On Starting A $16K/Month Handmade Natural Ice Cream Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Stephen Layton and I am one of the founding members of The Good Scoop located in the greater Sacramento region. We make all of our own ice cream in house using fresh local and all-natural ingredients.
We are fortunate enough to be located in Central Valley California surrounded by a large number of wonderful family-owned farms. For example, we make a delicious lavender ice cream that utilizes lavender grown just down the road at Araceli Farms in Dixon. We love being able to get such amazing fresh ingredients close by.
I have always had the desire to start my own business and after some time exploring a number of options I settled on ice cream because I thought it would be a lot of fun and I saw a gap in the Sacramento Market. I grew up eating ice cream and loved going to all the classic ice cream parlors both where I grew up and in Sacramento. After traveling around and trying a bunch of different ice cream shops up and down the West Coast, I became inspired to bring a fresh farm-to-fork perspective to ice cream in Sacramento. We do have amazing ice cream shops in this area, but I thought there was room for a new take on the classic ice cream parlor.
Some of our best selling and most popular flavors include our banana, rosewater, lavender, and salted cookies and cream. We use fresh seasonally available ingredients, so we use peaches in the summertime and apples in the fall. Some of our more interesting flavors include horchata, honey wasabi, peppermint bark, and olive oil.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The backstory for The Good Scoop is that one of my good buddies from school and I were kicking around the idea of starting a business together, we went through a lot of different concepts and ideas along the way. After some time, we came upon ice cream. The conversation actually started with the idea of us buying out an existing ice cream shop in the Sacramento area but quickly evolved into making our own. We started making ice cream on the weekends and having a lot of fun while doing. Then came the realization that this might be a great business that could help put smiles on people's faces.
I had been working in the consulting industry for a number of years and I knew I wanted to do something different with my life when I went to Portland Oregon to visit some friends in February. They took us down to Salt & Straw ice cream and the line was out the door even though it was a rainy Portland winter's evening. That really got me thinking, if an ice cream shop could be that busy in the winter in Portland, how about the summer in the Central Valley of California?
When I returned back to Sacramento, I really dove into the local market looking at who was there making ice cream and although there were a lot of really great ice cream shops in the region, I felt like there was some room for some innovation along the lines of what some scoop shops in New York City, Los Angeles, and Portland were making. It was from these ideas, and playing around with the concept that I decided to help bring artisan ice cream to the Sacramento region. There are a number of other individuals in this area working in the same market, which I personally think is great. I think the more Artisan ice cream makers we have the better off we all are.
It was during this time that my concept for farm-to-fork ice cream was coming together that the City of Sacramento really began to find its identity and brand itself as the farm-to-fork capital of America. There has been a huge uptick in the number of local restaurants that emphasize the bounty of fresh fruits and produce grown in this region. I was both inspired by and wanted to be a part of this growing movement. We have done our best to fully embrace the farm-to-fork movement and at the end of September, we participated for the second year in a row, in Farm-to-Fork Festival on the Capital Mall in downtown Sacramento.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When I first got serious about trying to start an ice cream business and making ice cream one of my buddies and I bought a nice small Italian countertop ice cream maker off of Amazon. We started making ice cream in our houses in East Sacramento each weekend, having fun with the process. We got creative and came up with all different types of flavors, experimenting with different combinations in order to get our ice cream flavors just right. There was a lot of tasting and ice cream eating that took place! During this process, we started compiling a list of our recipes and flavors that we could make. We always paid close attention to what some of our favorite ice cream shops around the country were doing and I took some inspiration from them while trying to put our own unique twist on our ice cream.
Sometimes not having a lot of experience doing something or learning from an expert allows you to be more creative and free to try new ideas.
When we finally got our first commercial ice cream machine, a small Emery Thompson CB-350, it was a bit overwhelming and we were nervous as to how the process would translate from a small countertop machine to a larger commercial one. We have always believed that if you take the highest quality products and ingredients available and combine them we would have a quality ice cream. This was a huge help getting started, as the old adage quality in and quality out remained true for us. We just started making ice cream and having fun, people started really enjoying some of the flavors we were making. Admittedly we started with some basic flavors and built up from there to some more challenging and complex flavors. An important lesson we have learned is to have fun! We have found if we are having fun making the flavors, they typically translate very well to the customer.
There are a lot of regulations in dairy products in California and thus we started off working under a limited manufacturing permit from the State of California. We were able to make the ice cream in our shop to be served exclusively in house, however, we were limited in our ability to wholesale our product under this type of manufacturing permit. We knew that in order to grow our business we would need a dedicated production facility. After being in business for a few years we built and opened a new location in a former yogurt shop that included an approved dairy production facility, or clean room, allowing us to wholesale our ice cream. There are a number of stringent construction requirements that we had to adhere to in order to get the facility permitted. In our experience, this process was both long and expensive but the permitting agencies were generally helpful and easy to work with.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The actual launch of The Good Scoop took us many months of planning and lots of effort to put together. We worked with a well known local design/branding/event company in the Sacramento region, Unseen Heroes. They were instrumental in helping us get our website and logo set. It was great to work with such a creative team and we highly recommend them to all our friends and colleagues. We worked closely with Unseen Heroes to develop our brand and logo, they helped us think through some of the opportunities and challenges that the market presented. I found it especially helpful to have some outside opinions, those that were not as focused solely on the ice cream business, they brought a unique and helpful perspective.
