|Posted by Lilly on November 1, 2016 at 6:30 AM||comments (1)|
Inventive Uses of Coolers
As I've explained in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, coolers truly are a viable and affordable way to start an Italian Ice business. And there are many vendors using them as alternatives to carts. But the coolers mentioned in earlier articles do have their limits. The insulated walls on those coolers are only about an inch thick, sometimes less. The thickness of the plastic and insulation will determine how well a cooler will keep items cold, and in our case, frozen. Yes, there are tricks to lengthening cooling time, like adding dry ice or styrofoam. But what do you do when you get an event that lasts all day, say 8 hours. One workaround I've used is storing backup Italian Ice in separate coolers under the serving tables, with reuseable cold packs inside. Depending on the event, I store between two to four more tubs of Italian Ice ready to replenish the main serving coolers as we sell out of flavors. Since these backup coolers are not opened until that ice is needed, the Italian Ice stays utterly solid for many, many hours. If even more cooling time is needed, they can be wrapped with freezer blankets. But ultimately over time, if longer events become a vendor's norm, it may make more sense to upgrade to what I call dream coolers.
Industrial Grade Coolers
Built like mini non-refrigerated carts, rugged, upgraded coolers have insulation and wall depths that far surpass simple marine coolers and stand in a class - and price range - of their own. Sporting two to three inches of insulation, these coolers are solid! And that dense insulation sits between even denser rotomolded plastic formed in one seamless piece. The plastic walls are then filled with up to three full inches of pressure-injected commercial grade polyurethane foam in the walls and lid, about the same wall thickness as a stainless steel cart! We're talking about at least triple thermal insulation capacity than regular marine coolers!
Yeti Cooler Construction Cross Section
Coupled with freezer-like gaskets on the lid, you can consider them little portable freezers that don't require electricity. They have locks to keep contents safe and some are even designed and tested to handle the likes of a grizzly bear.
They can be made even cooler, if it's possible, by slapping on your own custom logo, which a few cooler manufacturers offer.
As to which size is right for your tubs, always look at the interior dimensions of a cooler and figure out how many Italian Ice tubs can fit inside. Here's a little graphic I made using Yeti cooler dimensions to give you an idea. My 2.5 gallon Italian Ice buckets are 10.25 inches tall and 9 inches around at the top, where it's widest.
Yeti Coolers Dimensions Chart
Coolers in a Food Truck?
So why do I call these my dream coolers? Well, let me share with you my vision. I have been called to attend events where they really preferred a truck to show up. It lends a trendy vibe to any event these days, with the popularity of the food truck craze. So trucks are more in demand and that's expected to continue. With a truck, I could expand sales into parks and neighborhoods the same way your local ice cream truck vendor does every summer afternoon. It would get me in and out of events easily, with no set up and take down. It shelters me from rain and eliminates hassles on a windy day. And it would provide two huge sides of billboard space for advertising my business.
Now, most mobile food truck vendors permanently install freezers into their trucks. Or they simply set a residential chest freezer inside, with no wheels. And this limits the ability to set up as a booth if an event calls for it, such as in a school courtyard or a convention hall. And frankly, sometimes there are events where it's nice to be "in the crowd", close to the customers, especially kids - they love to see the operation and the colorful flavors closeup. It creates this sort of feeding frenzy, whereas a truck window blocks that off - though, I agree, this can be a good thing too sometimes. So my thinking is, if I can lasso all the events, inside a building or outside in a booth or in a truck, then that stretches my dollars and makes smarter business sense, to me. Portable coolers and a portable sink with wheels allow me to load and unload my truck to use my equipment in all possible ways.
High end coolers, especially inside a truck, will hold Italian Ice for far longer than I would need, without heavy refrigeration equipment and no mechanical parts or compressors to fix when they break down. And I can forget all about needing a generator to run the freezers, along with the gas and the space that would eat up. I figure with three of these coolers, I can serve nine flavors of Italian Ice at once for about the same cost as a standard Italian Ice cart, which allows a vendor to offer only four flavors. Using coolers instead of freezers also conveniently eliminates expensive labor and materials costs of building a custom food truck. I can buy any high roof vehicle, not requiring any additional work except maybe adding D-rings to keep the coolers from shifting while driving, and use my saved money toward some spectacular vehicle graphics.
Industrial Cooler Brands
These coolers are currently trending, and the following brands are the heavy hitters right now. Yeti is probably the most well known today, but I expect lots of new competition to jump on this bandwagon after seeing Yeti's incredible success.
So, do you think I'm crazy? Has the idea of these coolers, or using coolers in general, piqued your interest or opened up a new possibility for you? Let me know in the comments. And look for the next article in this series where I'll go over how to use coolers to sell Italian Ice under varying conditions, tips, tricks and lots of things learned over the years.
|Posted by Lilly on October 22, 2016 at 6:05 AM||comments (0)|
Custom Italian Ice Kiosk Using Coolers
Welcome to Part 2 of "A Cooler World", where we discuss selling Italian Ice in a unique and more affordable way, by using coolers rather than a cart, trailer or truck. In Part 1, I introduced the idea, which I can't take credit for, when I stumbled onto the country's biggest Italian Ice franchise company doing it. Before we move on, I must stress that this option is really only viable for you if your Health Department is okay with it. Many Health Departments simply require that what you serve from is non-porous and can be sanitized. But some require it to be NSF rated. As I often recommend, you can ask for a waiver. Show them you can clean the units according to their requirements, and you may get a pass.
