|Posted by Lilly on May 20, 2013 at 8:45 PM||comments (0)|
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.
|Posted by Lilly on April 25, 2013 at 9:55 AM||comments (5)|
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.
|Posted by Lilly on April 10, 2013 at 11:45 AM||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!
|Posted by Lilly on March 5, 2013 at 8:10 AM||comments (0)|
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.
|Posted by Lilly on February 26, 2013 at 8:35 AM||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:
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:
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.
|Posted by Lilly on February 20, 2013 at 6:15 AM||comments (2)|
Have you been thinking about starting your own Italian Ice business, but you're not quite sure if you have what it takes? Maybe you just want to know if this business is something you'd enjoy, totally hate or even make money at. Or quite possibly, you just don't have the required $3000 to $6000 to get started, but you don't want that to stop you! How can you start or try the business on the cheap? Here are three ways you may not have thought of.
1. Rent Your Equipment
There are companies which will rent you pushcarts, the mobile sinks and even the chest freezers. This may be a viable option for selling at private events (parties, catering and such). You could also use this method for temporary events, those 1-14 day festivals, where you get licensed under the event temporarily. There's no issue of commissary here because the event host acts as your commissary for the duration. And sinks and electric, if needed, can usually also be provided. What you would need to shell out money for is event participation, Italian Ice inventory, cart transportation, supplies, insurance, possibly a tent and a few other essentials.
If you attempted to rent equipment for a more longterm and/or public business (meaning, not for one-day or temporary events), say an ongoing farmer's market or in a mobile food court, you'd have the problem of licensing from your Health Department, as they won't know who the rightful owner of the cart is. And that entangles a third party, plus the possibility of equipment switches with unlicensed carts (however, it never hurts to ask and you could try passing off the rented equipment as your own, which is fun for those who like risk!). Other expenses of an Italian Ice business, such as commissary and permanent insurance, would come into play. There are those vendors who sell Italian Ice without first going through their Health Department licensing. If you were to be one of those, then renting could be a real option. I don't advocate dishonesty, but if you need to start out this way, then simply starting may be your most important consideration. When cash flow begins to change for the better, then buy your own cart and get it licensed immediately.
2.5 Work With Another Vendor (2 ways)
Search online for other mobile Italian Ice businesses (or check out our Vendor Directory). Vendors around you may have multiple carts, not all of which are being used at the same time. You can explain your desire to start your own Italian Ice business. And don't be nervous - ice vendors enjoy helping others and sharing knowledge. See if this vendor would be willing to do one of two things:
Benefits of this partnership are that you get to work the business firsthand and quickly. You don't have to first spend months researching, branding and marketing your Italian Ice business. Additionally, health departments really license the carts, more than the people. Unless your area requires a Food Handler's Permit, the cart you're renting or running sales from will have a license sticker obtained by the vendor. That's something else you don't have to worry about. If you do require a Food Handler's Permit, then the cost of that is around $100 to $200, typically. Finally, you have no inventory to buy or store. As to supplies, the vendor will likely include those for you and calculate that into the agreed split amount. If you rent the cart, you'll need to spend money transporting the cart, buy Italian Ice inventory, plus a freezer, supplies and licensing fees. The Health Department knowing that you're using an already-licensed and inspected cart, under another vendor's business, could help you bypass the commissary issue in that you may be able to use the vendor's commissary, as well.
3.5 Partner with a Brick & Mortar Store
Most physical Italian Ice stores do not have mobile operations, which my research shows is a more profitable business model. See if they may be willing to buy your equipment for you with an arrangement that you sell their ice exclusively. This expands their geographical sales, visibility in the community and marketing while getting you on your business feet. A potential legal agreement should state that at the end of some set term (a certain amount in profit reached), the cart becomes yours. It could be a rent-to-own contract, with extendable terms that you may or may not sell their ice thereafter. Ideally you'd like to get your name on the mobile business. Bring in a partner and see about buying two carts. However, I'd expect a physical store learning how profitable a mobile Italian Ice cart is would want to add/keep that aspect to their business after the contract. You may gain a competitor. But anything can be negotiated when two parties have much to gain. In this scenario, you don't even have to purchase inventory! You just buy what you need for each event from the store. They'd also provide their branded cups, serveware and needed storage. Again, you would be an independent contractor to preserve your own rights to sell when and where you want. Perhaps, best of all, you'd have a built-in commissary, which is by far the hardest part of an Italian Ice business to put together.
