How to Get Your Ice Cream Shop Through A Recession

Blue Ridge Ice Creams just celebrated 20 years in business in 2008. The onset of the present economic environment was subtle. The reason for this was that our peak season, which is directly opposite to most other businesses, was happening. We didn’t experience the decrease in sales that restaurants did in the last part of 2008 since that was our normal period to slow down.

With 2009 rolling in, we closed for January to clean, to do taxes, and to gather our thoughts for another season. BUT with the news, the reports of businesses closing, the domino effect of this influencing every aspect of running a business, we began to feel the unstable financial environment. The immediate reaction was fear. Fear breeds inaction, the need to believe that reality could not be! But in a small business, the entrepreneur has the drive to survive. With suppliers demanding payment up front,  with banks making loans impossible to get, with minimum wage increasing, with ingredient costs ever rising . . . action had to be taken. With one step at a time we began to feel more in control, and more positive in attitude.

We saved money in two important ways—-in food costs and in labor costs. First, we worked more hours ourselves and saved the labor hours for our employees when absolutely needed. We also revisit hours of operation for the shop. In the Winter months, fewer hours are needed as the demand is less. We closed more at the beginning of the week, than at the end or the weekend when we were more likely to be busy. In food costs, we tried to keep inventory low. We did not sacrifice quality, just did not order unless absolutely necessary and tried to use what we had without any waste. These were the steps which had immediate impact on controlling cash flow without which there would be no business to run.

NEXT we decided to promote, promote, promote actively. In this situation, I found that I started doing things I had always planned to do, but never implemented the ideas. There are the immediate things that were done. For the economy, our economic stimulus plan was to make Sundays, family time—-when everyone could come in and receive 10% off any purchase that day. Our regular promotions, a Buy One Get One Free coupon in a local coupon book and our weekday, after-school special of Buy One Get One-half off, continued to be MORE successful in these times.

More aggressive approaches to current programs are being taken. I am reaching out to schools in their accelerated reading programs with a Blue Ridge incentive. School fundraisers always occur in the Spring and Fall so contact schools and introduce yourself. For past catering clients, I am emailing a message to book again with an offer to keep prices the same as last year. Listen to other caterers that you work with to get referrals or ideas about other events that you might participate in.

I also prepared a press release to local media to write an article about various promotions by businesses in today’s depressed economy. A lengthier article is in progress to promote our shop, its uniqueness to our city with a history and description of products to our shop. This will be distributed to local magazines in hopes of getting it published during the ice cream season. You must plan ahead to get the article out in April for a June/July/August issue. Simple flyers or posters are being made to hand out during caterings; to leave at our city visitor center and chamber of commerce.

We have made it through the first quarter of the year which is the slowest for an ice cream shop. Now the approach of the peak ice cream season is in sight, however, we will continue to implement cost saving practices due to that lingering fear of a depressed economy as well as another minimum wage increase for our state coming only one year since the last one. We keep on taking steps to stay in business. Our community has always been supportive and I feel strongly that together we will come through this all.

Shop owner,

Deborah Lee

Jason Lexell

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