|Posted by Lilly on July 1, 2014 at 10:05 AM||comments (5)|
When I created this site in March of 2012, I never dreamed that in its third year of life, it would be such an amazing community! (cue the speech music) You folks who make up Icy Profits are the coolest Italian Ice vendors ever. You listen and help each other, you welcome each other with open arms, you give advice, encouragement and even words of caution freely. You are AWESOME!
On that note, I wanted to share with you that as of late last night, Icy Profits gained it's 200th member! And here's something interesting I noted as I watched the numbers climb. It took 1.5 years to reach the first 100 members. That only happened early January of this year. But, it took us only 6 months to get the second hundred! That means we are gaining traction fast and hitting the big time.
Further proof of our growth is that when folks search Italian Ice Cart, Italian Ice Business and other related terms, Icy Profits is on the front page of Google! We started on the 7th page! I haven't spent, not one cent, on fake SEO gimmicks to bring our site to the first page. It was all done by authentic writing and natural, slow growth. I can't thank you guys enough.
Your take on this news may be different than mine. Certainly I am ecstatic. But you may be more wary as we bring on more new members. Just remember, we were all at the starting line once in our lives too. This site pays it forward. And I am one proud mama! Thank you guys!!!
(numbers around the site show only 195, but when a member doesn't complete their profile info, it doesn't update the public numbers. As admin, I see the real count. Yahoo!)
|Posted by Lilly on June 30, 2014 at 8:25 AM||comments (2)|
One year ago, I wrote a blog post about the Awesomest Hand Sink for selling Italian Ice, which I was having custom crafted to finally become compliant with my Health Department's hand sink rule. What I completely forgot to do was update you guys and show you the photos of the sink and how perfect it is for those vendors looking for NSF equipment who want a portable sink that doesn't need electricity. This is a one-of-a-kind!
HIGHLIGHTS OF MY SINK
It's the ONLY existing hand sink made to use with the Coleman Hot H2O On Demand that is ready to go! It's the quickest option for those needing only a hand sink, who don't want to build their own or don't want to be dependent on electricity. While it's not cheap, being all steel, it's the answer for those Health Departments who mandate NSF equipment. And the price is right in line with other stainless steel sinks sold on the market - all much larger, heavier and electricity-dependent.
Now, for the reveal! Here are the photos of my sink! For me, it was the long-lost piece in a puzzle I'd been working on for a year and half... and an answer to my prayers. Give me your thoughts in the comments!
|Posted by Lilly on June 23, 2014 at 11:05 AM||comments (4)|
Over time, every Italian Ice vendor will come up against circumstances that teach them how to become better and more experienced. But so many of these lessons are learned only after the fact, when things have already gone south, for whatever reason.
Sure enough, as probably many of you have also done, I jumped into every event I could find when I first started selling. I said yes to everything because I needed the exposure and the scooping practice. I needed to learn which flavors were favorites and how fast ice would melt "in the field". I needed to guage customer reactions to my prices and my serving sizes. And I needed to learn how to put that &!@$# tent up by myself and how to shave hours off my setup time! But after a number of these events, I returned home to count the cash and found out, a little too late, that it wasn't near the income I expected. Why? Well, it didn't occur to me to ask a few key questions in advance. Like, how long is the event? What time does it start? An 8:00am start is not conducive to Italian Ice sales, unless you live in Arizona! If sales won't pick up until 11:00am, you better determine what equipment to bring that will keep your ice frozen for all those dead hours.
Will there be light at a nighttime event or should you bring your own? This lesson I learned quickly after one of my first events started at 5:00pm, but ended at 10:00pm. I didn't even think to bring lighting for my booth! Try scooping and finding the right dollars for change in the dark! The night ended with my local firefighters, who were luckily part of the event, using their halogen lights atop their extended ladder pointed at my booth. Blinding! But also very helpful... and more than a little embarrassing.
Outside of the now obvious questions such as start and end time of the event, I've learned there are some other rather important questions you need to ask your event organizer when they first call you up or you reach out to them about inclusion at their gigs.
1. How many attendees are expected based on previous years' headcounts?
You need to know how much ice to bring and how much to expect to earn.
2. Is there electric (if you need it)?
3. Any other frozen dessert vendors? If so, will you be close to each other? Competition can hamper sales and this needs to be taken into account when facing an event fee. Is it worth it?
4. Can you leave early if you sell out? Not a common question, but I got this from an ice cream vendor who told me to prepare for being stuck at a certain event if I sold out, because the organizers didn't want any vehicle traffic where there were pedestrians, for safety, until the end of the event. He had to spend a few hours doing nothing.
