigh only about 60 lbs. when empty.  Before fabricating this unit, I wanted to be absolutely sure that my HD would allow its use.  I asked for the Holy Grail of Health Department considerations... the waiver.  Explaining the cumbersomeness of the unit I'd already had made to meet their requirements, I petitioned them to allow me to separate my sink from a cart and operate the two individually, as long as the sink is always in close proximity when I sell Italian Ice. 

It's important to note that I brought as many visual images as I could to help them see my vision and that it would comply with their codes.  I found a Kettlecorn vendor who got approval to use the Coleman water heater down in Florida, so I showed them that it was accepted in other states.

Kettlecorn Vendor Using Coleman Hot Water On Demand as Sink System

They added one requirement - that I up the minimum size of water tanks from 2.5 gallon fresh/4 gallon dirty to a 5 gallon fresh/6 gallon dirty.  At first I resisted, because that would add size and weight to the sink unit.  But in the end, I saw that it would be better to have more water, since the Coleman unit does use water rather quickly.  And the Coleman comes with a 5-gallon water tank already!  But with my sink design I have the option of using smaller tanks or larger tanks, whenever and whatever the venue may require.

I got the pre-approval I was hoping for.  And so, I immediately ordered the Coleman unit and contacted the company who will custom create my little handwash sink.  It's at their facilty being made right now, should be complete in less than two weeks, and costs only slightly more than a unit I could buy online (electric dependent).  But it will be the smallest, lightest weight, completely portable, fully self-contained and operational handsink that exists on the market!  NO ELECTRICITY (it has its own rechargeable battery which can plug into a car charger or household outlet)!  NO PROPANE TANK (it uses disposable propane canisters found everywhere inexpensively).  NO HASSLE taking the sink around (it can be broken down to its four lightweight components for easy mobility and cleaning).  And YES ... I'm taking orders!  :D

The Hidden Income in Self-Service Italian Ice Catering

Posted by Lilly on May 20, 2013 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (3)

In at least one recent post, I highlighted how I could sell Italian Ice without having to actually scoop or deal with my Health Department's requirements.  It's simple... delivery (a.k.a. catering).  Today, I'm elated to report to you that my launch of the catering side of the business was a success with the first order I received this past weekend.

It's the end of the school year now, and many elementary schools have festive carnivals and Spring Fairs and Field Days, great events that wrap up the year with some type of outdoor party.  And what goes better with hot kids and the outdoors than Italian Ice?  Yeah, I can't think of anything either! 

So I got a call - a bit of short notice - for an order of five 2.5 gallon tubs of Italian Ice for the following day.  As it turned out, I had prepared myself with rolling coolers, which I let these folks borrow for free.  I do plan to charge for equipment rental, but truth be told, I was just so thrilled to have my first order that I felt generous.  For each tub, I charged $33.00.  This decent price is $5.00 below the cost of the same sized tubs from Rita's locally.  I also provided free delivery and setup, which Rita's most certainly does not.  The setup consisted of assembling the quick-connect legs of the coolers (30 seconds) and then placing the 77-quart coolers full of tubs onto the legs.  Then I rolled the coolers into place next to my customer's selling table.  I did not provide cups, spoons or napkins, and I thought the discount on tubs and the full-service I provided more than made up for not providing those amenities.  But this works, since it allows the customer to use any material or color of cup plus multiple sizes and price points to their customers, rather than the one size, dirt-cheap cup I would likely provide for free.  I was also sure to mention that sales tax was included in the quoted price, to which I heard a delightful "Ohhhhh!" 


Right after rolling the carts in place, I opened the top of one cooler to pull out the five dishers (scoops) I was also providing for their use, to be returned after the event. Though the customer and I hadn't discussed the need for dishers for her event, there was a definite sense of relief when she realized she hadn't thought to get any.   At this point, my customer exclaimed, "Why can't everybody come this prepared?"  It was music to my ears, though I maintained my gloating grin for the sake of professionalism. 

Promptly after the event ended, I showed back up to collect my coolers and dishers.  Though it was only a temperature of 69 degrees and drizzly, the event had been a success.  I saw that there were only two half-tubs left over.  They had made a lot of money!  Everyone was happy all around.  And my very satisfied customer commented that she will be telling everyone about my service.  Yahoo!

