You read that right! My ice cream shop business made $36,000 in our first month!
I know for many big restaurants $36,000 isn’t a lot of money. But for the first month of our 500 square foot ice cream shop, this was a big deal!
While I’m proud of our business, the point of this article isn’t really about the numbers. I want to share my stories – the highs and lows of the journey and the lessons learned along the way.
I know that building your own food or beverage business is a long and difficult journey. It’s okay to struggle! It’s okay to feel lonely, because I felt the same way.
That’s the reason why I want to share my story, to inspire you to keep fighting for that success that’s coming your way.
I’ll also be sharing the 3 Most Valuable Lessons I learned, so you can hopefully avoid making the same mistakes!
In 2015, I brought my parents to South Korea.
I love to travel with my parents. As an entrepreneur, we can get so wrapped up in our businesses and forget to spend quality time with our parents. However, one of the greatest perks of being your own boss is being able to take time off when you need it, so I try to take my parents on a trip every year.
Korea is known for having very innovative desserts – they always focus on the details like presentation and packaging. This is one of the reasons why I love going to Asia, the culture is so rich and exciting.
While we were there, we came across this beautiful dessert with smoke coming out of ice cream! On the ice cream, there was a block of honeycomb. It just went so well together, and I thought this was such a brilliant idea that I could bring to North America.
At that time in Vancouver, we had nothing like this. The dessert scene was very basic, and honestly boring which is why I thought that concept would do exceptionally well here.
Like all the great entrepreneurs, we see great ideas and opportunity everywhere.
At that time I was also running my entertainment and tutoring businesses, so I knew I needed a partner to help out. It’s all about finding strategic partners that actually bring value to the table.
So I reached out to lots of my friends and colleagues to find the right person who could commit their time, efforts, and energy into spearheading this project.
Luckily, I eventually found my partner Brian, who is super dedicated and was up for the challenge. I pitched the idea and he immediately shared that same passion and drive.
Neither of us knew anything about the ice cream business, but we had the right attitude. We kept trying different things and didn’t take no for an answer.
We knew we had to get the “smoking” part of the ice cream just right in order to market our concept. The vapor came from dry ice, that was placed in a cup with hot water underneath the ice cream. The cup has an insert with holes that lets the smoke billow out from the dessert.
I actually flew back to Korea to talk to the people in the company about their concept. I wanted to either franchise their business, buy the mold from them, or just purchase their inserts, but they were not interested.
They thought they were the only people who could create this design. The manager wanted to charge me over $5,000 + $0.25 per insert to work with them!
It was just outrageous. This was not happening.
We went back and forth until I decided I didn’t even need their help. At the end of the day, I knew I could find my own factory to create my own molds… so that’s exactly what we did.
We tweaked the designs to better fit our concepts, and found another factory willing to manufacture them for us for only $0.12 each!
The lesson learned here is this: Don’t take no for an answer!
Don’t let people boss you around. Be resourceful and go full steam ahead.
Next step was to lease our location.
We figured out all the renovations, all the permits, all the ingredients, all the recipes, marketing, and everything else you can think of. We were extremely excited!
I still remember this very day, where my friend sent me this article, just two months before opening. The article featured another ice cream shop in Vancouver that just opened with our identical concept: organic, honeycomb, dry ice smoke, everything.
We were devastated.
We had just spent months dealing with suppliers and building this whole concept that was going to be the very first in Vancouver. It was a very difficult time for our team.
We ended up, within two months of opening, rebranding the entire business. We printed out new cups. We changed the whole concept, because we knew that people would think we just copied them. If you position yourself that way, you’re gonna lose all the edge that you have.
It was a lot of work but looking back in hindsight, I’m so glad we changed the concept because at that time we were really shortsighted and not thinking about building a bigger brand.
So instead of calling the company Honey 720, we rebranded it to 720 Sweets, something more generic that could house a lot more products under this brand.
As we approached our grand opening, we still weren’t ready. My staff was very nervous and unhappy that we opened anyway.
“Hey Wilson, we don’t even have a till.” I told them to use cups. “Hey Wilson, we don’t even have a float.” I withdrew $200 and opened the shop.