We were able to attract a group of investors as well as self-fund the beginning phases of the business. We were able to secure a few loans from friends and family to finance some of the other startup expenses. Starting a business, just like they say, it's always more expensive then you can even imagine and there's always something that comes up. We did use our credit cards, in the beginning, to cover a few shortfalls until we got the business moving forward.
We worked with Unseen Heroes to create a grand opening celebration for our first scoop shop in Davis. They helped us do a lot of promotion and invited a number of key players and influencers in the region. On the day of our grand opening we had music, food, and some fun activities for the kids. This really helped us to start off on the right foot and it was amazing seeing a line of people for our grand opening. I would highly rec that others thinking about opening up a business consider working with a local event agency to help really create a buzz around their grand opening. This wasn't especially inexpensive but we believe it was a good use of limited resources and allowed us to hit the ground running
Lessons learned when starting a business are almost too numerous to count. When we were first getting started, I really thought it was important to have the element of surprise, this turned out to not be as important as I felt; there are a few people I wish I would have spoken with first and reached out to and in reality it did not really matter that people are surprised by our new product. People are curious and it makes a lot of sense, I believe, to try to get them engaged in your business as soon as possible.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since our company started selling ice cream in early 2016 we have learned lots of lessons, some of them painful and some of them have been great. I continue to learn every day and refine what we do to meet the needs of our local customers. Opening and operating a business in California is especially challenging these days due to all the rapid changes in both the local economy, the workforce, as well as laws and regulations.
Good customer service is still one of the most important things that any business can offer and we've had a good deal of success focusing on that. I am sure this is something we have all heard hundreds of times but it remains very true. Customer service is something that is very important to us and something that we can offer to our customers to help make their experience as memorable as possible. As an ice cream shop, we hope and strive to put a smile on everyone’s face. We always think that a scoop of ice cream can turn a person’s day around and bring a smile to everyone’s face. We make sure all our employees share our values and make sure that they provide the best customer service experience possible.
Partnering with other local businesses has also been a great way to expand our network and attract new customers. Partnering with like-minded local businesses and integrating some of their food products into our ice cream has allowed us to make new friends and branch out to new customers, plus we have been making some really delicious ice cream in the process.
We were a little too concerned with keeping our business idea as quiet as possible when we should have probably taken a more open approach.
We have tried a number of different advertising platforms and had varying levels of success. We have been open to trying a variety of different avenues but the best advertising we have found thus far is good old word of mouth. If people have a great customer experience at our shop they're more likely to bring in friends and family to try or ice cream or to tell their friends. I have seen it hundreds of times when a customer brings back their parents, friends, or colleagues. We go out of our way to treat each customer with the utmost respect in hopes of establishing long-term repeat customers of each person that comes through our door.
In our shop, we have always offered frequent scooper program if you buy 10 scoops you get one free, we use our Square register to track this for our customers. It is been a nice incentive and a way to reward our regular customers. I think people appreciate this and it's our little way of giving back to our customers.
We have had a great deal of success on Instagram, I've been lucky enough to work with some great people that have taught us a lot about social media and growing our business. We have been fortunate enough to work with great people like Mimi Council and her team at Above 8000 Creative, we consider ourselves lucky to have gotten to work with them. We really enjoy communicating with our customers on social media, especially Instagram and we love taking pictures of our happy customers. It's a great tool for us to share with customers what are ice cream looks like. We are finding that reviews and various websites such as Yelp are not carrying as much weight for customers as they used to, in the age of Instagram, people can simply log on and take a look and see what our ice cream looks like and they typically get a pretty good idea if they are going to like it or not .
We try and make sure a customer who visits our shop once becomes a repeat customer. We are always offering new and unique ice cream flavors. Our customers know they can always stop in for a delicious scoop of chocolate, coffee, or vanilla ice cream, but they also know that we have some more interesting flavors like blueberry cheesecake, peaches and cream, olive oil, and cardamom, just to name a few. We want people to know they can get their favorites but we also like to encourage people to try something new. This is one of the ways we try and keep our ice cream experience new and fresh for our customers.
With our new production facility in Dixon we've had the ability to begin to wholesale our ice cream, we are just really beginning this process but we believe it will be a big part of us growing our business in the future. Being as ice cream is a very temperature-sensitive product we have not done many sales online or via retailers like Amazon, although we would love to be able to do that in the future.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we are continuing to look for new wholesale partners of which we have found a number in and around the Sacramento region. We are excited to see our ice cream coming into several new venues including Seasons Restaurant and the Three Ladies Cafe, both in Davis. We are continuing to look for ways to grow our business and our distribution channels, we encourage people to contact us on social media and via our website with ideas and possible collaborations.
