Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Shannon Imler and I am the founder of the Ice Cream Factory. I grew up on a farm with my two twin sisters, one brother, my father, and my grandfather. I started the Ice Cream Factory to bring the best, most delicious ice cream to my hometown. I had no idea it would grow into the wonderful company that it has!
We now have ten total ice cream containers that we sell in-store. Our flagship flavors include Blackberry Cobbler, Brownie Blast, Cake Batter, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Cobalt Cookie, Coconut Almond Paradise, Extreme Mint, Factory Favorite, Gooey Butter Cake, and Peanut Butter Blast. In the last 18 months, we have expanded to 400+ stores, opened a second location, and are in several states.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My story actually starts before Ice Cream Factory in a small corner store named Bailey’s. Bailey’s was our initial hometown ice cream store in Eldon, MO. Bailey’s was known for hot summer nights, hanging out with friends, and a family-oriented atmosphere. From a business standpoint, there was a lot of turmoil over finances and management at Bailey’s and they were struggling to stay afloat.
I invested in Bailey’s to help my friend, who happened to own the business, and also try to save the ice cream shop we all loved so much. In the beginning, I had no interest in ice cream, but my friend needed help to keep Bailey’s alive and I wanted to support him.
This quickly led to me buying a used, hand-cranked ice cream maker. I would spend countless hours cranking out different ice cream flavors and testing the limits. Pickle ice cream was a complete disaster! While, on the other hand, Cobalt Cookie was a delicious lifesaver. From that point on I was hooked.
I had the financial resources to back the idea but I had many oppositions from people in my life, including those very close to me. I felt a pull in my heart to pursue ice cream and I ran with it. This career has brought me all over the country and I have had the pleasure of meeting so many different people along the way.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We began our product with the most important thing in mind, the customer. We were aiming for a quality product that everyday consumers could afford. We quickly learned there are so many moving parts that go into the production and manufacturing of ice cream.
Being wary of people is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way. Not everyone has the best intentions for you, but when you do find the people who have good intentions make sure you hire them and pay well!
We found a company to do our mix. We hired another company to build our containers. We set our bakery team on figuring out the most delicious brownies, ooey gooey butter cakes, and cookies imaginable. We also knew we would need the standard ice cream toppings.
Our containers were designed with all of our inclusions on the outside. Our strawberry cheesecake had strawberries and graham cracker pieces on the outside. Cobalt Cookie had our cookie pieces and blue ice cream on the outside container. We wanted our customers to feel hungry when they saw our product on the shelf. Our most ingenious idea was to have a clear lid so customers could see exactly what they were getting. We wanted to be very transparent with our product and keep it enticing.
After we designed the containers and ice cream we had to figure out how to produce it on a large scale. This involved making a small production area that is connected to our Eldon location where we would hand pack containers. We would then load those containers in sets of 12 into brown boxes and bring them to stores that wanted to sell our product.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We really launched our business in the small back room with a hand-cranked ice cream machine. We would talk about all sorts of ideas we had for Ice Cream Factory there. We laughed. We cried. We worked really hard on a vision with Ice Cream Factory leading the way. We bought a building that was completely condemned and had previously been a Kraft Cheese factory. We remodeled it into the ice cream shop and storage area.
We had a large portion that we also used as a wedding venue on the back half of the building. Within a year the wedding venue was upgraded to office spaces and is now the headquarters for Ice Cream Factory.
I financed the idea through my life savings. I bought into my own dream. While I knew this dream was going to take maximum effort, I did not know that customer service would be the #1 factor to success. It really isn't about the ice cream, it is about the customer service. Our customers have to be our #1 priority because they are the reason we stay in business and we want them to be the happiest people on the planet when they have our ice cream. I began pouring my heart into customer service to make our business the best it could be.
So we had our incredible ice cream with homemade goodies as inclusions. We sold it in our one scoop shop in Eldon, Missouri and that was all we needed to be content.
Until we were approached by someone to sell our ice cream at a different scoop shop. Initially, when this happened, I turned them down because I was ignorant of the possibilities of the Ice Cream Factory. Then I realized that we have an amazing product that everyone should be enjoying. Plus, what could one extra location hurt?