You may ask, "Why wouldn't they just take my idea and do it on their own?" They could. But they hadn't come up with the idea yet, and if they attempt it, they'd need to dedicate another employee to the mobile business, which is a bit of a nightmare for them. Think placing an ad for someone willing to transport a cart (with whose vehicle?), interviewing, hiring, training, liability and business insurance. You are an able-bodied, willing business partner, immediately ready to start this up and also willing to assume all of the risk. You'll need to give consideration to insuring the cart and carrying your part of the business, but the store would likely add you to their liability policy as it relates to product (getting people sick).
4.5 The Ameri-CAN Way!
I hate to say this, because I'm a cash-girl, myself. But, if you are so strapped that you need to start an Italian Ice business for the relief it will provide you and your family, then by all means FINANCE the equipment! Many pushcart manufacturers and businesses offering packages offer financing. Getting credit extended for the mere $3000 to $6000 isn't difficult, even for those with poor credit, as it's not considered a large purchase. Your monthly payments would be very low, keeping your overall startup costs under $1000 for the remainder of what you'll need.
Give it a go!
How interested are you in renting a cart and other equipment? I've begun a small list of companies providing rental services. Does anyone want this posted? And what about other ideas? Got any? Share your thoughts in the comments.
|Posted by Lilly on February 14, 2013 at 4:05 AM||comments (2)|
Last Spring, I wasn't two steps into starting up my Italian Ice business when the unexpected happened. I was searching for a commissary, and I thought it wise of me to ask local churches and synagogues with kitchen space whether they'd partner up with me as my commissary. Shortly after receiving a rejection email from one organization, their contact person turned right around and asked me if I would donate tubs of Italian Ice to their annual 5k event. Interestingly (and quite clever), she mentioned that the local Rita's had already committed to one tub. Well, naive, anxious and not to be outdone, I found myself committing enthusiastically for TWO tubs of Italian Ice. In return, she promised, I would get free advertising exposure in their 5k marketing flyer. At the time, I thought it was a wonderful opportunity! A year later, a year wiser and more jaded, I view it very differently. Let me explain.
On the day of the event, I loaded their two selected Italian Ice flavors into a marine cooler to take over to their event, at 8:00 am on a Saturday morning. First, the entire point of becoming an Italian Ice vendor is to run by my own rules and my own hours. Typically I won't sell until 11:00am when it gets good and hot and I've enjoyed sleeping in. Already, bleary-eyed, I was not as enthusiastic as when I'd made the commitment.
Next, upon arriving at the event, there were tons of people and volunteers, but my contact was nowhere in sight. I asked random people to lead me to her, but in the end I never met her. A kind soul took me to the kitchen freezers where I dropped off my Italian Ice. Nevermind that their kitchen and walk-in freezer was huge and state-of-the-art! The freezer shelves were empty. And yet, they'd declined my request for a commissary. Yeah, that got to me.
About two weeks later, I got a a thank-you email from an unknown party for that organization, informing me that my Italian Ice was a hit and that it was gone after one hour of continuous scooping. What I didn't get, however, was any proof of that advertising they'd promised. Nor did I receive any letter formally detailing my donation, so that I could write it off on the following year's business taxes.