We are in the final planning stages for our new scoop shop in downtown Sacramento. We are very excited to be opening up a new shop at 1430 Q Street in a very busy part of Midtown as well as being part of the R Street Corridor. There are so many great and innovative businesses and individuals in this area, we are ecstatic to start scooping our ice cream in Sacramento in early 2020. We are looking forward to meeting lots of new people, creating lots of great collaborations, and making some uniquely Sacramento ice creams.
Our Dixon shop has only been open for a little more than 6 months, we are still ironing out some of the kinks while learning how to best serve this community. Thus far everyone in Dixon has been incredibly kind and welcoming and our new production facility has allowed us to reduce our cost of goods sold from 35-40% down to 20-25%. We look forward to being able to grow year-over-year at our Dixon location because the shop was designed to serve two functions firstly as our production hub and second as a scoop shop.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Our first location for our scoop shop was in Davis California, although we think it is a great community in downtown, Davis is experiencing a lot of change, some good but most not as good for small businesses. We opened our Davis shop with very high hopes but unfortunately, that particular location did not work out for us. Davis is not unlike many towns and regions in California that are experiencing some drastic and rapid growth and change, it is tough for any and all of us to deal with but it has certainly been a challenge for our business as well. The City of Davis continues to struggle with the changing economic landscape and it made operating a business in that town far too difficult.
Since we closed up shop in Davis and opened up in Dixon we've seen a number of local Davis businesses either close or relocate out of town. After 3 years in Davis trying to make it work, it was a tough decision to close that location but we had to do what made the most business sense and leave our emotions out of this process
One of the biggest lessons we've learned is to really be patient for the right opportunity, there are lots of opportunities that present themselves on a regular basis. People want to work with us and have us participate in their events, we've had to learn to be more patient, picky, and say no sometimes. We also get a lot of inquiries about opening another shop in various locations around the region, it is quite easy to get wrapped up in the excitement and the emotion of having another location but it is beyond crucial to take your time and take a step back and make sure the deal is right because if this is not the right opportunity then another opportunity will present itself given time and patience.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Part of what attracted us to the ice cream business was its simplicity. it does not require a lot of technology or anything of that sort. We consider ourselves part of the slow food movement and we try to take our time producing our ice cream. We utilize Square for our POS system and use their payroll and loyalty programs which have worked great for us.
Wix has worked wonderful for our website and our team keeps it simple with our files and just uses a simple shared online server. We use Yelp and Google My Business, we respond to all reviews and have done some advertising with Google Adwords.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Ice cream makers are notoriously tight-lipped about their processes, and we have found that to be very true. We tried to reach out to a number of friends and acquaintances but we're not able to find anyone to really show us the ropes. That did not stop us, we knew we had to figure it out on our own so we got a number of books from Malcolm Stogo about making ice cream and these were great resources for us as we began making ice cream.
Our ice cream batch freezers are Emery Thompson machines, they are great machines that are built to last. Emery Thompson offers a variety of ice cream recipes on its website as well as a YouTube channel, which they use to demonstrate the ice cream production process using their machines. We used some of these tools as a starting point and watched and observed, from what we saw we were able to start to develop our own unique techniques and methods for producing our flavors and ice cream with its unique texture.
Some of our ice creams are inspired by others, some of our flavors and methodologies for infusing our flavors were just us being creative and trying some things. Sometimes not having a lot of experience doing something or learning from an expert allows you to be more creative and free to try new ideas.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice to new entrepreneurs or people starting new ventures is to make sure you have the right team in place and hold out for the right location. I believe we were a little too concerned with coming to the market as quickly as possible and keeping our business idea as quiet as possible when we should have probably taken a more open approach.
One common trap I have found myself falling into repeatedly is trying to do too much. It is easy to always say “I can do that” or “I'll take on that task” but at some point, it just becomes too much. That is why it is extremely important to have a good team and team members you can rely on. You will get tired, you will get sick, people will leave, and there is always more work to be done than you can even imagine so making sure you have people that can share the load with you is very important.
Some people are hesitant to give up a share of their business to others, they think they can do it all by themselves, I think that does work fine for some people but I do think a lot of people would be better served by having a larger and more diverse team. Entrepreneurs can potentially grow their business even larger and see larger personal returns for themselves in the business by having a better bigger team and getting more done overall.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
With our Sacramento shop on the horizon over the next few months, we are beginning to look for some leadership and management that can help us run the Sacramento location. We will produce all of our ice creams in Dixon but our plan is to have dedicated Sacramento staff including a shop manager who really has their thumb on the pulse of Midtown, downtown, and the R Street Corridor in Sacramento. This is one of the fastest-growing most exciting regions in the entire country and we're looking for the right person who understands this and sees the potential to help us grow in this location.
The ice cream business is very seasonal, it is much busier in the summer than in the winter, and that's why we are always on the lookout and are hiring seasonal employees when the weather starts turning nice. This has worked out well for us, as it has allowed us to tap into students and other people that have their summers free and that are looking for some temporary employment. We are always on the lookout for great new employees to join our team, so if you know anyone or might be a good fit yourself please send us an email with your resume.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
The Good Scoop has provided an update on their business!
Over 1 year ago, we followed up with The Good Scoop to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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