I hope this correspondence finds you and your loved ones well. As your friendly and faithful ice cream blogger I think it’s my duty to keep one eye on our businesses as we all keep the other eye on our safety. As such I’ve been thinking a lot about what happens as COVID-19 (hopefully) begins to release its hold on our society. Nobody can predict how it will end or when it will end. The optimistic viewpoint is that restrictions wind down slowly over time allowing business and life to return in phases. As an ice cream or dessert shop, we should all be at the forefront of these phases. Why? Well a large percent of stores locally are take-out shops. Being that a lot of these concepts can/have remained open during the worst of the outbreak, it stands to reason that lightened restrictions will only help. The walk-in shops don’t normally feature occupancy that may overwhelm so they may see business return quicker as well.
Despite my optimism the truth remains that we are all flying blind. There is no pandemic playbook and as business owners we are left with so many questions. Every day brings more guessing, hoping, worrying and praying. But are we thinking? Are we preparing? There are things we can do in the now and near future to ready ourselves for when this ends. As I have said in previous blogs, we cannot control the virus or the course, but we can control how we respond to it. So here are a few ideas that may help today or tomorrow:
Pickup Services: Countless customers have adapted to this crisis by offering curbside delivery or pickup order services at their shop. Customers can’t come in and some are reluctant to come to the windows of a take-out. Well, shops still have bills to pay so they are using their social media, websites or just their phone number to take orders for pickup. Is it creating the revenue stream of a normal sunny day in April…..no. However, it is keeping dialogue with your customer base. It is creating some income stream. And it is providing a momentary treat for families in a very difficult time. But what happens when people are allowed out? Do you just abandon this practice? Now is the time to think about the future and how you can incorporate pickup or call ahead into your store post COVID-19. Leverage technology to make it more efficient and realize that a post COVID-19 world may be less inclined to venture out even when they can. So offering a simple, safe and effective way to partake in your treats without the full interactive experience is vital.
Delivery Services: If you attended our Open House seminar this year you heard my plea about getting into delivery services. Well now more than ever these play a significant role in your future revenue stream. Sure these services take up to 30% of the sale. Sure ice cream melts. Sure the dashers, or ubers, or hubbers won’t care about your customer the way you do. But everything is N-E-G-O-T-I-A-B-L-E. Ice cream does melt. But food gets cold. Soda goes flat. And freezer bags slow the melt process. Also the customers ordering through these sites are accepting of a level of depreciation on the delivered product. And they are not looking for the “experience” of your store. They are hungry and they are lazy and they grew up ordering food from a phone. Why not yours? You can add significant revenue by hooking up with delivery sites. The margins may be less but you have enough margin in frozen desserts to make up for it.
Giving Back to Essentials: COVID-19 has affected everyone in some fashion. As business owners you have to worry about the future of your business. That is a major stress point. Especially being that the timing of this outbreak was right at the onset of dessert season. I’m glad there are people out there who can hunker down and get paid to do so. You are not one of them. That is a concern. However, there are also those out there that are on the front line and in the trenches with those afflicted with the virus. They should be recognized and commended and perhaps offering a treat is a little ray of sunshine for them. It could be now if you are open and can afford it. Or maybe when you get back on your feet and into the swing of business you reward those who have helped us all. We are currently sponsoring military members and sending them care packages since it’s been hard for them to get what they normally do for their family. Anything you can do would be greatly appreciated from those who need it the most. Make sure you let others know as well. Not only will you get the PR, but the real hope is your deed inspires others.4
Menu Product Marketing: Have you developed your Tiger King sundae yet? How about Ozark flavored ice cream? What else are people binge watching that you can somehow capitalize on? Think about. We are all spending alooooooooooot of time indoors right now. We are discovering new TV shows, movies, video games, board games, etc. Find out what’s hot and develop menu items that piggyback off their wave. Tap into the social consciousness of the masses to create buzz and sales for your store. If you are currently closed, don’t let that stop you from creating. As you see the light at the end of an opening tunnel, start to promote your creations via social media. Let them help you explode into a re-opening. If you are currently open even in a diminished fashion, start to create and promote. Don’t stop at the binge worthy menu items. Create larger take home packages. Think about a take home sundae kit for families – complete with various toppings, cones, multiple flavors of ice cream and even a can of whipped cream. Call it a game night or movie night special. Families all around are rediscovering board games – so maybe some creations off some of the old classics. ‘Chutes and Ladders’ and Ice Cream……’Guess Who?’ Wants some ice cream…..’Clue’ Me in on that new sundae you have. After being stuck inside for weeks, nothing is too corny.
Tighten the ship: You need to take advantage of this free time to do those annoying tasks you constantly put off in your business. Like understanding your food cost. Analyzing your payroll. Deep cleaning your operation. Figuring out your menu and prices. Shopping the necessary evils like insurance, merchant fees, healthcare, etc. By running a tighter ship you can improve cash flow that will help you navigate during difficult times. Sound like something that would be necessary in this context????? Also don’t assume that things go back to the old normal. There may be a new normal. Customers may still want to social distance. They still may prefer glove service. They still might like to see lines on the floors for spacing. The smell of bleach may not scare people off like it used to when they walk in your store. Keep that in mind as you work towards a re-opening.
Let’s take this time to benefit ourselves and our businesses. As a family business myself I know how important it is to spend time with the family and ensure their safety. But there is a second part to being a family business and that is the business side. We have to be conscience of current and future obstacles so can adapt and overcome.
Coronavirus sucks….ice cream is great.