|Posted by Lilly on June 22, 2012 at 11:35 AM||comments (3)|
When you begin researching the idea of starting an Italian Ice business, you are likely, as I did, to Google the terms "Italian Ice Wholesalers". And you will find the top national distributors. (Be sure to visit my Wholesalers page, where I've done that work for you.) If you get really good at expanding your search terms, you may be lucky enough to find the smaller, regional suppliers. (Again, I provide some of those on my Wholesalers page.). But there are quite a number of wholesalers who simply do not show up by internet searching, and this means you have to do some real hunting and cold calling. But, it could be completely worth it if the other suppliers just don't meet your needs, either because of the ingredients they use or the distance between them and you. Here are a few ways to dig up other Italian Ice wholesalers.
Do another internet search for food distributors in your area, by city, county or state. Food distributors are middle men who warehouse food items for sale to restaurants and vendors, as well as other outlets. They bring in product, including Italian Ice and store it in their own freezers to sell to businesses like you.
Specifically look for ice cream distributors. They will very often have Italian Ice on the menu. These may not offer all the flavors that going directly to the manufacturer would, but when you want to start your business, this may be a great way. You can begin selling, while you continue searching for other suppliers of more flavors.
If you are not able to find a food/ice cream distributor that carries Italian Ice, ask if they'd consider doing so for you. This would, of course, mean that they would mark up the product that they brought in from your supplier, and you'd pay for shipping. But, again, it may be worth it, as they would store it for you in their facility, and you'd be able to get it when you needed or have it delivered. This is what business negotiations are all about. You'll have to do the numbers to see if it's a viable choice. But, the way I see it, there are always options. You just have to get creative.
Retail Italian Ice Shops & Restaurants
That local Mom & Pop Italian Ice shop or pizzeria near you gets their ice from somewhere.
Don't be afraid to ask or to negotiate. It very well may be that they have not thought to sell to street vendors as a way to increase sales, or have not thought to go mobile themselves, nor perhaps any desire to do so. You never know.
Other Italian Ice Street Vendors
Surely, you've seen other Italian Ice vendors at your local events. For many, this is where the idea is sparked to begin your own Italian Ice business. So, that vendor who is selling at your local craft fair or flea market has already tackled the problem of sourcing Italian Ice. I suggest you get chatty with them and find out as much about their business as you can. We are a very welcoming bunch, realizing that there is enough opportunity for others in this business. Perhaps they will tell you their supplier and help you get started. One way I found another Italian Ice vendor was by searching the listings on vendors in my state. You can Google "Italian Ice vendors [Your State]" or search for general concession vendors in your area. My state has a site called PAVendors.com where I found another Italian Ice seller who answered many of my questions when I was first researching.
I am sure there are many other ways to track down Italian Ice wholesalers, only limited by your imagination. Of course, you could always put a complete end to the search by making your own.
|Posted by Lilly on June 21, 2012 at 12:50 AM||comments (11)|
Even though I've selected my Italian Ice wholesaler already, I was doing some thinking about the costs of using this supplier versus using others. And I came to a crazy revelation that I just had to share. If you're able to find a supplier who offers anything like what I'm about to disclose, jump on it and never let them go!
My supplier, Famous Italian Ices, is running a promotion for this entire season, which I believe it also did last year, and may be their permanent practice. It's insane. And I certainly welcome others to tell me that I have interpreted the program wrong. But, until then, here goes.
The beauty of this is that the free bucket Famous Italian Ice gives me, once sold, covers the cost of the first 5 buckets I bought. I once wrote that it was like giving me a free $100 bill. But it's also like buying all my stock free. Then, not only does it cover the cost of the first 5 buckets, but I end up ahead of the game by an additional $25.
The next time I walk in to buy my next set of 5 buckets, they give me another 6th tub FREE. This leaves me again not having spent a penny on new stock, and up now by $50. In essence, Famous is paying me for selling their product! And this just goes on and on. I never invest my own money into buying inventory! And my revenue keeps growing by $25 infinitely. Where else can you find such an amazing business practice?
Now, let me add the little cherry on top. Famous will also pay me $1 for every clean plastic tub I bring back to them for their recycling program. So, for every 5 buckets, they pay me $5 when I return them. And they even pay me that $1 on that 6th bucket of Italian Ice I already got from them for FREE! So, really my revenue grows by $31 infinitely. There is no limit on the number of buckets I can buy in this promotion. Even if their ice were the worst tasting product on the planet, I'd have to use them as my wholesaler! I would be out of my business mind not to. Yes, I realize that's an exaggeration, as horrible ice wouldn't sell. But the actuality is that I absolutely love their ice, and it's one of the only wholesalers I found that uses all natural ingredients.