The Whys of Using Coolers
As the years went by and I gained experience, I found I needed coolers that could hold up to longer events and hotter days than my rolling party coolers. There's no denying global warming - I've certainly noticed an increase over the years in the number of days where temps in my area have reached the high 90s with an even hotter heat index. The rolling coolers I use are black with relatively little insulation, so I had a few events where the ice melted to the point of not being sellable by the end. Without any added insulation, I would say they hold temp great up to 4 hours. I began to need better performance. This led me to marine coolers.
Marine coolers work so well as an alternative to carts for a number of reasons. They are easily portable. They can be set up in a more efficient configuration, off to your side with a serving table in front of you. A split setup allows for two workers to scoop at the same time leading to much more revenue per hour. They're so much cheaper and let you to start your business faster and expand quickly when you need to. Got a call to sell at two different locations at a big soccer tournament? Easy, buy two more coolers, another tent and a couple tables and you're set to double your income! Or better yet, get central placement at an event, and with just two more coolers, you can sell from two sides of one tent or booth! They are also very easy to clean. And they stack up neatly for storage, say in a basement. Try doing that with your cart!
Bustling Italian Ice Kiosk Using Coolers
Marine coolers are named for their intended use by fisherman who sit on boats for long hours and need both cold drinks for themselves and a place to store their catches - hopefully not in the same cooler! They are constructed more durably, with higher plastic density and thicker foam between the plastic layers than what you find on cheaper coolers designed for a day at the park or beach. This makes them rugged, slightly heavier and also able to store cold or frozen products for days. They are sold as 5-, 7-, and 10-day coolers, designated by how many days they can keep ice cubes frozen. It's not an exact science for us Italian Ice vendors, however. And price isn't the best indicator of which cooler is better. The units I use are white Igloo brand 5-day marine coolers. White keeps ice frozen longer by reflecting sunlight. It also makes for a clean looking operation. But I have two kinds of these Igloo coolers. One has a thinner frame with a capacity of 54 quarts. And the other is a 5-day with capacity of 70 quarts. I would appear that their only difference is size, but the larger ones are also thicker and much better made. The lids on the 70 qt. lids close so snugly by suction that we sometimes have to pry them open, but that's a good thing as it keeps warm air out very well. Sadly, both of these sizes only hold two tubs of Italian Ice (2.5 gallon round tubs). On the plus side, though, they do both hold reuseable Italian Ice cold plates. So, I use the smaller cooler for events lasting 3 to 5 hours and the bigger coolers for longer and/or hotter events, lasting from 4 to 6+ hours. Of course, if I'm new to an event and unsure of how sales will go, I always take the 70 qt. coolers to be safe. Here are those coolers for you to check out:
Igloo Marine Cooler 54 Quart
Igloo Marine Cooler 70 Quart
This cooler has a much thicker lid and does not have a latch, which is one less part that could break off.
There are a bunch of similar models by Coleman and Rubbermaid. But before you make a purchase, there are a few important things to keep in mind. Using 2.5 gallon tubs for my Italian Ice, I needed to be aware of inside dimensions of coolers when I was shopping. I measured my tubs and memorized those numbers. I found that 54 quart Igloo was the smallest I could use to fit two tubs of Italian Ice. The right size for holding three tubs is around 80 quarts or larger. But some coolers have fat or strangely shaped lids and won't close properly, even though the tubs sit side by side nicely. And some coolers that have wheels will not fit Italian Ice tubs because the wheel housing cuts into the interior space at the base of the cooler. So, just know your tub dimensions very well.
Something else to consider is the size and weight of the coolers. Though I would ideally like to have a 80 quart cooler or larger that might hold three tubs, a fully loaded cooler is a beast to carry. I can do it by myself if I'm willing to sacrifice a few subsequent days in agony. So we usually move the coolers by having a person on either side carrying a handle and sharing the weight. Some smarty pants must have been thinking about this same issue because I just ran across this larger rolling marine cooler with a handle! I see another purchase in my future.
