Episode 2 October 15, 2003

Hello again.  Time for another exciting episode of that new reality email ‘Ice Cream Diaries’.   I’m just into week three of my small business adventure, and things are moving right along.  I’ve managed to survive my first crisis – running out of candy corn, two weeks before Halloween!   Someone’s head will roll for that one.  No wait, I’m the only head.   Well, that’s not entirely true.  I inherited one employee, Betty, who I’m sure will be a character in a story or two sometime down the road.   She’s nice, very friendly with customers, and knows the difference between ‘Air Heads’ and ‘Fun Dips’ candy.  What more do you need in your candy store staff.  But I jump ahead.  I’ve still got to catch you up.  At the risk of boring you to tears, let me try to bring you up-to-date on all the fun that led up to the actual purchase of Sunrise Sweeties.  So let’s get to it, shall we.

When we ended last time, I had just found the location.  Here’s how the groundwork for the purchase of the business played out.  The couple of months between finding the right location and actually becoming a business owner were definitely hectic.   Before I get to that, I had promised to tell you how I ended up in the quaint little hamlet of Easthampton.   As is usually the case, it’s all about the network.  I came out here to central MA a few months ago to visit an old Lucent buddy of mine, Leslie, at her B&B.   She owns a cool B&B with a full restaurant/bar in Worthington, MA.  (which is for sale by the way). Better than that, she has 2 great golden retrievers (which are not).   So we’re sitting in her backyard one night in late July, drinking red wine around a fire roaring in a big belly chimney, and we get to talking about the old glory days, life, careers, and pondering such questions as which would you rather be, a midget or a dwarf.  Somewhere during that conversation I mention that I’m in the market for an ice cream shop.   Upon which, she tells me about a baker supplier/friend who recently started an ice cream/candy shop but wanted out.   So the next day on my way home, I stopped in to meet Carl the owner/baker and overworked candy-maker.  Sorry about the rhyme, my bad.  He gives me a quick tour.  The place had me at hello.  I just knew it was ‘the one’.  It had that old-fashioned look that exactly matched what I’d imagined.  Hardwood floors, 20 foot high tin ceilings, big windows in the front, soda fountain barstools, the works.  This place was sweet.   (my first, and probably not the last candy store pun.  Get used to it.)  And the price was definitely right.  The only unknown was the location and the town.   I had my Dad meet me up there a few days later to get his professional opinion (I like to call it DD, Dad Diligence).   He liked it.   I went back again with my drinking buddy Mark (you may remember him as my burping Australia travel buddy) to, as he called it, ‘give that puppy a test drive’.   We spent a night on the town to help me determine if it would be a cool place to live.   And to get a feel for the local color and culture.   Everyone we talked with gushed about how much Easthampton, especially downtown, has revived over the past few years.   Sounded like ‘right place, right time’ to me.  And the other good news was the rent was about one decimal point to the left of the Boston area locations I’d scouted.   My gut told me if this ice cream business thing was going to happen, this was the spot.  I made an offer, and with one small counter, my career began its turn down a very different track.