If you've been contemplating which wholesaler to use, I suggest you run the numbers for yourself to see if this program works for you. I am fortunate enough that I can drive to their location and buy my Italian Ice whenever I need it. But, of course, shipping will change things a bit. Still, if you're not having the product shipped too far and if you're not using cold storage, this promotion may set you farther ahead than any other wholesaler possibly could.
|Posted by Lilly on May 10, 2012 at 9:30 AM||comments (1)|
Photo Courtesy: Famous Italian Ices
If you've been researching startup up an Italian Ice pushcart business, you've likely encountered some Italian Ice wholesalers who, quite casually, advise you to simply rent cold storage in order to store their required pallet's worth purchase of Italian Ice. One supplier is even kind enough to send you a link to search out cold storage facilities in your area. And, while it all sounds easy and legitimate, since you're also informed this is how many vendors acquire and store product, the reality is this is a case of Buyer Beware!
What is Cold Storage?
Cold storage is much like self-storage in that you rent a unit, or open space in a warehouse, that is temperature controlled to keep large quantities of product frozen. For this service, you pay a monthly fee, and product can usually be delivered directly to the cold storage facility, even without you needing to be there. You can then access your product, as needed, for selling.
The Problems with Cold Storage
While cold storage is touted by some wholesalers as the answer to all your problems, it may actually create more problems than it solves. I understand many new Italian Ice vendors are anxious to begin selling Italian Ice and raking in sales. And others wish to offer authentic East Coast Italian Ice, though they may be located on the West Coast. So, for them, cold storage sounds ideal. But consider these concerns:
1. Finding Cold Storage
One problem with cold storage is simply finding a facility. This is easier said than done. Cold storage warehouses are not in abundance, even in larger cities. I live near Philly, and the closest one would be at least a 45-minute drive, one way. However, some locations with typically hot temperatures, like Southern Florida, do have cold storage facilities, even some convenient, small, self-storage like units that are affordable. But they're not widely available.
2. Is it Legal?
Another problem with cold storage is your local Health Department. Very few municipalities allow for the storage of food product at any other place than a commissary (licensed, commercial kitchen). If you choose this route, you may be doing it on the sly, and it's not advised. Check your local Health Department requirements on storing your Italian Ice.
3. Added Business Expense
If you're fortunate enough that your Health Department allows the use of cold storage, and you can find one, the next concern becomes the added cost to the business. Cold storage typically is not cheap, and you will have to factor that into your operating costs, as a recurring, monthly expense, that you will also have to pay during the off-season, if you have one.
4. Shipping Costs!
Perhaps the biggest problem with cold storage is that, by necessity, using it means you must not have or have yet found a local Italian Ice supplier. Only companies without distribution centers near you would require you to buy an entire pallet of Italian Ice and store it in cold storage. This means you now have yet another expense, that of shipping. One tub of Italian Ice is heavy. An entire pallet of Italian Ice is extremely heavy. And we're all familiar with gas prices going through the roof and rising daily. So, between the long distance, weight, and fuel, you can expect some exorbitant shipping costs. And, surely wholesalers aren't interested in making you aware of this business expense up front. They want you to buy as much ice as they can sell you. But many experienced Italian Ice vendors will tell you that shipping and storing your product will eat into your profits in such a big way as to make the business unviable long-term. These costs need to be factored into your numbers-crunching formulas to determine if your business can stay afloat, which of course is not the goal. The goal is to be wildly profitable.
But don't be discouraged. This doesn't mean that you can't still become an Italian Ice vendor. The solution, then, is to find a local wholesaler. The ideal situation is the supplier from which you can just pick up product at your convenience and in quantities that suit you, especially ideal in times when you're running unexpectedly low on ice and can't wait for delivery or shipping. Many small-batch Italian Ice operations are cropping up in all states as Italian Ice becomes more known, but you'll have to do extensive research and cold calling to locate them, as they don't yet have much presence on the Web. If you encounter another Italian Ice vendor in your area, chat them up! Find out their supplier. Also, some large Italian Ice suppliers have distribution centers or partners spread throughout the country, and you may reduce shipping fees by using them. At the very least, if you're unable to find suppliers near you, look for ones in neighboring states, to cut shipping costs as much as possible. Be sure to always ask what the minimum purchase requirement is from any supplier you're considering.
To get started on finding local Italian Ice suppliers, visit my Wholesalers page to find ones closest to you. You can browse the listings by state, and new ones are added regularly.
Here's your chance to vent! What has your experience looking for or using cold storage and/or long distance suppliers been?
|Posted by Lilly on April 20, 2012 at 9:25 AM||comments (0)|
This past Sunday, while my kids were with me, I decided that another trip to Famous Italian Ices was in store. This time I would take my little Italian Ice aficionados to get their savvy opinion on the quality of the Italian Ice I plan to sell.