As an aside, I quicky learned a few lessons.  Though I've heard it said before in business, it's worth repeating... "Always under promise and over deliver".  I learned that it's best to show up as close as possible to the anticipated start time of the event, rather than at the beginning of any setup time.  In this case, setup for the event started at 2:00pm, but the event actually began at 3:00pm.  That extra hour could have made a difference between melted and scoopable ice by the end of the 4-hour shindig.  So I'll remember that for the future. The other lesson learned was this...

When I checked my inventory to see whether I had my customer's requested flavors in stock, I happened to open one container just to be certain it did not have any freezer burn or ice crystals.  All good there.  However, this tub of cherry ice had been used to scoop Italian Ice for a photo shoot.  So while it looked full and good to sell from all indications on the outside of the tub, it would have been disastrous if the customer opened the tub to see it had already been scooped from!  From now on, I will do two things to prevent that.  When possible I will store those tubs designated for my scooping sales into one freezer, and I'll keep unopened tubs for catering sales in a different freezer.  Additionally, I have begun the act of placing a large black "X" on the lid of any opened/used container, so I can't make that near-fatal mistake again. 

Now, onto numbers!  For the 20 minutes total that it took me to throw coolers in my car, some Italian Ice tubs into the coolers, and set up the rolling coolers at the event, I made a cool $165.00 in revenue.  For the sake of easy explanations, I'm going to leave things like gas out of the equation (they were right up the street) and sales tax, too.  At the per-tub rate I'm charging, I would make $660.00 per hour, if I did that kind of business all day long.  It would be insane income. And for something that was pretty darn near effortless!  I was surprised to see how easy logistics and execution were, and how much I could profit to keep offering this service in my business.  Though it's not near as fun as scooping and interacting with customers, and driving around making deliveries would get old in a hurry, perhaps the money to be made could bring a change of heart.

Free Samples of Italian Ice: Yay or Nay?

Posted by Lilly on April 25, 2013 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (7)

Street vendor offering a sample

New Italian Ice vendors must repeatedly make choices when starting up their businesses. Many of these choices involve money, and if we can avoid spending it, that's usually what we prefer to do. As a new vendor, I am faced with two opposing mindsets when it comes to whether or not to give out free samples of Italian Ice to potential customers. 

On the one hand, I have a mindset - I call her Grudgy Greta to keep my internal dialogue interesting - that thinks of the cumulative expense over time that free samples would create.  When I'm faced with constant thoughts of my bottom line, giving out free samples looks like I'm standing there handing out cash to every passerby!  I understand the idea that the sales I gain from this marketing tactic from purchases customers may not otherwise have made will more than offset the cost.  But then I think of how many people will take the free sample, thirst quenched, and mosey right along without buying a thing.  That's possible.

The other mindset - she's Samplin' Sally - of course, gives out free samples... freely. This practice allows folks who are unfamiliar with Italian Ice to learn what it is and how it differs from other frozen desserts.  And for those who know what it is, it allows them to compare my Italian Ice with another (hopefully inferior) vendor's ice.

So what to do?
Believe it or not, psychologists and marketers have spent good time and money to answer this very question: to sample or not to sample.  One study conducted at Stanford University (Wadhwa, Shiv & Nowlis) arrived at the interesting revelation that most people (81%) believed, like Grudgy Greta, that a small sample of something sweet would satisfy a customer's craving and make them less likely to buy a product.  Aha!  Are you also one of the 81%?

However!  There's more than meets the eye when it comes to free samples.  Some will say that free samples induces a kind of customer guilt, an obligation for them to "pay back" for getting something free.  Others say that instead it makes customers grateful to have received something free, but still they feel they want to do something in return.  And yet others say that free samples take away risk, allowing the customer to feel more comfortable parting with their money knowing that the sample is something they would, in fact, like more of.

In another study, marketing researchers  were able to show that food and drink samples actually make shoppers hungrier and thirstier and puts them in a reward-seeking state of mind.  Knowing a little bit about how our seemingly irrational minds work reveals more.  See, a sample of something, particularly food and sweet food at that, creates desire.  We're quite literally "doped up" after having a sample, thanks to the dopamine release in our brains.  Dopamine causes us to crave.  And once that craving begins, it's very hard to get it out of your head!  I know when I pass up a free sample of delicious, juicy teriyaki chicken from an Asian restaurant at the mall, I kick myself for not taking it, and I begin looking for a non-obvious way to pass by again!  This dopamine, however, does nothing for satisfaction.  Only obtaining the object of a craving (called the reward) can truly quench your thirst, so to speak.  So when a hot, thirsty customer walks by your cart, and you offer a spoonful of sweet, refreshing Italian Ice, you are extremely likely to  make a sale.