I’m so glad we opened when we did because some bloggers visited on the first day. They came and tried our product and posted it online. After, our shop was ranked the number one dessert chain! We really felt the full effect of influencer marketing, and were packed for six months straight!
The truth is that you’ll never be 100% ready. You just have to do it. You just have to make things work.
There are always things that you can improve on, and the longer you wait the longer you’re going to delay that process and the more opportunities you’ll miss.
So as long as you have your minimum bare bones, just open the doors and people will understand.
This whole journey has been such an amazing experience. I have the utmost respect for food and beverage owners and restaurateurs. Out of all the different businesses that I’ve run, this has got to be the most difficult.
This business has taught me so much and I am just so thankful for everything that happened to our team. At the end of the day, it really gave us the grit, determination, and perseverance. And these are really the traits that make a great entrepreneur.
The 3 Valuable Lessons I Learned
1.) You Will Never Be Ready
The number one lesson that I’ve learned throughout this process, is that you’re never going to be ready, BUT that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
We had no experience with ice cream, or in the restaurant industry at all! But we knew that our great concept, determination, and commitment to our success would get us there.
That’s the reason why we took it one step at a time. We learned the trade from ground zero.
If you wait around until you’re “ready”, nothing will ever happen!
If we waited even two, three weeks later to open out doors, we would’ve never met the influencers and our business wouldn’t have blown up. We would never have been able to expand to across Canada, let alone internationally!
Even when we franchised, we had no idea what we were doing. But the end of the day, we knew for a fact that wanted to learn and believed in ourselves enough that everything would work out.
If you’re thinking about taking that leap, this is the time to do it! Believe in yourself because at the end of the day, you’re never ever gonna be ready.
One book that helped me out a ton is “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries.
It taught me exactly what we needed to do and it just allowed me to understand that as long as we had a concept that we push out to the market, we can always reiterate. I really recommend you read it, you can buy it [here].
2.) You Will Never Have Enough Time Or Money
Lesson number two is that you’ll never have “enough” time or money to get started.
When 720 Sweets began I was also running two other businesses! It was super difficult to manage our time well and get things done.
We had to learn how to delegate and see the value in hiring experienced professionals. It’s super important to know how to buy back your time and make the most of your resources.
If you don’t listen to professionals, you could make costly mistakes, like buying the wrong equipment. That’s $10,000-$20,000 wasted!
So consult with or hire experts to shortcut your time and resources. Those investments can be very important and worthwhile.
In the long run this will save you so much more time and money. I know it seems counterintuitive, but that’s what it takes!
We bought two wrong machines because we didn’t listen to our consultant. We were running different marketing campaigns instead of listening to one of our marketing consultants. All these things cost us in the end.
The point being, to make the most of your time and money by taking that step, and doing it correctly the first time.
Another resource that I want share with you is a book by Michael Gerber called “E-Myth Revisited”. This book completely changed my life in so many ways, because it taught me how to build a proper business. You can buy this book [here] It’s super helpful and effective if you’re trying to build a business from the ground up.
3.) Know Who To Hire
The third important lesson I learned is to hire the right person for the job.
For example, there’s a difference between a consultant and a practitioner.
Consultants might not even have any real life experience. Their business is just teaching you how to run your business, but they haven’t been in the trenches, they haven’t put in the blood sweat and tears to know what’s at stake. Practitioners have been there and have real experiences and lessons learned to help your grow.
We actually spent tens of thousands of dollars hiring consultants. The results were not super effective because all their advice was theory based.
Eventually, we decided to hire a practitioner, which made such a huge difference because they know exactly what is going on in the business.
There are a couple other books I highly recommend that transformed my life and business.
The first is by Ray Kroc, “Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonald’s”. You can buy the book [here] to learn from the most successful restaurant of all time. The second book called “Pour Your Heart Into It” by Howard Schultz tells the story of Starbucks, which you can buy [here].
These two books are super insightful, super inspirational, and you can really learn from the best in the business.
I know that this journey can be super lonely and difficult, which is precisely why I wanted to share with you my journey, what our business has been through, and the three most valuable lessons that I’ve learned.
If you’re ready to dive in, or are already in the process of starting your restaurant, you can find a lot more great resources [here].
Keep your head up high, take small steps and you’ll get there!