Rita's - At It Again!

Posted by Lilly on March 17, 2016 at 4:40 PM Comments 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!

Create Quick & Easy Italian Ice Business Websites

Posted by Lilly on November 8, 2015 at 8:55 AM Comments 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.  ;)

The Power of Facebook for Your Italian Ice Business

Posted by Lilly on October 14, 2015 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (1)

(facebook logo)

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.

Collect Friends!

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)

Run Promotions

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!

SCORE! Landing Local High School Athletics

Posted by Lilly on July 28, 2014 at 2:40 PM Comments comments (9)

Allen High School's opening 2012 football game in the new Eagle Stadium, TX

High school... we've all been there.  For all its experiences and offerings, very little compares to the crazed emphasis from students and parents alike on high school sports.  An article from CNBC, titled High School Sports Have Turned Into Big Business, mentions that "the market in high school sports keeps expanding," and "the dedication to high school sports from all sides is endless."   Why?  We love competition, we love sports, and frankly anyone can hit up a local Friday night football game, for the cheap cost of a ticket and short drive. 

So how can you get a piece of the action?  It's easy, and now is the time to get started.  As the summer winds down, and we head into August, all things High School will be getting into gear.  If you can secure your Italian Ice business's spot at local sporting events now, you can end your selling season off with a big bang!  Let me show you how to get your foot in the door of your local school. 

First off, visit the site HighSchools.com to quickly generate a list of all the schools around you.  Find the search button in the upper right, enter your county name, and then click on the little round radio button named "Counties".  This will give you the largest number of schools you can contact.  Most likely your Health Department gave you a license to sell within your county, therefore, get all the names of high schools within the same county that you can sell in. Here is what that list will look like (I used Bucks County, PA next door to me, as an example).

Now we refine our list.  I opened up Excel to add high schools to my ongoing marketing list, but you can use a paper and pencil, too.  First I noted those cities I'm familiar with and are right around me.  Those schools went onto my list.  For towns I wasn't familiar with, I used Google Maps to find out how far away they were.  If they were less than 25 minutes driving, they went on my list.  Use whatever driving distance makes sense for you.  If you need more business, logically, you'll be willing to travel.  Lastly, I narrowed down my list based on number of students attending the schools.  Clearly, it's safe to assume those schools with fewer students will have lower attendance at their athletic events. 

Next, I clicked on the links of the schools and jotted down their addresses, phone numbers and webpages.  Some required a little more digging on Google when no website was listed.  All schools these days have websites - it's the primary mode of parent communication, and sure enough, I found them. 

What I'm looking for on each of the websites for these schools will be their athletic page, in particular the name of their Athletic Director.  That name also goes on my list.  While some schools use Parent/Teacher or Home & School groups to fundraise, I want to send my letter directly to the Athletic Directors, for good reason.  The parents who head those other groups come and go from year to year, and I'd rather not have to keep track of that constantly changing information when I send out any new promos.  Believe me, I've tried!  My letter will be a juicy one, detailing how Such-and-Such School can earn back 20% of sales (I really offer 30%, but that's just crazy me) toward new sporting equipment or other efforts, to be used however the Athletic Director sees fit.  Oooh, Power!  New Equipment.  And I stress, all this free money comes to you with absolutely no effort on your part!  Who wants more work, right?  So I make an offer that's too easy to pass up... I show, I sell, I write you a check! 

If the Athletic Director is not the one who handles such matters, I would bet my pants that he or she will pass the information to the right person or group, in order to start getting that free money for their athletic program.  I'll make sure to also add that other schools are already booking their dates with my company, and there are only a limited number of game dates/slots available due to cooling autumn weather.  Should I run into the wonderful problem of multiple schools being interested, well, then heck!  I'll just have to duplicate my booth as quickly as possible (1 month is enough time to order everything and get new banners), and hire some high school students to sell at their school's games (free attendance for them!), while I'm selling at another. 

When I send the school its profit sharing check later in the season, I'll be sure to include the tickler that big spring events such as baseball tournaments, track invitationals and other multi-school competitions are excellent for generating larger profit sharing checks - he or she should be sure to call me again.  Those of you Italian Ice vendors who live in warm weather places, us season-limited vendors, frankly don't want to hear how well you make out with this program during the "winter" months.

While I'm at it, if all goes according to plan, I'm toying with the idea of having inexpensive school logo'd fun items to sell at the sporting events alongside the ice.  It's one thing I see missing from these games, but one I know students love to buy, like mini-footballs, koozies, hackie sacks and especially noisemakers! 

Okay, that's the gameplan!  Who's with me?! 

How to Sell Out Tubs of Italian Ice

Posted by Lilly on June 16, 2014 at 7:55 AM Comments 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?!

Oh, What a Night!

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

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

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

Here are the highlights of my evening.

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

Like I said... Oh, what a night! 

Get Involved with National Night Out!

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

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

What is National Night Out?

From the National Association of Town Watch (NATW):

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

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

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

Why Participate?

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

Is a Community Near You Participating?

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

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

Free Samples of Italian Ice: Yay or Nay?

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

Street vendor offering a sample

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the Italian Ice Sales Begin!

Posted by Lilly on April 10, 2013 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (1)

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!


The Best Worst Way to Fundraise

Posted by Lilly on February 11, 2013 at 8:10 AM Comments 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.