Now for the twist.  Another study, usually referred to simply as The Chocolate Study (Lammers), revealed something that may be of interest to you as you go about offering those free samples.  In this study, potential customers were given a free, small sample of chocolate at a chocolate store in a major mall.  The samples immediately increased chocolate sales.  Nothing new there.  But the chocolates which were bought were different varieties than the the chocolate they sampled.  Could this be a way to increase sales of Italian Ice flavors other than the ones you're sampling?  That will make an interesting blog post for another day.  I'll have to conduct my own experiment to find out. 

One final tidbit of information seals the deal for me.  It turns out Italian Ice sampling is a tax deduction, which shuts up Grudgy Greta and puts a smile on Samplin' Sally.  The trick, however, is figuring out how much I give away in samples versus how much I sell from the same bucket of ice.  Hmmm.  

So will I offer free samples?  Absolutely!  Which mindset are you?  Are you offering samples, or do you think it's not necessary?  Share your $0.02 by using the comment link at the top right of this article.

Let the Italian Ice Sales Begin!

Posted by Lilly on April 10, 2013 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

I still remember like it was yesterday, when January rolled around, the beginning of a new year and new possibilities.  Now it's mid-April, and I'd like to know what the heck happened!  I'm sure you would, too. 

Those of us who are Northerners (or get nippy Winter weather) enter into the new year with bleary eyes, tired and sick of cold weather and ready to start thinking about warm, sunny days and the Italian Ice selling season ahead.  And that was how it all began.  I've had so much happen (and not happen) since January, that this blog post is going to be a little all over the place.  I hope you can bear with me. 

You see, I had so many problems with the Health Department and the commissary requirement last year.  And I bet I mentioned it to anyone who would listen then.  That's how, in talking with a fellow mobile food vendor, I began to think if it would be possible to have my own commissary.  Some folks are getting so frustrated about the commissary requirement, and contracting with an often-unknown third party for the licensed kitchen, that they are looking for ways and places to create their own.  Those with money buy large warehouses and rent out space to other vendors.  I have one friend who plans to do this.  Those without (that's me!), we have to pursue other avenues.  When my fellow food vendor friend told me I could use my garage, my eyes nearly popped out of my head!  I had never thought of that before.  Of course, that came with the major caveat that the garage location would have to be zoned by my township for a home business such as mine.  Then the Health Department would have to approve it.  But most importantly I would first have to GET a garage! 

Living in a townhouse rental with no garage wasn't going to work anymore.  And that's when I began thinking about buying a house.  Without going into personal details, I was about to enter into a bit of money.  Originally I thought I'd just hang onto it, and use some for starting the business on a grander scale, such as buying a truck.  But then the stars aligned.  And buying a house with a garage, or one I could build one onto, made all the financial and business sense in the world.  So that's what kicked off my 2013.  House hunting! 

I found a little house, and signed a contract in mid-January.  Well, nothing has aged me faster!  It's a short sale with a LONG wait.  Three months later, I am still waiting to hear if I can buy it (though suddenly last week things began to look better).  If all goes well, I'll close on the house within the month and begin building a garage immediately.  The location of the house is zoned correctly (miracle!), and I've begun talks with the Health Department about using it as my commissary. 

But all that doing nothing, sitting around waiting, has completely tied my hands from working on starting up my Italian Ice business!  You see, I can't buy a truck now until my home financing goes through.  And that timing is still up in the air, just as warm, delightful, Italian-Ice-craving weather has erupted here in Pennsylvania!  I wonder if I've succeeded at conveying my extreme frustration.  If your heart is racing for me, then you know a small amount of the anxiety I'm feeling.  It's like waiting for a dam to break, but in a good way, because there's a drought.

Then suddenly one day, I had the crazy idea to sell my tubs instead of cups.  What I mean is I realized I could sell full tubs to places like schools and churches, who would scoop it themselves.  This eliminates any Health Department involvement whatsoever.  And I can use my SUV in the meantime to provide the free delivery I'm offering. 