So, what did I learn that I now share with you, dear readers?
in the end, I learned, and I'm more business savvy. And I'm certainly not opposed to donating and helping organizations out... on my terms. So, how about you? Do you have any lessons learned from times when you were asked to donate Italian Ice to an organization's event? I'd love you to share them with us in the comments.
|Posted by Lilly on February 11, 2013 at 8:10 AM||comments (4)|
So, let me first state... I'm lazy. You should know this about me. I make no excuses. However, it drives my thinking to always hunt down the easiest, most profitable way of doing anything with the least amount of effort. For instance, I'm only offering One Size/One Price in my Italian Ice business. I don't care to have to stock or transport more than one size of cup or deal with different prices or making change. Another example, my Italian Ice wholesaler and my commissary are on the same block. Two birds, one stone. It is with this mentality that I was thinking how I can institute a fundraising program to have in place for this Spring with local elementary schools.
I researched fundraising and ice cream, the well known frozen dessert offering when it comes to young kids. And sure enough, I found programs from Ben & Jerry's and Baskin Robbins, along with some small-time businesses. They all propose a "we-come-to-you-and-scoop" program, whereby the school selects a few flavors of ice cream, and an employee or owner of an ice cream business comes with the ice cream, dishers (scoops), cups, napkins, sometimes toppings and coolers to keep the ice cream cold. For this service, they charge a per person fee usually around $3.00. Some businesses impose minimums to keep the event profitable, for instance $350 (which equates to roughly 116 kids in this example. Now, the school gets a percentage of the sales. This can range anywhere from 10% to 25%. I didn't find any that offered a higher percentage back. So, out came my trusty calculator (it really is trusty! I've had it since college!)
Number of kids/servings: 116
Price per kid: $3.00
Sales revenue generated: $348
School cut @ 10%: $34.80 Vendor cut @ 90%: $313.20
School cut @ 25%: $87.00 Vendor cut @ 75%: $261.00
(*Note: I'm not including sales tax, because each state handles the issue of a school's sales tax exemption differently, whether buying or selling.)
I have heard some vendors balk at splitting any sales revenue at 25% with another entity, as most want to make as much money for their effort as possible. So they will only work with schools or organizations willing to accept lower split percentages. But schools, on the other end, are tight-budgeted and increasingly must bring in their own funds to support their activities. So they will only work with vendors willing to split a higher percentage. This is what's known as a lose-lose situation.
In comes the lazy vendor... that's me! I don't want to drag around heavy tubs of ice or boxes of cups, spoons and napkins. Heck, I don't even want to scoop! I most certainly don't want to set up an event or have to clean it up afterwards, losing hours in my day (or my entire day) to host one of these fundraisers. And I don't want to split anything with another business anymore than the next vendor, if I can help it. But there might just be a way for everyone to be happy.
It's not really fundraising at all. What if I simply become a delivery person? I sell my tubs of Italian Ice at my retail price of $32 to elementary schools. I have them advertise, handle all the orders and collections, set up, clean up and scoop, also providing their own cups, napkins and spoons. I get the school to set up a weekly, biweekly or monthly purchasing program. They can select from among any of my 40 flavors (not just the usual two flavors offered in traditional fundraising events). They will have to buy no less than 2 tubs in order to serve up to 90 kids, so that will be my minimum to make it worth me delivering, considering fuel expenses and wear and tear on my vehicle. However, for the sake of an apples-to-apples comparison, let's say they buy three tubs of ice to get as close to the 116-kid scenario above.
Number of kids/servings: 135
Cost of Italian Ice Tubs/3 tubs (a.k.a. Vendor Revenue): $96.00
Price per kid: $2.00 (Italian Ice is cheaper than ice cream)
School Sales revenue generated: $270.00
School Sales revenue minus cost of Ice: $174.00
Now, before you say "That's the worst idea I ever heard! You only make $96, where the other way you make $313!", consider this... I spent at most 15 minutes to make that $96.00, simply the time for delivery. First of all, I ask, where can you make $96 revenue in 15 minutes... legally? A traditional event would cost me hours of work, no matter how much I keep for myself in the fundraiser. Whether $261 or $313, the usual amount of time needed for a typical event is 1-3 hours, the lower number possible only if you have another scooper with you (who you have to pay), because it's physically impossible to scoop that many cups fast enough, if working alone. Now what do I do? I head over to another school that I set up on the program too. I figure with good use of Google mapping, I can make four deliveries in an hour. At my minimum of two tubs each, I can bring in $256 per hour in revenue, just dropping off buckets of Italian Ice. And there are WAY many more elementary schools around me than that.
