Hiscox Business Club – the ice cream parlour pioneer
How did you get started in business?
I’ve done many jobs and been self-employed most of my life. I’ve been successful in most of my ventures – apart from marriage! I was a dog groomer and from there I went into running pubs for 10 years. Then, after a period in interior design and developing property with my current partner – Howard, we ‘retired’ in 2008 when the crash came. But I felt I was too young – I knew I wanted to do something else.
Where did you get your inspiration for the Luxury Ice Cream Company?
We went on holiday to Barcelona and I saw an ice cream parlour. I knew straightaway that that was what I wanted to do. There was nothing like it in York – a city that has seven million tourists a year. And I wanted to create the full Willy Wonka experience to mesmerise the kids as well as their parents and grandparents. Apparently Iceland sells more ice cream per capita than any other country so I wasn’t worried about the York climate.
So, we took an ice cream training course; bought all our machinery (which was the price of a large car); and then this chap from Italy – Antonio – came over to show us how to make the ice cream. He helped us make the first batch. We filled the fridge and it looked fabulous… and then he left. That was the scary moment.
We opened in 2010 in a shop a stone’s throw from York Minster. The rents in this town are very high but I was lucky as a friend had a lingerie shop and she was giving it up. She put me in touch with the landlord and we were able to agree on a good rent. We always say we’ve gone from knickers to knickerbocker glories…
Were you surprised by the reaction to the business?
I never expected it to take off like it has. The very first day we opened there was only me and Howard working. The queue was out of the door. I realised I needed more staff.
Once we were competent ice cream makers we started to think about what we could do differently. Surprisingly, Christmas is a big time because we do figgy pudding, mince pie and Pantone flavoured ice cream. People buy it by the litre for Christmas lunch. A new one we did this year is orange and cranberry cheesecake flavoured ice cream. A best seller is Bakewell tart flavour and Malteser as well as Oreo biscuit flavours. The customer contributes a lot to what we make – they’ll say they’ve seen flavours on holiday and recommend them.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
When we first moved in we didn’t have air conditioning and the place got so hot. The physical work really wore us out. We couldn’t make the ice cream during the day because of the heat from the machines – it was unbearable. Fortunately, three years ago, the landlord put air conditioning in.
Given ice cream is so weather dependent, are you a weather forecast obsessive?
Absolutely, but more so for staffing issues. If it’s going to be busy I need to get more staff in. It can be trial and error, but everyone who works for me likes the flexible hours. Some of my staff have teenagers so they like to have the school holidays off which is fine because then I have the university students who come back to work in the school holidays.
How do you market your business?
We get an awful lot of business from TripAdvisor with people Googling ‘best ice cream in York’. It’s the most honest site that you can’t manipulate. I show TripAdvisor to all the staff and use it to illustrate how important customer service is and I can usually tell from the comments who has been working in the shop.
What do you attribute your success to?
The thing about ice cream is you can’t sell it on the internet. And everybody – young, old, male, female and from any country – loves ice cream. It’s also a very happy shop. People walk in and they smile. I have many loyal customers who keep coming back.
We also make sorbets and frozen yoghurt and we sell sweets and Belgian chocolates as well as teas, coffees and cakes. But I never wanted to go down the route of a cafe that sold ice cream. I wanted it to be first and foremost an ice cream parlour.
What plans do you have for the future?
We are aiming to franchise the Luxury Ice Cream Company around the UK, and we’re going for crowdfunding. I have so much knowledge now of what I would and wouldn’t do that if I can bring someone under the umbrella of LICC I want to do a fair franchise where it’s a win-win for everybody.
The IT side is where we will need to ramp up. I would like to have a TV in every shop, for instance, advertising all the other franchise outlets but also I’d like to do retail from the shops. I sell a lot of related gifts and an idea is to sell those gifts online with a local franchisee getting a commission on sales.
We’re right where coffee shops were 20 years ago with a tremendous opportunity for growth.
What’s your biggest worry?
I’m frightened of being complacent and think that complacency is the biggest danger in whatever business you do. I’ve seen people in business think ‘oh we’re alright’ and hand it over to someone else and then sales drop.
And your favourite ice cream?
Pear and ginger cheesecake.
Fancy a LICC? For more go to the Luxury Ice Cream Company (external link)