So, I spent the past month devising a program, pricing, and three marketing flyers for what I've titled my School Scoops fundraising program.  I started a mailing list by visiting all the school websites in my immediate school district and acquiring the names and contact information for all members of the Home & School Assocation (known elsewhere as the PTA or PTO).  I then looked over all the fundraising events that were held at each school during a year and crafted a custom letter to each school's HSA president.  The letter excitedly explained all the great opportunities they were missing to sell Italian Ice at their fundraisers and make lots of money.  I broke out how much they could make and shared the how-to and the flavors. 

As easy as all this sounds, to any other recovering perfectionist, you know the agony over every little word, color and placement of graphics on a page.  It was a painstaking process for me.  I have a favored author whose words remind me every day:

Do it badly,

Do it slowly,

Do it fearfully,

Do it any way you have to,

... but do it.

I'm proud to say I did it all those ways.  But in the end, I found it very rewarding.  And with those flyers and that letter, just yesterday, I officially launched my new Italian Ice business into my town!  I consider it my Grand Opening, at least until my real Grand Opening.  Let the games begin!  And then I took a nap.

To wrap up this story, I'd like to share those preliminary flyers with you.  Maybe you've been thinking of doing something similar, or you want to try it too.  I am not a graphic artist at all, which is quite evident!  I did these using PowerPoint 2007, and then I had Staples print them out for me on nice, glossy paper. 

Now what are you up to?  It's the beginning of the selling season for all of us, those who are already in business and those who are just starting this year.  So what have you sent out into the world?  What are you working on?  Share in the comments!


Take Your Italian Ice Cart to Events Easily!

Posted by Lilly on March 5, 2013 at 8:10 AM Comments comments (0)

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Little Jimmy's Vendor with Cargo Carrier

I've written before about transporting your Italian Ice pushcart around.  In that overview article, I  discussed one option that has a lot of interest.  It's the use of a cargo carrier (or scooter carrier) on the back of your truck or SUV.  For those of you with smaller and lighter pushcarts, this on-hitch cargo carrier may be a great solution! They are originally designed to transport mobility scooters, all terrain vehicles and other similarly sized and weighted objects as our Italian Ice carts.  So they are an ideal piece of equipment to make selling Italian Ice a breeze.

BUT!  You may need a whole mess of education before you just go out and buy one of these.  As I found out firsthand, there's a price to pay in the form of a steep learning curve to enjoy the ease of pushcart tranportation they'll provide. 

If you feel you're an Italian Ice vendor who wants to go this route, here's a general step-by-step checklist to determine if you and the cargo carrier would make an ideal business partnership.

1. How Much Can Your Vehicle Tow?

First, what type of vehicle do you currently own or intend to buy for the business?  Most car owners will not be able to use these carriers, due to the weight specifications that may exceed what most cars can tow safely.  However, trucks and SUVs usually have the necessary requirements.  Now... what's your vehicle's maximum towing capacity?  You can find this in your truck manual or by looking up specifications of your car/truck's model year online. Take that number and calculate 10% and 15% of that number.  This is your tongue weight range.  I know how that sounds, but just write that down.  It's the amount of weight your car's hitch can have sitting directly on it (as opposed to towing behind it).

2. Determine Your Pushcart's Weight (loaded & unloaded)

Next, you have to know the weight of your pushcart, two different ways  - 1) completely empty and 2) loaded with Italian Ice, in case you think you'll ever attempt to transport it that way.  If you'd prefer a lighter, empty cart for transportation, consider that you will have to load the Italian Ice into the pushcart after arriving at your selling destination, and you'll have to remove any Italian Ice out of the cart after you're done selling and ready to drive home.  Write these numbers down.

3. Hitch Class Selection (you may have options)

With the above numbers written down, you can now proceed to see which hitches (say THAT 10 times fast!) can be mounted to your vehicle.  You find that by visiting any hitch retailer's webpage and plugging in your vehicle's make/model/year.  That will generate your hitch options.  Next you'll select the right Class hitch.  Hitches are rated in Classes that categorize different towing weights, whether sitting on the hitch directly (tongue weight) or towing behind the vehicle on a trailer with its own wheels/axle.  Find a Class of hitch that corresponds with the weights from Step 2.  This narrows your choices or may leave you with the only one that will work.  At this point, make your hitch selection, and note the size of the hitch coupler opening - that square hole that hitch accessories get inserted into.  This size must match with the carrier that you choose (a male/female type joining - sorry to get so graphic!).