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The Happiness Tour! And social media. We began the happiness tour in the summer of 2020. It was me and two of my employees in a really loud, hot, uncomfortable truck and trailer traveling to over 130 locations all over Missouri. It was challenging but well worth it.
Almost every single employee working in the scoop shops was able to travel on this tour. It was an excellent change of pace and a way to freshen up our work environment!
Every customer we saw had a smile on their face and it made our day to service all our newfound customers.
If there was a pop-up event, we were there. If there was a food truck show, we were there. Sometimes we would pull over on the side of a busy street and start handing out ice cream. We have over 110k likes on Facebook and most of them have been organic through this tour. We got to meet so many different people.
The second portion of that was social media. I recently got out of a meeting where this company was trying to sell me radio ads. They gave me a metaphor in which they claimed radio to be the baseline of all marketing and if I wasn’t on the radio then I was doing it wrong.
I beg to think differently because of how centralized our phones have become to our everyday lives. You can look into any given car on the road and they are looking at their phones or people who are out to dinner are on their phones looking for dessert. Social media marketing is a huge component of our business and we utilize it every way we can!
For a while, we hired a marketing consultant for our Instagram and Twitter named Liz and she was phenomenal. She would run ads on the radio for us, post on Instagram a few times a day, tweet once a day, and we talked to her on the phone every other day for twenty minutes to touch base. Granted, we paid for all this exposure from Liz and we paid a lot for it, but it was well worth it to get our names out there. We were running our own Facebook page and TikTok in-house. We were really lucky to have someone who did graphic design and happened to like social media on our team.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today the company is profitable but not overly profitable. We do well for ourselves but we are not trying to be greedy because we want as much funding as possible going to the future of Ice Cream Factory. We know that ICF will be huge but we need to be mindful of how to get it to that level. We are very cautious with our finances as the ice cream is a seasonal business and we need to be prepared for when winter hits.
Our business is always growing and reaching new customers. In the future, we are looking at being highly profitable. We have a goal to hit $863.2 million in revenue once we have our ice cream rolling out the way we intend it to. Our distribution is currently DSD which means we do a lot of it ourselves.
Employee appreciation is essential. Without acknowledging the work your employees make, you have no one to market your brand. You will be nothing without people who support you and your vision.
We are also in the HyVee distribution center and are working with some smaller distribution companies. We create most of our revenue through wholesale. Our scoop shops add additional income in the summer but are not critical to our physical brand. We love being able to interact with our customers on a face-to-face basis.
At the end of the day, we would love to have multiple production plants all over the country with distribution all over the world.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We are huge supporters of Shopify. Our entire business runs through this platform. We use it between customers, locations, and from staff member to staff member. We take all of our account orders through Shopify and then our distribution and production team receive those orders and begin preparing them. We also use GoShip.com to move all of our products from place to place, unless we move it ourselves.
We use an app called Sap Concur to hold all of our receipts. We also use Square for our in-store purchases. We recently invested in Square registers for our locations and they have worked well with our business model, very effective and simple to use.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
This question was very interesting to me because I actually don’t listen to podcasts or read books. All of my influence has typically come from articles I have read about Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs. I wanted to look into very successful companies and their leaders. I read what I can because I want to be on their level of success. To be the best in the world, you have to study the behaviors and methods of the best in the world.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I do not follow any fancy business models or ideas. I am a true believer in grit and hard work being the top things to getting you wherever you want to be in the world. Do not be afraid to work hard and really dive into your passion! Everyone is meant to do great things, in their own way. My great thing is ice cream and making people happy!
Also, be very good at math! I can almost always tell if a situation will be beneficial based on a few calculations. Being wary of people is also a lesson I have had to learn the hard way. Not everyone has the best intentions for you, but when you do find the people who have good intentions make sure you hire them and pay well!
Employee appreciation is essential. Without acknowledging the work your employees make, you have no one to market your brand. You will be nothing without people who support you and your vision. One way to ensure that employees are behind you is to show them how important they are and have them buy into your vision. If you do not believe in your product, how is anyone else supposed to?
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes! We are always looking for summer help at our Eldon and Jefferson City locations! Our scoop shop employees are the face of the business! As our company grows we see needs for an HR position as well.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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