If you're considering using coolers for your operation, I hope I've provided enough images of other vendors doing it to give you the courage to consider it. If money is an object or if you're not sure Italian Ice is your calling, coolers are an affordable way to start in this business. Let me know your thoughts and/or concerns in the comments section. And stay tuned for the next exciting post in the "A Cooler World" series, where I'll share with you my dream coolers, the ones I am all ready to buy if I ever get a truck.
|Posted by Lilly on October 17, 2016 at 3:55 PM||comments (4)|
Rita's Serving Italian Ice at Baseball Field
On this site, it's common knowledge that I don't always do things traditionally. I like to experiment - new products, new methods, new ideas. In one instance, I stumbled onto a different and much cheaper and effective method for selling Italian Ice that works for me. Maybe it will work for you. In my first year, I found myself at a park with my kids, and a local Rita's franchise operation had a spot with a table where they were selling Italian Ice. Rita's, if you don't know, is the largest franchise of Italian Ice, and there's a good chance you will encounter one soon if you haven't yet. What struck me as odd was that they weren't using carts. In fact, even odder they weren't using some solidly constructed marine grade coolers! They were using beverage coolers! You know, the round orange coolers that you associate with little league games and Gatorade.
Italian Ice Served from Beverage Coolers at Event
Rita's Italian Ice Beverage Coolers
For much of that year, I had been grappling with how I was going to take my new, custom-made very heavy stainless steel cart back and forth to events. When I saw the Rita's setup and those simple coolers which weren't even designed to keep products frozen, my mind went crazy! How could these work, I wondered? So I immediately went and bought one, slightly different, to test it out. Mine had an extendable handle and wheels, like luggage, which I knew would be so much easier to roll around than carrying heavy coolers with Italian Ice. I sacrificed one entire, unused tub of mango ice (a very soft and quick melter), giving it to my daughter for her all-day birthday party with her friends at a pool, followed by a sleepover. She was given strict instructions to report how the ice performed. Well, long story short, the ice stayed solid in 90 degree heat from 4pm until 8pm at the pool, still holding up perfectly at midnight when she said her friends raided it again. It was then I had a mental shift and began looking into the feasibility of using coolers to sell my ice. Since then, four years later, it is how I sell ice exclusively, relegating my poor unused cart to a corner of my driveway (yes, it bothers me, but...). I was able to buy a bunch of coolers affordably and fit them all inside my SUV, no problem, along with all the accessories - tent, cups, spoons, menu boards and banners. Easy peasy. And now there's no looking back.
Yes, there are a lot of variables to making it work on hot days. But I've managed to conquer those problems and handled with ease the hottest days this year and last. Granted, the events I attend are very busy with fast sales, so it helps. However, packaged right, the ice handled beautifully my few very hot and slow events too. I'll share with you those variables in a subsequent article. In this series I'll be going over this quick, easy alternative method to run an Italian Ice business and breaking out all your options, pros/cons and whys. For this Part I, I'll provide answers to the main question I get asked over and over. What coolers do I use?
Single Tub Beverage Cooler
I still use the little rolling Igloo beverage cooler, and it has held up unbelievably well all these years, considering its price and that we throw it around a lot. It has not let me down and just won't quit! I have three of these guys. I can vouch that it holds one round 2.5 gallon tub of Italian Ice perfectly. Uses include ice deliveries to homes and schools, storing back up ice for events, and it even doubles as a seat when needed!
Rolling Cooler Carts
For nicer and shorter events, I have a set of 77 qt. rolling coolers by Rio Brands, which hold three tubs of Italian Ice each, very comfortably with the lid closing properly. Using two of these coolers at events, I can offer customers six flavors. These coolers have also stood up to heavy use, for the most part. But, with age the white plastic inside has developed a few cracks where the lid repeatedly slams onto it as we open and close it. It's obviously not designed as a commercial Italian Ice serving station. However, I found a white epoxy that, when applied to the cracks, filled them and stopped further damage and is hardly noticeable. So maybe I'll get another four years of use out of them. A newer but pricey version has flip-up stainless shelves on the side, which essentially converts it into a cart with a place to hold cups and spoons, plus a lower shelf for more supplies. Here are a few models of the cooler carts - the third photo being my actual ice in my actual cooler (I have two black ones and two silver ones):
The benefits to using rolling cooler carts is that they are self-contained units. And if you use one that has a shelf below, you gain so much storage space for extra cups, spoons, napkins and even just a place to put your own drinks, phone, etc. The ease of rolling them around have made them indispensable when I've taken them to events where I had to move them to their setup location farther away from the parking lot. I've attended a number of events that were inside or required access through a building, and these were perfect. I load the top of them with additional "stuff" and just push or pull them along. Also, the coolers detach from their bases, and the base legs break down further, making this one efficient unit for saving space. This also allows the coolers to be used on tables by themselves.
Follow along in Part II, where I will discuss options in coolers that hold cold temperatures longer. I'll share exactly which units I use and give my advice for what to look for when shopping. If you're in the market, now is the perfect time to buy. The end of the summer season provides excellent sales and discounts on these units, so stock up!
|Posted by Lilly on March 17, 2016 at 4:40 PM||comments (8)|
If you're one of the uninitiated, you're going to love this! Every year Rita's, our biggest competitor, offers everyone a free small cup of their famous Italian ice on the First Day of Spring. This year that falls on Sunday, March 20th. It's a YUUUUGE event here in the Northeast! I'm talking long, long lines, no matter the outside temperature! If Rita's is new to you, it's worth it to go get a cup and sample their product. They are the leader, after all... must be doing something right.
