February 27, 2011

What I learned from the founder of Jenni's Ice Cream

I love to hear stories about how someone has taken a risk to pursue what they are most passionate about, and how their perseverance and focus on creating remarkable art leads to success.

This past week, Jenni Bauer of Jenni's Splendid Ice Cream fame came into our office and shared her story about how Jenni's became what it is today and also gave us an idea why the business has experienced such remarkable growth over the past 4 years, despite what some might call the worst economy since the Great Depression.

The following are some lessons that I learned that seem to be consistent in the stories of many successful entrepreneurs.

Consistency matters.

To promote a customer base or a following around what you are doing, you have to give people a "craveable" reason to return.

What Jenni found was that while many people were fascinated by the unique flavors that she created, many repeat customers came back for their own personal favorite. But, she couldn't always guarantee that she would have that flavor, since her flavors were created based on what was available in the market and on her inspiration of the day.

She soon realized that she could increase her customer base without releasing control of her creative freedom by creating some of the more common flavors consistently. This grew her customer base, which also provided her the cash flow so she would have the freedom to be daring and creative with her art at the same time.

Think like a person with pink hair.

Passion is fundamental in creating something that is just a little bit different from the rest. While consistency is important, placing your entire focus on creating a product that only appeals to the masses waters down your brand, stifles innovation, and leaves you feeling like there is nothing left of yourself in the business you built.

Jenni remains true to her artistry in frozen confections by having two dipping stations in her stores. One station is all about consistency, selling the signature flavors that her customers have come to recognize and love, such as Salty Carmel. Another station is all about art, creating masterpieces with unique and seasonal ingredients, to include flavors like Olive Oil with Sea-Salted Pepitas.

Alone is not sustainable or scalable.

Accounting, training, hiring, legalities, real estate, sales, marketing, purchasing, logistics, and the list goes on and on. At the end of the day, you still just need to make ice cream. Otherwise, none of that other stuff matters.

There are a ton of activities that need to happen in the course of running a business, and while your business is still in the startup phase you may be able to work on some of these things yourself and still deliver a great product. Keep in mind, when you're just getting started, many of these things are not important. However, as your business expands, you have to find people that you trust that are passionate about your mission and vision, and are passionate about doing the business stuff.

For instance, while Jenni still spends time in the business, she has a team of people that want to see the company grow and are able to handle the details so she can focus on the product. This allows her to continue to innovate and create, which ultimate leads to a product that people return for.

Cultivate "symbiotic relationships" with your partners and vendors.

Jenni has found a lot of success in making sure that her vendors and partners are successful. By creating win-win relationships, you know exactly what you are putting into your products, and you can better ensure the quality of your products is consistently where it should be.

Jenni buys all of the cream that she uses in her ice from a single Ohio dairy, Snowville Creamery. Jenni's uses the cream from this single dairy, and by helping Snowville to be successful, has helped to ensure that the cream that she depends on to make her product stand out from others will continue to be around for years to come.

It was encouraging to hear Jenni speak about her experiences in getting started, as well where the business is going. When you love what you do, and play with your art (and sometimes your food), you will make a difference and have more fun doing so!

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