They had already sampled two other wholesalers' Italian Ice, and they were well aware of the pros and cons of those ices. But, while I had already sampled Famous' ice, I had done so from a three-scooop serving in a styrofoam cup on a hot day. So, it had been impossible to take any home to them. For starters, it was melting. And add to that, it was disappearing so fast because it was quite excellent Italian Ice.
Even though I told my kids when we arrived at the store that they were to each pick different flavors so we could sample as many as possible, somehow it ended up that all three of us got pretty much the same flavor choices. Go figure. We got passion fruit, coconut, mango and chocolate. So much for them trying the usual lemon or cherry. But since I could vouch for those flavors myself, it worked out fine that we got to try Famous' other offerings. And, as I'd hoped, I got a double thumbs up from my kids on the flavor and the quality of their Italian Ice.
To make sure we were all on the same page and lock up the decision, we then drove back to our home town and straight to our local Rita's. We bought kid's cups of Italian Ice to compare while our minds were still freshly recalling the flavor and quality of Famous' ice. Again, it was unanimous that Famous Italian Ice was superior in almost every way to Rita's! The texture, the natural flavor, the ability to hold up better in the heat of the day. This from my 10-year-old son and my 12-year-old daughter, both loyal Rita's fans. The one opinion we all especially shared that day was that, in contrast, Rita's was overly sweet and had a certain aftertaste, not altogether pleasant nor unpleasant, but plastic-like and noticeable. And I, for the third time eating at Rita's, found little pieces of wax from their cups in my Italian Ice, which I had to scoop or spit out.
Now I think, having sampled so much Italian Ice in such a short time, I am getting fairly sick of it. My kids, however, can't get enough. I only hope the local kids where I plan to sell feel exactly same way.
|Posted by Lilly on April 13, 2012 at 9:30 AM||comments (6)|
Photo Credit: Famous Italian Ices
After visiting two other Italian Ice wholesalers in my area and not having much success, it was by sheer luck that I found a third ice manufacturer nearby, this time in Philadelphia. I stumbled on them while searching online for pushcarts. What they didn't do well in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), I hoped they made up for in quality Italian Ice. So, I set my GPS and drove approximately 35 minutes to Famous Italian Ices.
Well, truly the third time must be a charm, because I felt this company held a lot of promise for becoming my ice wholesaler. Famous, it turned out, is entering its 46th year in business. A great sign. It started out, like so many others, with one truck and some ice. But it was when they began making their own ice that their business found its niche.
I found the building, an old, original factory, from which they also operate a store selling ice from a small window on the block corner. It was all very interesting to me, a newcomer to this entire Italian Ice world. I spoke with Neil and Mark (yet another family business) about buying ice, their delivery options, prices and such. But soon they asked about me, and the conversation turned to a free business advice clinic, for which I am always grateful. This is one business where people absolutely love to share information and ideas, what's worked, and how to succeed quickly by imparting their own trial and error lessons.
Famous offers a fair amount of flavors, including the usual suspects, lemon, cherry, mango and chocolate. But I was impressed to see they also offered novelty and heritage flavors like Passion Fruit, Island Breeze, Parcha, Rum and Tamarind. And to top it off there are a few mystery flavors, Beetle Juice and Cry Baby, which piqued my interest.
If that weren't enough to entice me, they are running a season-long special, buy 5 buckets at one time and get the 6th one free! As a vendor, that is like handing me a $100 bill. But, for all the offerings, I wouldn't commit until I sampled their ice and tasted if that elusive genuine quality was present or absent. They willingly handed me a styrofoam cup and asked me what I wanted to try. Since I still believe a great lemon ice marks the winners from the losers, I, of course, asked for that, followed by two other of their bestsellers, cherry and mango.
One taste and I knew. THIS was my supplier. The flavor was fresh and wonderfully authentic. Not sugary sweet, not bland. The lemon was divine, and the mango tasted so much like mango, I almost couldn't eat it since I actually despise mango. What truer test? There was no aftertaste and the texture, while a titch icier than I wanted (more water ice consistency), was very good. It was clear this ice was made using quality ingredients.
I left with a huge smile on my face and many thanks to the guys. But the best part of my visit was when I asked them about scooping the ice and what temperature it should be served. They told me 20-25 degrees was ideal. I objected, saying that every other vendor serves colder, recommending 10-15. Neil then told me to scoop some of their ice to see how easy it was to do. And that was when I scooped my inaugural scoop of ice, a memory I will always cherish. That day, not only did I end my search for an ice wholesaler, but it was the day I became an Italian Ice vendor.
|Posted by Lilly on April 6, 2012 at 12:20 AM||comments (0)|
Photo Credit: Via Veneto Italian Ice
I'm fortunate in that I live in Pennsylvania, and Italian Ice manufacturers are all around me. It's made my search a little easier. I don't have to ask or pay for samples to be shipped to me; I can simply get in my car and make a drive over to the production facility. On my latest adventure I visited Via Veneto's plant in Norristown, PA.