4.  Carrier Selection

Now you're ready to shop for the cargo carrier.  You'll find them at retailers who cater to handicap persons, mobility stores selling wheelchair and scooter carriers, and also at toy hauling websites (4 wheelers, motorcycles, etc.).  You can contact some manufacturers directly, such as VersaHaul. The carriers have their own set of considerations, which ranges from price, material, to options, length of ramp and size of platform. 


Cargo Carrier Folded Up and Open

Prices range from $250 to $900.  Materials range from powder-coated steel to aluminum.  And options include the ability to swing the unit away to get inside the back of your vehicle, as well as the ability to fold up the carrier when not in use.  You may also like a longer ramp, which allows your cart to roll up and down the ramp at an easy incline versus a steep one (as seen in the photos of my SUV and carrier above and below).

Cargo Carrier Ramp

The next part is critical.  There are two very important considerations when shopping.  First, the carriers will list their maximum weight capacities, how much they can hold.  However!  The carriers themselves have their own weights!  You need to find what the carrier weight is by itself.  They run around 100 lbs.  So this means, if you find a carrier that can support your cart's weight (as you intend to haul it - loaded or unloaded), you will need to add the pushcart weight to the carrier weight.  Then determine, does that number fall under or exceed your vehicle's hitch tongue weight maximum?  Super important!  The tongue weight capacity is the maximum vertical weight that the hitch can support, and typically ranges from 100 lbs to 750 lbs, or 10% 15% of your vehicle's towing capacity.  Staying in the safe range of tongue/vehicle towing weights can mean the difference between a great selling season and a summer in the hospital.  But get all this right, and there's nothing to be afraid of.  Lastly, be sure the carrier you want has platform dimensions that can fit your cart.  Measure from the outside of the wheels, both lengthwise and widthwise.

5. Hitch Install

Now that you've checked and double checked your numbers, you're ready to buy that hitch and get it installed on your SUV/truck.  Get this step done before you order your carrier, in case there are any surprises. 

6. Order & Install Your Carrier

This is the best part.  Once the carrier arrived pre-assembled, I was able to install it fairly easily with the help of my 13-year-old daughter.  I bought the largest one on the market because of my slightly oversized custom cart.  It would have been hard for me to put it on my car alone, but a smaller carrier would not have been a problem (like the one used in the Little Jimmy's video above).  Then, once on for Summer, it doesn't need to come off again till Fall. 

7.  Additional Gear

One final thing to buy in advance of your scooter carrier's arrival is a locking hitch pin.  This is inserted into your carrier and hitch receiver to keep the unit from falling off.  But the pin provided in the enclosed hardware won't keep people from stealing the expensive carrier from off the back of your vehicle!  So this accessory is mandatory.  You will also need a minimum of two 2-inch ratchet tie-downs.  I found some great ones inexpensively at Walmart.   Then you're ready to lock and load! 


Locking Hitch Pins

I could only have written this informative step-by-step article because I went through all of it and lived to tell the tale.  It was a two-month process of education, calculations and frustration, calling companies, verifying and re-verifying... only to have it all fail miserably when I went to pick up my cart at the manufacturer in Jersey. I was just a few pounds over, but it was clear my SUV was sagging enough to endanger my trip home with the cart.  I would hate for that to happen to anyone!  But, please don't be deterred.  If this is a viable option for you, go for it!  It's a super convenient way to tote a cart around that also leaves the interior of your truck empty to transport extra Italian Ice, umbrella, other merchandise, etc., which would be problematic if your pushcart were inside your truck.

Note:  Alternatively you could find the scooter carrier that fits your cart's dimensions and weight and work your way backward, instead.  You'd then select your car's hitch/class according to what hitch your scooter carrier will work with.  But there are far more choices in carriers than hitches, so the way I've laid it out makes the most sense to me.  And it's time wasting to find a carrier that's perfect only to find that your hitch or vehicle can't support it plus your Italian Ice cart.