As someone who has been attending this event for the past 4 years, I like to try any new flavor they might be testing. Of course, it's really that my kids would disown me if we didn't get some. The little traitors. But kidding aside (sort of), this year Rita's is launching a new line of All-Natural Italian Ice. I find this very interesting, as well as telling. I see a trend in Italian Ice, and desserts in general, that has it moving closer and closer to the original recipes, which started out with water, sugar and fruit. Not a terrible product. But many manufacturers these days slap in stabilizers and corn syrup along with lots and lots of preservatives... essentially goo. With the current state of health in our nation, many folks are searching for the least toxic treats for themselves and their little ones. For Rita's it's probably coming full circle offering something that may have been more like their original product anyway. For me, I'm a little apprehensive. I stood apart from Rita's ice with my very natural, less sugar-laden product - something I got rave reviews over. So I'll be interested in trying out this new line of natural ice and see how it compares to mine.
Here's more info. on that new, natural line, from PRNewsWire.com:
Rita's Italian Ice, the world's largest Italian Ice concept with more than 600 stores across the country, officially announced the debut of a new product, All-Natural Italian Ice. The new Italian Ice line extension is made with simple, natural ingredients and comes in four delicious flavors — Pineapple and Strawberry, which are available immediately in all open stores nationwide, as well as Banana and Orange, which will be available by March.
"Our guests have always appreciated that our Italian Ice is made fresh daily using quality ingredients, but they were still looking for a natural option that offers the same great taste they've come to expect from Rita's," said Robin Seward, chief marketing officer at Rita's Italian Ice. "For a brand committed to happiness, it was important to evolve our product to fit our fans' lifestyles. We think Rita's All-Natural Italian Ice is going to be a hit with our loyal fans and new fans to come."
If you make it out to the Free Ice event, come back and share with everyone what you got, and what you thought! Happy 1st Day of Spring!
|Posted by Lilly on November 8, 2015 at 8:55 AM||comments (3)|
It's that time of year again. The leaves are falling, the temps are dropping (at least for many of us), and all that falling and dropping has caused the same to happen to my Italian Ice sales. The end of my season is when I feel a strange bittersweet emotion. I get sad seeing lots of great outdoor Halloween and Fall type events in the area that I can't be a part of because it's just too cold for Italian Ice. I hate the drop in income. And I miss the liveliness of selling in summer.
On the flip side, however, I get a little giddy at the thought of not loading a car with heavy equipment and ice! Woohoo! And I get even more pumped when I start thinking of how to amp the business up for next year. What do I want to change about my booth? What product or service could I add to my business? Or how can I expand my reach into the community?
So, I decided that next season I will do a big postcard blitz reaching out to new surrounding schools, events and markets that I've left untapped. Done in a timely fashion, this could triple my business. I plan to send those postcards out by the end of February, and I'm toying with the idea of sending out a second, followup mailing for the beginning of May. The first push is to get in people's faces as they're getting weary of winter and thinking of summer. And the second is to remind them about me in case they forgot, just in time for their planning of mid-to-late summer or early fall events. I'm hoping it will also boost my graduation party package, where I simply set up of coolers of Italian Ice at their parties for just the cost of tubs plus a small cooler rental fee. It is easy money.
But what good would this postcard marketing effort be, attempting to send new customers to my website for more information and to book their event, if my website looks like poo?
So... first things first. I need to update my website. I looked over my primitive, just-started-my-ice-business website. I've had it for a couple of years, just sitting there. When I first created it, I had barely any images of fun events or even of my Italian Ice in actual cups. I wanted to get basic information on a site and made an attempt at color and interest, but perhaps I went overboard on the color. At any rate, I really needed to update the site, add more energy and give it a little hipness that matches my customers - typically young folks from elementary through high school, and their parents. What better time to get this done than right now when I have three solid months to complete it and then be ready for the postcard launch?
Websites can be daunting to create if you're either visually uncreative or lacking funds to hire a graphic designer. If you're both, it's even tougher. But thankfully there are a few, great online companies that make it easy. One is Webs.com. IcyProfits is actually a Webs.com site, and it's been great for me. When I began IcyProfits, I had very little website creation or administration experience. I'm thankful I found it. They have great templates where you can just drop in text and change out some images, and you're done. Here's one of their templates which is cute for us Italian Ice vendors.
But, even easier than Webs.com is another company named Wix.com. Their templates are extremely current and exciting. They look fresh and follow updated trends in website design, helping your site (and business) look modern. It has features that you can grow into, like a store (sell tubs of ice online?) and all kinds of fun social engagement widgets. My actual Italian Ice business site was made there. I ended up ditching their pre-made templates and creating my site from scratch... yes, scratch! It's that easy. It's not too bad for a few years ago and, remember, I knew almost nothing about websites. Wix's software makes it simple to get exactly the look you want! Here's my old site. It was a one-page, just-scroll-down site consisting of what I think are the most important information sections of a website related specifically to my business.