Next began the business prep work.  Carl’s lawyer drafted a P&S, and I found a lawyer to review it.    The only real concern was the non-compete stuff.   Seems he didn’t want me taking business from his bakery (located next door by the way) before it closes at 3 pm every day.  And I needed to be sure he couldn’t sell ice cream or candy in his place.  So if ice cream and Sour Patch Kids are your idea of the perfect lunch, I’ve got you covered.   I never said I was buying a health food store!  Other prep work included creative tasks like choosing a name.  That turned out to be one of the toughest jobs.  For a while it was ‘Father and Sundaes’, then ‘Ingram’s Ice Cream’, then ‘Scoops n’ Sweets’, and even dorkier ones (if you can believe it).   After finally whittling it down to two, Ingram’s and Mt. Tom’s, I poled my expert consulting team of Amy (my marketing pro friend) and Elspeth (my wicked creative sister-in-law) to help me make the craftiest marketing decision.   Mt. Tom’s won.  It sounds less formal, has a good ring to it, offers great logo potential (by the way, I just got the final logo design back from the graphic artist, I included it in the photos if you follow the link below), and will hopefully be accepted by the locals.    Next on tap was getting a bank loan.  I could describe that in painful detail but I won’t bore you more than you already are.   Speaking of boring, it’s amazing how much insurance I have in my life now.  Before taking over the business, I had to get liability insurance (bet you don’t know anyone who’s got insurance for ‘spoilage’), worker’s comp (my insurance buddy corrected me that it’s not ‘workman’s comp’), term life insurance (to cover the bank loan in case I die before it gets paid), and health insurance.   Wow.   And just to round out the boring prep stuff, I also decided to go the corporation route.   I filed my ‘articles of organization’ paperwork and am now president, vice-president, treasurer, and secretary of Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream, Inc.   Now I just gotta figure out all these new forms in my new life…1128, 2553, 941…    And I now even have an EIN to call my own.  Are you still awake?  Actually, the whole process of figuring out what I had to do was really interesting and, at times, challenging.    The funner part (sorry about the grammar Mom) has been brainstorming about what Mt. Tom’s will look and feel like.  The signature dish, flavors, candy, creative marketing, etc.   And how to ‘funk up’ the place without losing the cool old-fashioned nostalgic look and feel.   Stay tuned to see how that goes.   And by the way, I am always open to ideas…

Meanwhile, Dad began the search for ice cream making equipment.  On the list (and in the budget) are a batch freezer (the contraption that makes the ice cream), a blast freezer (to ‘fast freeze’ the ice cream after you first make it), a walk-in refrigerator to store the ingredients, a chocolate cooker (I think you can figure out what that does), and a dipping cabinet to hold the ice cream.    With this treasure hunt, Dad was officially brought out of retirement.   He’s taken me to a few vendors to see the prospective equipment.   It’s been cool to see Dad put on his game face and talk ice cream tech lingo with the reps.  I sit next to him and pretended to understand everything by nodding at what I think are the appropriate times and try not to be too obvious as I take notes like ‘ask dad what overrun means’.   On the drive home, I pepper Dad with questions.    I also visited other ice cream shops, taking notes on layout, pricing, etc. and getting ideas for my new place.  I sat with a few owners to get their insights on ice cream.  Slowly, I work my way up the learning curve.

Speaking of learning curve, next week I go to my first ice cream conference.  How wacky is that.  Technically, a lot of what I’m doing is similar to my old career.  Supply Chain stuff – setting up inventory, ordering parts, creating processes.  But instead of talking integrated circuits, lasers, and wavelengths, I’m talking chocolate Gummi bears and raspberry cordials.   And I get ‘The Candy Chronicle’ from the Jelly Belly Candy Company instead of ‘Optical Components Monthly’ from the IEEE.  Today, I’m meeting with Tamara, a local chocolate maker (a chocolatier?) who, like any good salesperson, is bringing samples.  In this case, handmade chocolate covered cherries.  God, I hate those darn vendor meetings!    Anyway, aside from the occasional cash flow anxiety, I’m having a lot of fun with it so far.   Happy to have that first day in retail under my belt.  Starting to get the hang of scooping ice cream and running the cash register.   Construction on the new ice cream kitchen is underway.   After 3 long days with my carpenter Uncle Jim, which included three hours in Home Depot speaking of adventures, the back kitchen is just a few days away from being ready for the equipment.   Shouldn’t be long before the ice cream making can begin.   I’m starting to get to know the regular customers.   A kid (reminded me of that tough kid in ‘Stand by Me’) came in the other day and just sat at the counter.  It took him a few minutes to realize I wouldn’t automatically know he always gets a root beer float.   Like the regular at Joe’s Bar who has a scotch on-the-rocks sitting in front of him before he even gets his coat off.   I think I’m going to like this gig.

Next time I’ll tell you how the ice cream conference in Woodstock, Vt. went and share a few funny stories from my first month behind the counter.

In the meantime, I dropped a few photos into the website below so you can actually see what Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream looks like.

Hope you have (or had) a great weekend.

Go Pats!

Your buddy,

Jim

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