Learn about Carriers, HItches, Tongue Weight and more HERE


Transporting Your Italian Ice Pushcart

School Concession Stands = Danger + Opportunity

Posted by Lilly on February 26, 2013 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Highschool Students Prepare to Run Their School Concession Stand

That fat and furry little Punxsutawney Phil told us just a month ago that Spring would be arriving soon.  And it must be true because our local Rita's Italian Ice opened back up for business just last week.  The arrival of Spring brings many things.  In addition to rain showers and their subsequent flowers, all around the country, as the weather turns warmer, schools are gearing up for another Spring semester of sports.  For us in the Northeast Philly 'burbs that's track & field, baseball, lacrosse and a few others.  But it's what accompanies these events that I'd like to bring your attention to today... the ubiquitous school concession stand.  These junk-food laden, fundraising tents, booths and stores are great for the hoardes of hungry and thirsty kids and parents attending the sports events.  What they aren't so great for is your health!

Let me explain.  Last Spring, my daughter was on her middle school track & field team, and we attended a large meet at the local highschool, hosting roughly eight other middle school teams.  There were a lot of people, and this was a full-day event.  At one point, I decided to pop over to the school concession stand for a soft pretzel (another one of those Philly comfort foods that we love).  I also wanted to meet the company hosting the food event and introduce myself with the intention of asking about partnering with them in the future for me to sell my Italian Ice at the concession stand (something I noticed was oddly missing).  I asked the attendants what company they were with, and with a quizzical look, they answered that they weren't a company, only a group of parent volunteers!  Maybe you (dear, reader) expected this.  However, i was shocked!  It was then I shifted myself over to the right of the stand to peek in on the grilling operation taking place in the back, where these parent volunteers were cooking hot dogs and hamburgers. 

It was there I witnessed bare-hand contact with raw hamburger meat, a highly hazardous food item, by Health Department standards.  This meat was being taken out of plain 'ole coolers, which were not being maintained at a proper cold temperature.  And there was no meat thermometer probe inserted to determine the precise internal temperatures of the hamburgers on the grill that would reveal they were cooked safely.  Clearly, the Health Department's involvement was beyond absent in this operation.  And I highly doubted the  volunteers had acquired their mandated Food Handler's certification.  I guessed it had been run this way for quite some time.  I also wondered in how many other places this was happening.  And what were the chances anyone had thought to acquire liability insurance for when the inevitable food illness broke out?

Okay, so I sound like a complete "narc" and highly uptight.  But I write all this to illustrate an opportunity.  You see, we vendors are professionals.  That means: 

  1. We do what we do for a living  
  2. We have the proper training and permits to do what we do 
  3. We are licensed by the local Health Department, and
  4. We carry the proper insurance to cover the unlikely event that our customers become ill from our food or food-handling practices. 

Why would a school take such risks if they were informed of the potential dangers of continuing to run their concessions illegally and if they were informed about better options available to them? 

What if local mobile food vendors got together to create roving food courts for these sporting events? 

It is quite possible that these small-time, volunteer-run concession stands have no desire to hand over their operation and profits to the pros for a few reasons.  Then again, maybe they would.  Consider the following no-effort benefits to them:

  • No coordination of human resources (gathering the volunteer troops and requisite meetings)
  • No coordination of food and supplies purchasing and delivery
  • No hauling equipment (tables, grills, propane etc.)
  • No maintenance of equipment
  • No set up
  • No clean up
  • Increased safety/decreased liability
  • Way more food offerings (pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, popcorn, cotton candy, and of course, Italian Ice!) resulting in...
  • Potentially increased sales

The food truck movement is kicking

Let the mobile vendors come to you! 

Just tell us when and where! 

Watch your fundraising efforts disappear and your profits soar!

But I'll be the first to admit I can be a cockeyed optimist and a bit of a dreamer.  Ideas like this don't gain traction as quickly as common sense would dictate, even though it truly is the best of all possible win-win partnerships.

But all is not lost, and as the saying goes... If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  So, on a final note, if this "mobile food court" doesn't seem possible, at the very least, as an Italian Ice vendor, we could go see if our local schools' concession stands are selling any kind of frozen dessert.  If they aren't, offer to sell them our tubs of Italian Ice with free delivery to each and every sporting event that they'll operate the stand.  If they're already willing to sell, serve, and assume liability, then that could include selling our highly profitable and desired Italian Ice!  Like my recent fundraising idea, we can at least make some money selling Italian Ice with no effort on our parts.  This I see as the second-best, win-win partnership.  

What have you seen at your local schools' concession stands?  Is there any opportunity for you to get in on the action?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.


Do You Need a Food Handler's Permit?

The Best Worst Way to Fundraise