HOME - Logo, phone, email, what my company is/does.
ABOUT - More details about my company, my ice, and where I sell.
SERVICES - All my offerings, like catering and parties, etc.
FLAVORS - self explanatory.
FUNDRAISING - this part dedicated to more info about the bulk of my business.
CONTACT - I allow folks to reach me from my site directly by using a form.
While I'm sure some of you may think my old site was better than the new... here is the reveal of my updated site (still in progress). Again, I'm using Wix.com. Once I get it just right, I'll replace the site above. And then, from the new one, I'll use the same look and feel to create my postcards.
HOME - cool background images now shows customers enjoying my ice.
SERVICES - just a visual update with actual customers.
CUSTOMER LIST & TESTIMONIALS - new page which adds credibility and referrals to my business.
FUNDRAISING - updated images for this section.
CONTACT - still uses a form to get more booking info. from the customer.
Once again, I opted to use a one-page site. There are two reasons for doing so. One, I think it's a heck of a lot easier for a customer to just scroll and see everything I need to tell them. And two, I don't have to deal with creating new pages in my site, linking them or any menu bars. It's the simplest way to go. Down the road I may change that as I want to give more details and devote a page just for, say, catering. But right now, this works for me.
I wanted to show what was available to you in creating fast, attractive and effective websites, since now is a great time to start one, or edit one you already have. If you've been avoiding creating a website for cost or intimidiation, don't put it off any longer. Wix's software is so easy, just click, drag and drop stuff wherever you want. Check out their awesome templates here. And if you're still a little stuck, I am getting pretty good at it... give me a holler.
|Posted by Lilly on October 22, 2015 at 11:05 AM||comments (5)|
(myth fact graphic)
It seems we all start this Italian Ice business with an idea and a vision. The videos and photos we first see online shape what we believe the business will be like for us. And I'd love to see the numbers on how many of us got our first glimpse of the Italian Ice vendor's lifestyle through Little Jimmy's. In their videos, there are always happy vendors, happier customers, and long, long lines. Instant success.
Well, no discredit to Little Jimmy's, many of us do eventually get to that ice-in-the-sky moment. But it's high time to separate the fact from the fiction in this business, for all the newcomers. The myths are the following bill of goods:
1. Weather will always be sunny and warm on selling days. Expect balmy 75 degree temps, light winds and clear skies.
Truth: my second gig out started beautiful, though cool around 72. When it warmed up as the day progressed, however, an unexpected dark cloud came over the venue and it began to pour - not called for in forecast! My tent saved the day, but I realizedside panels for my tent would be a wise investment as I lost napkins and other gear to rain water. And sunny days can also turn on you, if the heat warms the ice too quickly, or you get a sunburn on one side of your face!
2. You can start this business fast.
In truth, four years later, I am still trying to get the business to the level I thought would take only two years to do. Blame the Health Department for holding me back a year. And blame my slack marketing efforts for another year when I thought word-of-mouth was taking off and stopped creating and sending mailers!
3. You can sell everywhere.
Actually, you can't. Those parks and tourist spots you're eyeballing require permits granted by the city. And all those are highly competitive venues. In New York, the waitlist could be years. In time you learn that there are better places to sell than the ones you thought you would at first.
4. The best time to sell is between 12pm and 3pm.
One thing I've learned is that this time slot competes for food, not dessert. People buy pizza and hotdogs by the pound at these hours. Hunger is not conducive to Italian Ice. Where I live and sell, the crowd loves water ice as an after lunch or dinner treat. So, for me, it's been between 3pm and 9pm that I've consistently had my biggest selling days. Take heart, those of you with jobs! This makes selling Italian Ice a great part-time job after hours.
5. This business is easy!
Actually, it's a lot (and I mean a lot) of hard, backbreaking labor. Nothing, except the scoop, is light. Tubs of ice at their smallest size of 2.5 gallons are heavy, and extremely cold to your hands. The pushcart is heavy, the umbrella can be heavy, even portable coolers, once filled, are heavy. Be ready to gain some muscle and a backache. Long lines are demanding, and there's no chance of a bathroom break, so limit your fluid intake! Customers can be picky or uncertain, and patience is a virtue in this business.
6. You can be in and out of an event, making a killing.
Not so fast! You know the old adage... time is money? Packing your vehicle with all the equipment and inventory is time consuming and must be factored in. At the end of events, you may be the last one to leave. Besides the inevitable final customers who run to your booth as they see you packing up, all that equipment and inventory must again be packed for your return home. And once home, you have to unload and clean. These are long days.
7. That HOT new flavor is going to sell out!
The tried and true standby you only brought one bucket of is always the first to go. I have a freezer's worth of "hot new flavors".
8. Adults don't want kiddie flavors.
This one goes along with #7. But adults are just big kids, and Italian Ice reminds them of their childhood. You'll be shocked when they pass up that Pina Colada flavor for Cherry and Blue Raspberry!
