Make sure you have enough capital. As with any business, you have to be properly capitalized before you can begin. Make sure you understand the costs involved. This includes hard costs such as equipment, furniture, signage to variable costs like construction, permits, architect fees and more. You also want to ensure you have some opening operating capital to get you through the first few months.
Don’t cut corners or settle. Whether it be on your capital, your location, your vision or your equipment – don’t cut corners. It’s very important to follow through on every item throughout the process. If you start taking shortcuts now, it will not stop. You will start to take shortcuts on your employees, your product, your vision, your customer service. Think your profit won’t suffer at all?
Make sure you have a good location. What is a good location? Well that is a tough question. There are some standards such as good visibility. Easy access in and out. Strong population density. However, an ice cream business should become a destination for people. So being a bit off the beaten path is not a deal breaker. Having a good location is a key component to your success. Can you incorporate a drive thru?Remember, you get one chance to pick a spot. Don’t rush it.
Don't withhold on quality. Quality counts and customers are willing to pay for it. Use quality ingredients and fresh products that will keep your customers coming back again and again. No matter what your product is, gelato, soft serve, or sorbet your customers are looking for high quality, homemade products that are unique. Quality is also about providing great service to your customer and creating a fun, safe, friendly environment.
Know your concept. We have opened water ice concepts. Shake concepts. Ice cream concepts. Yogurt concepts. Mixed concepts. Combination concepts. I think once we even did just a plain concept. Point is, there are many options within the frozen dessert world. The right concept can help define your success. For example, does your demographic and location prefer a certain product? Will your shop be walk in or walk up? What will your theme be? Will you have homemade product or wholesale? Your store needs to have an identity built around your concept.
Don’t use the internet as your buying source. Again, the internet is a great tool. So is a screwdriver – that is unless you have to saw wood. Point is, a tool must be used properly to prove its worth. The internet can be a strong resource for some information, but buying equipment off the internet is dangerous. I know that is self-serving since we sell equipment here, but that does not mean I’m not right. The ice cream equipment is key to the quality of your product and its performance is directly tied to your bottom-line. Buying the right equipment from the right company is a must.
Understand the process. When you open a business from the ground up there are many business type things you need to do. Creating a legal entity, registering with the town, providing architectural drawings for permits and construction. Hiring contractors and eventually employees. Preparing balance sheets and profit and loss statements. Employee handbooks, uniforms and payroll. These are all important but necessary and often times excruciating steps in the process of opening a business. Having a good partner (ahem…Sentry) that can help guide you from A to Z is paramount.
Don’t listen to everyone. This kind of piggybacks of the homework content. When you decide to open a business you will most likely start telling people. Family. Friends. Business associates. Well, these people will have an opinion. Some will be supportive and helpful. Some will be negative. Others in the middle. Don’t let your passion be compromised by others. Stay on course. Keep your head in the clouds but your feet on the ground. Take it all in but don’t try and convince someone else that you should do something you want to do. Understand the difference between actual useful advice and verbal diarrhea.
Do your homework. Who didn’t love homework as a kid? Well great news…now you get to do homework as an adult! Homework does not consist of late night internet surfing expeditions. There is a lot of information online that is just wrong (This blog excluded of course!). As a novice, weeding through the rights and wrongs is almost impossible. Your best bet is to get out there and visit stores. Talk to owners. Talk to customers. Most business owners are willing to share as long as you are not future competition. You can learn more from a few days in the field than you will from weeks at your laptop.
Don’t think it won’t be hard, hard work. Maybe you know someone who owns their own business. Maybe you’ve seen them out golfing in the middle of the day. Maybe they come and go as they please. Well that won’t be you for a while! Opening a startup ice cream business is taxing. You need to be there. You need to provide the business the proper foundation so that it gets off to the right start. Employees won’t care like you. Managers won’t care like you. Family and friends won’t care like you. You and what you bring cannot be replaced. After the business does open, you cannot just show up at night to count the register. A business owner is invested financially, emotionally and physically into their business. It truly becomes a lifestyle.