Increasing the number of tubs to three per school, I generate $384. Still no scooping... no set up... no clean up... and no hiring workers. And the schools around me have an average of 500 to 1000 kids each. Those three tubs, as we saw in our example above, only covers 135 students. I expect many more kids to buy "water ice" on the days the school holds the event, which means the numbers I just provided are bare minimums. I feel like madman Vizzini in Princess Bride yelling, "Wait till I get going!" I've only worked one hour, making easy deliveries! I could go on to another four schools in the second hour, doubling my revenue to $768! And so far, this is only one day! What could that generate in a week? A month? And finally, for all this I've spent two hours in the morning on a weekday. Schools will want those deliveries made before their cafeteria crew arrives to begin lunch. So, that still leaves me with my entire day ahead to do as I please (whether that be nap - remember I'm lazy - or go sell Italian ice some other place).
Did you notice how much more the schools make by use of this program than the old way? That is an incentive for them to join the program. Also, for them, it's exceptionally easy to get parents to volunteer to scoop the ice on "Italian Ice Day!". So they can scoop to 500+ kids without the logistical headache that it would cause me! And the cherry on top (pardon the ice cream pun) is that this program can be run without any Health Department interference or license of any kind and no need for commissary, because there is no scooping or even opening product. All of this, my friends, is what's known as a win-win situation.
|Posted by Lilly on January 31, 2013 at 6:45 PM||comments (0)|
One of the sweetest statements you will ever read begins like this: "[Such and such] is pleased to inform you that you have been approved...". And so began the lettter I received yesterday from my Health Department informing me that I had been approved as a retail food entity within my county. The only part left of this 2-step licensing process will be to have my pushcart physically inspected for compliance in early Spring.
However, the Health Department is rarely so benevolent or devoid of restrictions. It turns out, on page two of the letter, that my approval is conditional. Most of the conditions are easy enough to abide by. They are:
I was a bit surprised by that last one, since it was the first mention that I might need to obtain what is known as a Food Handler's Permit. Here's what I learned and what you need to know about this often-required certification/permit.
What is it?
It is yet another permit that you may be required to obtain before you can begin selling Italian Ice. This certificate shows the Health Department that you, or one of your workers, has had formal instruction in proper methods to ensure that you won't get your customers or employees sick via unclean hand or utensil washing, improper serving practices, poor food handling and a host of other ways.
Course & Testing
The course will go over the correct, hygienic ways to wash your hands, sanitize your utensils and other serving equipment, as well as how to properly serve your customers their food. It will go over safe food temperatures and avoidance of cross contamination. You will learn the hows and whys of working with and serving food, not that Italian Ice carries many inherent dangers, but worker practices can contribute to contamination. Here is a list of topics covered in the course:
Upon completion of the course, you will take a test. If you successfully pass the test, you'll be given your permit to then take to your local Health Department as part of their licensing procedure. Certification can last anywhere from one to five years, depending on your Health Department rules, at which time you will need to retake the course and exam to be recertified. It's important to realize that, though the Health Department requires this permit, you will be financially responsible to cover all class and the testing fees. Again, depending on your Health Department's rules, you may have to get more than one person in your Italian Ice operation certified as a Food Handler, and one certified person will likely be required on-site for every shift of work.
Where to get it?