9. You can run this business alone.
While there have been times when I've succeeded running a gig alone, I don't recommend it. You never know when an emergency may hit requiring you to leave your booth. All that equipment and inventory must be watched and locked up. Working alone with all cash makes you a target. Busy lines are very hard to manage alone, changing out empty tubs for full tubs takes time and stops the operation. You will run out of change or spoons (or both at the same time), and the above-mentioned bathroom or even lunch break make operating alone unpredictable. Having a helper is such a relief, even if that helper is your 10 year old kid!
10. All the other vendors are just as happy and excited as you!
This may come as a shock to you, but human nature hates competition. I've had a local restaurant owner with his food truck eyeing my line, and I don't recall him waving back. Then there was that time the mobile pizza guy came checking out my operation wondering how he could add ice to his business (no, not trying to partner with me). I sent him away with a free water ice. Hopefully it's true that kindness kills.
And now for something we hope you'll really like:
1. Murphy's Law loves this business.
If it can go wrong, it eventually will. But those horrible moments often lead to great learning experiences. Look for the weather to turn, scoops to be dropped (with no extras), unexpected slow days and unexpected fast days.
2. Weather will laugh AND spit in your face!
Either your future bestselling event with amazing community exposure will get cancelled, or you will spend the day in a booth with no customers, trying to keep your supplies dry, and goose poop off your tent (true story).
3. Events DO lead to more contacts and future business.
Sometimes the most unlikely of customers will become your biggest advocates. And sometimes it's fellow food vendors who hook you up with your next gigs.
4. The contacts that are most enthusiastic are usually the ones that disappear.
Similarly, it's the ones you never suspected or noticed, but quietly took your card at the booth, that call you for future business.
5. DO expect long lines on warm, sunny days.
Get a reliable weather app, and pack your gear and inventory accordingly. When the selling is good, it's very good.
6. You will sell (and sell best) at events and places you never thought about.
At first I thought kiddie parks, dog parks, and the community tennis and volleyball courts. But I never got that free reign to roam as a vendor in my town, and I had to come up with other ideas. They turned out to be much better! The aforementioned locales are hit-or-miss kinds of selling places, where I might have sold three cups in an hour. I now sell only at local events with large crowds for a handful of hours... and a fistful of dollas! Holla!
7. Expect to jump through hoops to start your business, especially with the Health Department.
Hoops with fire, no less! Yeah, it can be that bad. And finding a commissary may just make you throw in the towel. DON'T! These are painful, one-time experiences. Once they're behind you, everything begins to move in the right direction.
8. Your business will experience growing pains.
You will have to reinvent your business a lot to stay on top. Don't worry so much about the perfect logo, branding and marketing, If you're a quick learner, and understand how to pivot quickly, you will be fine.
And saving the best for last...
9. Very often, there is FREE FOOD!
I've yet to go hungry at an event. Gourmet wood-fired pizzas, veggie gyros, hot stuffed peppers, raspberry & rosehip jam, spinach and feta dumplings... ahhh, the vendor's life for me.
Now, I know my experienced vendors out there have a TON to add to this list. So let's hear it!
|Posted by Lilly on October 14, 2015 at 1:55 PM||comments (1)|
I've talked with a number of Italian Ice and mobile food vendors in my past few years in business, and one thing is clear... competition in all categories of street food is growing. Gone are the days of being the only ice slinger in town. If you currently are alone in your neck of the woods, keep looking back. Your competitors will be there soon. So what can you do to give your Italian Ice business a boost? Harness the power of social media! In particular, get yourself using Facebook.
Online presence is a must these days, and a website is a great thing to have. By all means, if you don't have one, consider changing that. But the reason Facebook rules is that its features are more interactive than a static website. It can be more engaging for owners and customers alike. With a website, you can list your flavors. But with Facebook you can find out which of those flavors are customer favorites. With a website you can post your locations. With Facebook, customers can tell you where they want you. With a website, customers can get to know about your business, but with Facebook, they get to be a part of your business. And that's where the money is, in engagement, participation and conversation... also known as "buzz".
One-on-one online interaction with your business is a wonderful and coveted thing. And the way to build that is by growing your audience... much like a video game. In fact, video games, like Restaurant Story and Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, are great practice for the small business world. Essentially the goal of these games is to make lots of friends (customers) who gift you things (food and weapons, respectively) and collect as many coins as possible while growing the size of your restaurant or pirate ship. In the case of Facebook, those gifts come in the form of Likes. The more Likes you garner, the more visible your business becomes. The more visible your business becomes, the faster your business grows.
Many Italian Ice business owners have created Facebook pages, but then have left their pages to quietly and hopefully collect visitors, or worse, are left to be a one-dimensional info page. I was very guilty of having done that in the past. Yes, it's hard to work an online page when you're out in the real world scooping ice. But if that's also how you've operated, expect the Likes to increase at a snail's pace. Instead, here's how to make Facebook work.
