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!


School Concession Stands = Danger + Opportunity

Posted by Lilly on February 26, 2013 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Highschool Students Prepare to Run Their School Concession Stand

That fat and furry little Punxsutawney Phil told us just a month ago that Spring would be arriving soon.  And it must be true because our local Rita's Italian Ice opened back up for business just last week.  The arrival of Spring brings many things.  In addition to rain showers and their subsequent flowers, all around the country, as the weather turns warmer, schools are gearing up for another Spring semester of sports.  For us in the Northeast Philly 'burbs that's track & field, baseball, lacrosse and a few others.  But it's what accompanies these events that I'd like to bring your attention to today... the ubiquitous school concession stand.  These junk-food laden, fundraising tents, booths and stores are great for the hoardes of hungry and thirsty kids and parents attending the sports events.  What they aren't so great for is your health!

Let me explain.  Last Spring, my daughter was on her middle school track & field team, and we attended a large meet at the local highschool, hosting roughly eight other middle school teams.  There were a lot of people, and this was a full-day event.  At one point, I decided to pop over to the school concession stand for a soft pretzel (another one of those Philly comfort foods that we love).  I also wanted to meet the company hosting the food event and introduce myself with the intention of asking about partnering with them in the future for me to sell my Italian Ice at the concession stand (something I noticed was oddly missing).  I asked the attendants what company they were with, and with a quizzical look, they answered that they weren't a company, only a group of parent volunteers!  Maybe you (dear, reader) expected this.  However, i was shocked!  It was then I shifted myself over to the right of the stand to peek in on the grilling operation taking place in the back, where these parent volunteers were cooking hot dogs and hamburgers. 

It was there I witnessed bare-hand contact with raw hamburger meat, a highly hazardous food item, by Health Department standards.  This meat was being taken out of plain 'ole coolers, which were not being maintained at a proper cold temperature.  And there was no meat thermometer probe inserted to determine the precise internal temperatures of the hamburgers on the grill that would reveal they were cooked safely.  Clearly, the Health Department's involvement was beyond absent in this operation.  And I highly doubted the  volunteers had acquired their mandated Food Handler's certification.  I guessed it had been run this way for quite some time.  I also wondered in how many other places this was happening.  And what were the chances anyone had thought to acquire liability insurance for when the inevitable food illness broke out?

Okay, so I sound like a complete "narc" and highly uptight.  But I write all this to illustrate an opportunity.  You see, we vendors are professionals.  That means: 

  1. We do what we do for a living  
  2. We have the proper training and permits to do what we do 
  3. We are licensed by the local Health Department, and
  4. We carry the proper insurance to cover the unlikely event that our customers become ill from our food or food-handling practices. 

Why would a school take such risks if they were informed of the potential dangers of continuing to run their concessions illegally and if they were informed about better options available to them? 

What if local mobile food vendors got together to create roving food courts for these sporting events? 

It is quite possible that these small-time, volunteer-run concession stands have no desire to hand over their operation and profits to the pros for a few reasons.  Then again, maybe they would.  Consider the following no-effort benefits to them:

  • No coordination of human resources (gathering the volunteer troops and requisite meetings)
  • No coordination of food and supplies purchasing and delivery
  • No hauling equipment (tables, grills, propane etc.)
  • No maintenance of equipment
  • No set up
  • No clean up
  • Increased safety/decreased liability
  • Way more food offerings (pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, popcorn, cotton candy, and of course, Italian Ice!) resulting in...
  • Potentially increased sales

The food truck movement is kicking

Let the mobile vendors come to you! 

Just tell us when and where! 

Watch your fundraising efforts disappear and your profits soar!

But I'll be the first to admit I can be a cockeyed optimist and a bit of a dreamer.  Ideas like this don't gain traction as quickly as common sense would dictate, even though it truly is the best of all possible win-win partnerships.

But all is not lost, and as the saying goes... If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  So, on a final note, if this "mobile food court" doesn't seem possible, at the very least, as an Italian Ice vendor, we could go see if our local schools' concession stands are selling any kind of frozen dessert.  If they aren't, offer to sell them our tubs of Italian Ice with free delivery to each and every sporting event that they'll operate the stand.  If they're already willing to sell, serve, and assume liability, then that could include selling our highly profitable and desired Italian Ice!  Like my recent fundraising idea, we can at least make some money selling Italian Ice with no effort on our parts.  This I see as the second-best, win-win partnership.  

What have you seen at your local schools' concession stands?  Is there any opportunity for you to get in on the action?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.


Do You Need a Food Handler's Permit?

The Best Worst Way to Fundraise

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.  


Italian Ice Fundraising Ideas

Posted by Lilly on May 19, 2012 at 4:55 PM Comments comments (1)

One of the best ways to get your Italian Ice's company into your community's good graces, with goodwill and exposure, it to partner up with organizations and hold fundraisers.  Sometimes these fundraisers will net you additional sales by increasing traffic to your business.  Other times it's a wash, but dividends are simply of a different nature and only visible in the future.  At any rate, here are three fundraising ideas currently being offered by Rita's.  Like a good recipe, revisions and tweaks are up to the cook.  Use these as a marketing tool to ramp up your future customer purchases. 

Celebrity Scoop/Ice & Custard Social

A fun and exciting way for local community groups to raise money!  As a feature of the event, members of your organization, or even a real celebrity, can be "Celebrity Scoopers" and serve ice to guests.  In return, your group earns money to support your organization, via sales and tips.

Quart and Party Bucket Fundraiser

Fundraising sales don't get any cooler!  Partner with [insert your business name here] to raise funds for your group or organization!  By selling quarts of our signature Italian Ice to friends and family, your group earns a percentage of the proceeds.  (This one is identical to Girl Scout cookie sales - buy empty quart containers at restaurant supply stores and fill with your Italian Ice once orders are placed.)

Fundraiser Card

Wow….Take $1 and turn it into $5!  Your organization purchases discount cards for $1 and has the opportunity to re-sell the card for $5 to members of your community. The cardholders receive 10% off their entire purchase each time they visit for an entire year!  (This can be tweaked into one-time giveaways that are worth the value of the Italian Ice quantity you choose.)

Another idea might be to partner up with schools trying to purchase new equipment or needed supplies.  You can take your cart on a pre-arranged and well-advertised day to sell your Italian Ice at their school at your usual price.  You then split the sales with the school, of course having negotiated the split amount beforehand.  Run this fundraiser throughout the year to really be effective for both the fundraiser and you. Even better would be to have the school do the legwork on finding a great location within the community for you to run this same promotion on a much wider scale.  You just show up with cart and ice.

In addition, you can market your pushcart into a fundraiser by offering it as a prize.  It can be raffled for a party whereby you scoop ice at an event for the winner or only provide cart and ice while allowing the fundraiser coordinators to scoop.  Keep in mind that fundraisers should be as close to a win-win proposition as possible.  It should not simply be a donation, whether of your time, services, or product. Get creative and work a fundraiser into an opportunity to be seen in the community or to increase customer foot traffic or to get new customers addicted to your great Italian Ice and fantastic service, while also making sales.

I'd love to hear other great ideas of fundraisers you plan to run or have had success with in the past.  Post your comments below!