Perhaps my favorite part of going there was personally meeting the man I'd spoken to on the phone, Jim. He was a personable man, chock full of business information... how to get started, how much to serve, what scoops to use, what kind of cart to look for, a custom cart company, event info. and much more, even ideas about commissaries.
I left that day feeling refocused. But I also left with a bag of samples. I got classic lemon, mango, cherry and strawberry. I tasted the product at home, taking care to savor each and not allow the flavors to combine. I'm really very concerned about selling the best product I can find. Later in the day, when my kids returned from school, I sat them down for their professional opinions. Lemon had a good flavor, but just a tad sweeter than what authentic ice should taste like. Cherry, too, was a bit sweet and also very bright in color... perhaps a bit too bright. Mango was the best one of the lot, and strawberry seemed sweet and gooey. I read that one Italian Ice vendor found strawberry to be of similar consistency, so she sold it instead as "strawberry bubblicious" to great success! It appears you can sell anything if it's marketed right. I will have to remember that. So our combined opinion, sadly, put Via Veneto at the bottom of the list of suppliers. It's not bad at all, but it's just not the real product I'm searching for.
However, while I probably won't sell Via Veneto in my lineup, the ease of acquiring it, since the distributor is so close to me, makes it a darn good solution if I should ever find myself out of product and need to secure some in a hurry. It's always smart to make sure that, in addition to your regular supplier, you find an emergency source for those times when delivery is delayed or you sell out of product faster than you thought you would. Always have a Plan B.
I also love the 4-gallon square containers that Via Veneto's product is in. They are perfectly sized and shaped. They would sit nicely in a cart, with no wasted space or shifting. And most wholesalers sell in smaller 2.5 or 3-gallon containers. So, the larger size means I could stay at a location selling for longer periods and more money earned, definitely a bonus.
Via Veneto also has some flavors that are two ices swirled together in one tub. I like this concept. Flavors such as Orange/Vanilla Swirl and Tie Dye would make great feature flavors and be a hit with the kids. One final positive note is that Via Veneto states that, if I have an interest in a flavor that's not listed in their menu, they may consider creating it (with a minimum order, of course). I love anything custom! And if I can use that service to differentiate my ices from other vendors, well, that's an ace in my pocket.
As for my search for wholesale Italian Ice supplier, I'm a bit disenchanted, and I realize my pickiness is going to make it harder than I thought to find a product I can be proud to sell. And so, again I say, the search continues...
|Posted by Lilly on March 31, 2012 at 8:50 AM||comments (1)|
One of the exciting pieces of putting my Italian Ice business together is finding an ice supplier. This is the time when I get to sample the great flavors and see which stand out and will make it up my leaderboard, so to speak.
Though it may not seem like one of the necessary first steps, surprisingly I have found that the diversity in the size and shapes of Italian Ice containers has been a contributing factor in my selection of cart. Some ice suppliers sell in 5-gallon round buckets (also called tubs or cans), while others sell in smaller 3- or 2.5-gallon round, and one uniquely and smartly uses 4-gallon square tubs that sit snugly together.
At any rate, the biggest factor for me is quality of the ice. I have to be able to love what I sell. It's the only way to ensure repeat customers, important to me since I'll be selling within and around my own community and not at a tourist-driven locale.
So, one day earlier this month, I trekked an hour and a half from my home to tour the Little Jimmy's facility in Elizabeth, NJ. I arrived at the scheduled time, but no one was there for me. Another ice cream vendor loading his truck ran inside the office and got me someone - the head honcho, Mr. Harry Moore, the owner.
He was wonderfully informative and willing to discuss all aspects of the business to a newbie. I got to see the cart they sell exclusively, a very lightweight and portable model which requires no refrigeration but, unfortunately, has no onboard sink, which I need to pass health inspection. And I also got to talk over my options for purchasing ice, since they do require that I buy a palette at a time and keep it in cold storage. But my home base has no cold storage within any reasonable distance. So Harry told me he would be able to house the ice for me at their location as a courtesy, and I would then be able to pick it up at my convenience. But with a 3-hour drive and over $24 in tolls, that wasn't going to work for me either.
It was a relief to see that this is most definitely a legitimate operation. Little Jimmy's does business under Jersey Ice Corporation and has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. Their ice, in my opinion, is a product almost worthy of the picking-it-up headache. It's a very refreshing, light and natural tasting concoction. My kids (Italian Ice connoisseurs) and I tasted classic lemon (a must in all the samplings), cherry, blue raspberry and mango (their bestseller). It scrapes nicely and has beautiful color. It is very well priced, sold in 5-gallon rounds. And if they had local distributors, it would probably be the product I'd choose to start selling. But the long drive, tolls, and wear and tear on my car to pick up small quantities of ice every two weeks outweighs the positives, as it will eat into my profits. So my search continues...