Post Every One of your Events
At the beginning of the season, and as I go along, I now post each event I book, using Facebook's Events tab. These can be posted months in advance, and they should be! I want a nice long list of events for my customers to anticipate, as well as to see that I'm a very busy, in-demand vendor. Whenever possible, I use Google images to find a poster or banner of the event I'm listing, and I upload that poster to the Facebook event, so that there are lots of fantastic, eye-catching pictures! Facebook is incredibly visual. People want only the words they need along wtih a photo or image!
Now, when visitors arrive at my Facebook page, they will find a great little resource of local upcoming events, and will also know to look for my ice booth. This is a free service I provide my Facebook friends and customers, which increases my company's value to them.
Additionally, when I post this list, new companies, fundraising organizations or individuals researching my business can see my list of other companies or events that are using my services. This year, Whole Foods decided to hire my business after finding me on Facebook and seeing my list of great, legitimate events, many of which were high profile gigs around our town. The list creates a kind of instant trustability. Of course, I then immediately posted on Facebook that I had booked a gig with Whole Foods!
(example facebook business page)
Link Official Event Facebook Page to My Own Events Page
In addition to posting events on my Facebook page, I look to see if those events or organizations have Facebook pages of their own, by using the search tab on Facebook. If so, I then "Like" their page. By doing so, my company gets listed on their Facebook page! This way, I get a little free publicity and exposure to their Facebook audience. It also boosts their Like numbers, which is a plus for them, while showing up as a link on my own Facebook site, so they get a little free publicity too. That's right, one Like shows up on two pages. Bonus!
Send Out Reminders Before an Event
One or two days before each event, I send out a little reminder tickle to my Facebook "Likers" using the Update feature, reminding them of the great upcoming event, giving a mini-weather report, and sharing some important information (parking, ticket info, etc.) or telling them of new flavors I'm bringing. I try to think of something interesting to post to get them to attend and also to come buy ice from me, keeping it light and friendly!
Send out Thanks and News After the Event
The day after an event, I post photos that I took, and tell everyone what a great time I had there, sharing fun stories or cute moments. I also thank the event coordinators publicly from my Facebook page, including a link to their website. This drives traffic from my page to their website, and is appreciated by them.
While I'm at an event, I often socialize with other food vendors. I get names and business cards. There are times, too, when I like a vendor's food, that I'll reciprocate free ice for whatever food they are selling. It's a great bartering system that rocks when I'm starving at an event! But here's my secret weapon - the next day, I locate that business's Facebook page. If appropriate, I leave a great review of their food, using of course my business page (not my personal Facebook page). I also leave a comment that I enjoyed meeting them and thank them for their delicious food. This is always true and obviously helps them! And before leaving, I "Like" their page for the same reasons of boosting numbers and publicity. It's a vendors-helping-vendors practice that bolsters everyone.
Aside from comraderie, collecting friends who are mobile food vendors allows me to see and get notifications about events they are attending, many of which I don't know about. This way, I learn of gigs I may be able to join in on. I have found so many markets and food events that I otherwise would not have known were occuring in my county! Consider this a fun scavenger hunt. Of course, I really do enjoy the folks I meet, but there's no harm in socializing and marketing at the same time. Hey, it's the way of the street vendor!
(facebook win prizes banner)
Finally, one of the best ways to use your interactive Facebook page is to run promotions! For example, you could get customers to post photos for you on your site by running a promo of some kind, thereby growing your exciting images. This year I encouraged customers to post photos of their blue tongues after buying Blue Raspberry, which entered them into the "Blue Tongue Group" and also got them $1 off their cup. Next year, or when my Facebook audience is large enough, I plan to give away one-gallon tubs of Italian ice for the lucky winner of a monthly photo sweepstakes. They buy ice, take a photo with their ice, send me the photo or post it to my Facebook page and they're entered to win. I also currently run a promo using the free tub of Italian ice to any event referrals that turn into a paying gig. When I make my T-shirts next year, I plan to give some away in exchange for videos of customers enjoying my ice at an event! All this to grow my Facebook page, which will grow my business, which will grow my Facebook page...
Hang a LIKE US ON FACEBOOK Flyer at Your Booth
Get creative on ways to engage your Likers and have them posting on your page for you, as well as creating that buzz for your business. To get the ball rolling, create a LIKE US ON FACEBOOK flyer for your cart or booth. And if the back of your business cards are blank, change that too! Consider adding LIKE US ON FACEBOOK on the back. For only a little more cost, you can increase your Facebook audience. Try this... rather than reprint a new set of business cards, buy a custom stamp and simply stamp the back of your business cards.
(example back of business card)
Add a LIKE US ON FACEBOOK Link on Your Website
Lastly, make sure you add a way for customers visiting your website to find and Like your Facebook page! If they like what they see on your website, they will often click on the Like button immediately. Leave no stone unturned.
There are many ways to make it work for you. Tell us... what's worked for you to create your business buzz? We'd love to hear about it!
|Posted by Lilly on October 29, 2014 at 7:25 AM||comments (8)|
If there's one draw to the business of Italian Ice, it's the fast, somewhat easy cash you can make day to day. But if you think you're the only one drawn to that, think again.
