Here at Intuit, we regularly visit customers to get a first‐hand account of what challenges small businesses are experiencing both with using Intuit products and with running their business in general. One of the customers I visited recently was Gary Schoen, the owner of Rick’s Ice Cream in Palo Alto, California. Gary shared his story of how he came to be the owner of a gourmet ice cream shop. I found the story very inspiring so I am sharing it with you here.
While in high school in Phoenix, Gary worked part‐time at an ice cream store and loved it. Everything about the job was cookies ‘n cream ‐‐‐ the customers, the ambiance, and of course the product. After high school, Gary put his dream on hold and dutifully went off to college, then joined the corporate ranks. For the next 30 years, he built a successful career across 5 companies and 3 states, but never forgot about his high school job at the ice cream store.
It was in his last corporate job that the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself. It was 2001, and the United States was over a year into a stubborn economic recession. The company that Gary was working for was laying off employees to make up for slow sales. Gary saw the severance packages that were being offered and, after much angst, decided the time was right to pursue his lifelong dream. He volunteered to be laid off and used his severance package to buy Rick’s Ice Cream, a neighborhood ice cream shop.
Since Gary took over Rick’s Ice Cream, he’s parlayed his passion for ice cream into a successful business. He has doubled the store’s square footage, expanded the wholesale business and launched a catering business. He’s gotten to where he is by developing a deep understanding of his customers and always challenging himself to do better. For example, Palo Alto experienced an unseasonably cool summer this year, resulting in a sharp decline in customers coming to the store for ice cream. In response, Gary introduced pastries and fudge to tempt those who may feel it’s too cold for a frozen treat. He is also actively building his catering business in which he brings the deliciousness of Rick’s Ice Cream to corporate and private events via a brightly painted freezer cart. As Gary says, he needs to sell a lot of cones in the store to make the equivalent of what he earns during an hour‐long catering event.
I never know what I’m going to learn when I visit a small business owner. In this case, I wanted to find out more about how Gary was using mobile and social marketing in his business. We did talk about those topics, but it was the story of how Gary is living his dream as an “ice cream guy” which really struck a chord.