5. How much is the event fee or profit share percentage?
6. What happens in event of rain? Do they cancel or have a raindate? This is important, as the raindate may interfere with another event you've booked. Or worse, you'll be committed to selling in the rain. How will you handle that situation if (or rather, when) it occurs?
7. What if weather affects sales - can flat fee be reduced? If possible, you have to minimize risk when paying a flat fee for an event. Negotiate this one. The risk disappears with profit sharing.
8.. Is there a refund in case event is cancelled by organizers, under what circumstances? Make sure everyone is on same page when it comes to fees.
9. Do you require proof of insurance and to be listed as additional insured?
10. Who is the contact (and what is cell #) for day of event, in case of unforeseen issues/emergencies?
I still consider myself a newbie Italian Ice vendor. So, I have yet to come across all the questions to ask and lessons to learn. The ones above are some of the basics, but I'm sure there are more. How about you? All you experienced vendors, what other questions would you add to this list?
|Posted by Lilly on June 16, 2014 at 7:55 AM||comments (4)|
In my second full year of selling italian Ice, I am finding there's no shortage of learning when it comes to becoming more efficient. Recently, I faced a frustrating inventory issue that was driving me crazy. After every event, I would repeatedly return with half tubs of Italian ice. Half tubs stink!
For starters, there's nothing nicer than starting out a selling session with beautiful, untouched full tubs of Italian Ice. It's a great presentation. But starting your day with half tubs, especially if customers can peek inside your cooler or cart, looks like... well... leftovers. And essentially they are. But to the vendor, they are still income. Next gripe, they make a mess of your freezer organization and inventory management. You end up with a mix of full tubs and half tubs. And when stacked on top of each other inside a chest freezer, you then have ongoing, back-breaking sessions of lifting tubs off each other to see what you have to get rid of at your next event. And lastly, at that upcoming next event, you now have to take both those hated half tubs plus full tubs as backup, since, of course, you will empty those half tubs very quickly.
Here's where I'd get snagged in the past. I used to take my most
popular flavors, and also take backup of those flavors. I figured, when
I sold out of the favorite flavors, I could just refill those flavors
from backup tubs, keep my menu board full and pretty, and keep my
customers happy with choices. Well, it quickly backfired on me, having
to later lug half empty tubs back to the freezer.
Now for the lesson I learned rather late. (For all you vendors much smarter than me, you can move on to the forums now, or go post some beautiful photos of your perfect operations in the gallery. This blog post is not for you.) At my last big event, I tried out a different scheme. I considered the number of hours the event would last. Knowing I can scoop about a tub per hour alone and two tubs if I have a helper, I decided to take only the number of full tubs I expected to sell, plus two for backup, in case we did well.
During that event, I implemented tried-and-true psychological marketing, which I share with you now! The SOLD OUT trick! When I sold out of a favorite flavor, I did not restock it. Instead I removed the flavor from the menu, announced that we sold out of that flavor and only had the listed flavors remaining. It's amazing what happened next! The line grew! People freaked out! The Scarcity Principle kicked into high gear. They moved on to their second favorite flavor. I never even considered that people were so flexible with Italian Ice. Turns out they love more than one flavor, and I could steer them like a school of fish in whichever direction the flavor current moved! When mango sold out, they switched to Captain America (red, white and blue). When The Captain sailed, they moved to cherry. When cherry went and there were only scrapings of lemon, they took that too! And when I brought out backstock of blueberry, rock solid and couldn't even be scooped, they demanded it! It didn't matter if I took the flavor off the board - the customers could still see it in my cooler and that it was a full tub of Italian Ice. They wanted it like vultures want roadkill. And still my line grew.
By the time the event was ending and fireworks starting, my line was huge, and we just scooped blueberry, cup after endless cup. I yelled out that all we had was blueberry, hoping to thin the line, but nothing changed. I then yelled out that the frozen yogurt vendor had slashed prices in half, and we lost a few customers. But then they returned! It turned out the froyo was one small scoop of vanilla only at $2.00, down from $4.00 - not near the bargain we offered at a very full cup of refreshing blueberry Italian Ice for $3. To end the story, we sold out of eight tubs of Italian Ice in 3.5 hours.
Not a single half tub went home. Can I get an AMEN?!
|Posted by Lilly on March 19, 2014 at 11:30 AM||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. ;))
|Posted by Lilly on August 8, 2013 at 12:05 AM||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.
Like I said... Oh, what a night!
|Posted by Lilly on July 20, 2013 at 12:55 AM||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.
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!
|Posted by Lilly on June 26, 2013 at 8:35 AM||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.
|Posted by Lilly on May 28, 2013 at 8:35 AM||comments (7)|
"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!
|Posted by Lilly on May 20, 2013 at 8:45 PM||comments (4)|
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.