On more than a few occasions, I've felt that I needed to be on high alert as to my surroundings when selling Italian Ice. But truthfully, I have continued to sell without much regard for my safety, not to mention that of my teen daughter who also sometimes sells with me. However, the issue of prevention and protection came front and center the other day when I sold at a large Walk-Your-Dog-for-Cancer type event. It was business as usual, until the end of the day. Since I always seem to get the straggler sales, I opted to stick around a little longer to make a few more bucks instead of taking down my booth and leaving with all the other vendors. It was at this time that a customer came up to buy ice. As I was serving, he was eyeballing my operation, and as he began to walk away, he asked how I did that day. I have certainly had folks consider getting into the Italian Ice business, and I can usually tell those types when they ask simple questions like how I keep the ice frozen. But I this guy's eyes wandered onto the apron around my waist, my money bag. That unsettled me. I very suddenly felt that this guy's intentions could turn in a different direction. Luckily he was with a female companion, and she started to walk away, so he went with her and that was that. But this encounter has lingered in my mind for a while, raising a lot of questions for next season.
For starters, I'm a woman. Secondly, I often sell alone. Thirdly, a profitable event leaves a noticeable bulge in my apron! But really, regardless of whether the first two issues apply to you or not, the last one is the key exposure. You're carrying cash, and everyone knows it. Heck, the thieves hit up Italian Ice stores, for crying out loud! So, besides quitting this business (which isn't going to happen, I love it too much), what are my options for protection?
1. Sell only during day events.
This has a good probability of reducing my chances of getting muggged, but I don't like to lie to myself that it solves the entire problem. There's always a desperate criminal who sees me as an easy mark, day or night.
2. Get outta Dodge!
The "Safety in Numbers" rule applies here. Close down the booth when every other vendor starts to do it. Luckily my takedown is lightning fast, so I can get out before everyone else a lot of times, for which not sitting in a jammed parking lot alone is a great reason to bolt.
3. Get a dog.
Having a dog, preferably on the larger side, is always a deterrent to would-be thieves. Additionally, it might even be a draw for the kids, if it's cute! This is a win-win. A protective dog is a great asset to have guarding my back as I take down the booth, and a great companion for the rides home at night. Better yet, I could keep the money belt ON the dog! Luckily so far, nearly every event would allow me to have a dog present too. So, looks like I'll be hitting up the pet adoptions!
4. Get a gun.
This one sounds extreme, and may be, but it's still a viable option, and not near as hard to do as it seems. In fact, in the majority of states, it's easier to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon than it is to get approved from a Health Department to sell mobile food! To learn a little bit more, read this Wikipedia article. The only issue here is what a trained gun carrier told me... only take it out to actually use it, never to just warn. And that's a little scary to me.
5. Keep a bullhorn at hand.
No, really. Okay, you should know by now that I don't think like most folks, so this idea actually is plausible to me. Thinking about a home and how we protect it, there are lessons to learn. A home alarm system serves really only one purpose, and that is to SCARE OFF THE BURGLARS & ROBBERS. So the same principle applies. If I'm alone and about to be mugged, an exceptionally loud noise will hopefully scare off the criminal, but more importantly, it will draw attention from anyone nearby. And for only $20 for one with a siren, it's worth it!
6. HIre security.
While this is more a joke idea, maybe it's a way to go. Bring on a tough friend who has nothing to do that day and would love to be paid with Italian Ice. Let him sit in your booth all day. On a similar note, I tend to get into conversations with lots of my customers, and I think that helps too. And when I get offers of help from other vendors to take down, I now take them up on it, for the company. I have had up to seven people (customers, friends, kids, kids' friends, even politicians!) in my booth just chatting with me and each other at the end of events. While fun, it allows me to leave in safety. Lastly, I make friends with my local police. They are often at the events where I sell. I need to get clever and offer all cops free ice at the end of the gig!
7. When needed... LIE.
If I get a snoopy customer asking obvious questions like "Is this your business?", "Do you run it alone?" or "Do you need any help with your tent?", I have now opted to lie. Yep, I simply tell them my partner or friend is coming back to help me, or went to get the car, or I'm waiting for my crew to come back. Anything that makes them think twice and leave.
8. Use your bank's drop box.
While you still have to close down your setup and get out of the event safely, one way to make yourself less of a target on your way home is to use your bank's drop box. if you have a business account, you can ask for those plastic bags bank use for after-hours drop offs and dump your cash right after each event. UPDATE: also make use of a locking cash box.
Which leads to...
9. Never drive home directly.
if a would-be thief thinks he can't get to you at an event, he may consider his next best option, which is to follow the money... meaning you on your way home. Think it can't happen? Read this story!
I'm still grappling with all of this, and may come up with some other useful ideas. But I bet you've thought of it too or encountered a similar situation. I want to hear what you think. Share your ideas in the comments!
|Posted by Lilly on June 23, 2014 at 11:05 AM||comments (3)|
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?!