So how do you go about starting this process? Well, first go to your own Health Department and inquire about whether you need this permit at all. If you can convince them that you sell no potentially hazardous food, you might not need to obtain this certificate. But if you do, your Health Department will provide you a list of course locations or certified trainers.
So what if you get your Food Handler's permit in your own county, but you later want to attend an event on the other side of your state? Would you be required to get another Food Handler's permit for that specific county? Don't assume that you would automatically be able to enter that other event. This is where you need to educate yourself about reciprocity. Simply stated, reciprocity means that the approved food handler's permit you hold may be accepted by other Health Department jurisdictions and locales. If so, no additional permit would be required. Some states do have statewide reciprocity (Texas, for instance). And other states are toying with the idea. However, it is uncertain whether all states do, so you'll need to make a call to your local Health Department.
What to Watch Out For
There are many online commercial courses and testing sites that would love for you to buy their courses, only for you to find out later that they are not authorized or accepted by your local Health Department. This is why, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it's so important to go to your own Health Department first and get their list of accredited trainers and course locations.
Finally there's this lovely thing called an exemption, also called a waiver. It's not offered by all Health Departments, but it's always worth a try. By requesting and filling out a simple form, you can ask that you and your Italian Ice workers be exempt from having to obtain the Food Handler's permit. If you can show why you shouldn't have to get this permit, usually because you don't sell any potentially hazardous foods or that you can implement safe alternative practices, you may be able to avoid all this and just get selling! Be sure to ask your HD for this possibility, as they usually won't just offer it to you.
Here's your chance to share your knowledge with us. Have you found that your county, town, or state requires a Food Handler's Permit, or had you even known about this before? What are some ways you can get around it? Some vendors just need to have more than one disher on board their cart, extra dishers and/or must wear gloves while serving to avoid the permit.
|Posted by Lilly on December 27, 2012 at 5:25 PM||comments (2)|
If you've followed this blog, you know that I've experienced a number of hurdles when it's come to my local health department and getting my coveted license. If you haven't followed along, a quick synopsis goes like this: got HD pre-approval for my cart this past summer, bought custom cart, found commissary, submitted HD plan review, lost commissary, didn't get license, couldn't open shop. Though I managed to find another commissary, this occurred in August, too late to resubmit a plan review revision and schedule a physical inspection with enough time to sell ice before our chilly Fall weather arrived.
During the following months, I stepped back from the ice business and concentrated on parenting, and more recently on house hunting. However, in setting next year's goals and breaking them out month by month, I realized that, in order to be ready for next season, I needed to get moving on putting my inspection and licensing back on track. So, last week, I scheduled a face-to-face with one of the Health Department employees. I'd been working with the supervisor and had been avoiding this one particular employee, simply because I didn't know her and got the impression she was a stickler. The supervisor, in contrast, had been very helpful and pleasant to work with. But, I had no time to be picky. And really I just needed answers to a few plan review issues they'd brought up and to determine whether I could approach my business differently and what effect that would have on my licensing. In essence, it was a simple fact-finding mission to help me plot out how to proceed from this stuck place I was in.
But Christmas came early for me that day! When we met, this employee was thoroughly prepared, with my original plan review in front of her. More than heading me in the right direction, she actually held my hand, had me revise my plan in front of her, initial all the changes, told me to just email her the new commissary documents when I got home, informed me that within two weeks all should be approved and we'd schedule cart inspection for next Spring so that my annual license date would kick in then and not now in the heart of winter. Then she sent me quite happily on my way!
Sometimes, I'm just due for a miracle. And there it was! In a 10-minute meeting, I moved about two months forward in achieving my goals. If you take anything away from this story, I hope it will be: DON'T. GIVE. UP. Do take steps backward if you need to reorganize your thoughts or rebuild your morale. But then, keep knocking on doors and asking for answers and help. Finding a commissary and getting your HD license are the two hardest steps to starting an Italian Ice vending business. If I FINALLY did it, so can you!
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL! MAY IT BE THE BEST ONE EVER!