Archive for category: Top 10 Blog Posts

My Humble Beginnings in Paradise

June 9, 2019

My Humble Beginnings in Paradise

Neil on a plane










The year was 1988. I was in Florida at the time, working for Multi-Vest Options in Ft. Lauderdale, shortly after graduating from Florida State. The phone rang and my older brother John said…..”Neil, I bought an ice cream delivery truck and just shipped it to St. Thomas. I need help. I’ll pay you $250 a week and give you a share of the business.”


At the time, I was clearing about $175 a week, so it didn’t take long for me to quickly blurt out, “I’m in!” A little history…. We grew up in Puerto Rico. Our father moved there from Chicago in the sixties and started a successful direct marketing business. John did a few years in different stateside colleges but did not graduate. Instead, he took flying lessons and got his pilot’s license. He started a distribution business where he would fly fresh produce from Puerto Rico to the US Virgin Islands, The British Virgin Islands and further down the Lesser Antilles. My brother was obsessed with perfection and delivering the perfect product. I remember helping him one summer while I was still in college. We were sorting through cases of apples preparing to fly them to St. Lucia. John made me go through each and every apple in each and every case and remove the bad ones and replace them with good ones. I asked him why he was so worried about an apple having a bruise, especially if it was in the middle of the case. Who would know? He said that the best way to grow your business is to deliver a better than expected product and delight your customer each and every time. “Over deliver Neil, and they will keep calling you back”


All I could think of at the time was, my back hurts….when do we pack up and hit the beach? Needless to say, word got around fast and more and more customers wanted to buy product from that guy that flies in from Puerto Rico. The business flourished. But John only had one plane, and he could only carry so much produce. He started looking for a higher profit product. No, not “that”– although drugs were exactly what was going through each and every customs agent John had to face. They found it hard to believe that John was actually trying to build a business around flying produce. As crazy as it seems, he was doing exactly that.


Enter ice cream, a much more profitable product than produce!


John noticed that the ice cream on the supermarket shelves and ice cream parlors in these islands was almost always re-frozen. Horrible quality, at a high price. People accepted it and figured that this was the way ice cream was. Icy, grainy, sandy. He saw an opportunity and ran with it. He developed a system of double corrugated cardboard boxes lined with polystyrene (like the inside of your basic foam cooler). While inside the walk in freezer of the ice cream distributor in Puerto Rico, John packed and sealed the boxes to ensure that the tubs and pints remained rock solid. The flight was about an hour long, and John could get about 5 hours out of these boxes before the ice cream began to suffer. The 5 hours would give just enough time to get to the last account and deliver perfect product. Once done in the walk in freezer, he would pack the boxes in his van, head for the airport and take off for that day’s island. Upon landing, he would quickly rent a pick up truck, clear customs, load up the boxes and head out to sell his accounts, who had pre-ordered the product. I’m not making this up…..although it seems hard to believe that anyone would try to build a business around this concept. Once John tired of the constant every day rush to avoid “meltdown” he realized that he needed to buy a truck. That is when I got the call and moved to St. Thomas, the island with the most promise.


Saint Thomas airport









John continued to fly the product in, but we decided to concentrate on building the business on St. Thomas. The picture at the start of this post is of the two of us, John by the plane and me loading Haagen-Dazs bars into the truck. John would fly back to PR, and I would calmly go out and make deliveries. About a year later, my brother Michael joined the business. We bought another truck and Michael moved to St. Croix, to develop that market. I remember how John would always set goals and break-even points around the number of boxes we could sell in a given week. He would say things like, “when we get to 90 boxes a week, we’ll be making some decent money… we need to open some more accounts to get there”. All I can remember was thinking, boxes? Boxes? We need to start thinking in dollars and another way to grow this business. It didn’t take long for John to start thinking in the same terms. At this point, we were starting to move enough product to start buying it in Florida and shipping frozen containers down to the islands.


We built walk in freezers on both St. Thomas and St. Croix. Our suppliers (Haagen-Dazs and Dreyer’s/Edy’s) were very happy with our performance and John was given the rights to distribute the Dreyer’s/Edy’s line for “the big island” – Puerto Rico. He later added Ben & Jerry’s to the mix. By 1998, we had built a business with over 15 route trucks in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Croix. John and Michael are still actively managing the business today. In 2001, I started to get “island fever” and decided to move my family (wife Amy and two girls, Chelsea and Coco) to North Carolina where I began to develop


I still talk with my brothers on a regular basis and frequently bore others with our constant ice cream business conversations. So, the moral is….I’m really not sure……. No, all kidding aside, the moral is….. work hard, “over deliver” on your promises and good things will come your way. The goal at is to offer the “best apples” possible to my customers on a daily basis. So far, this approach has helped me build a really solid, rapidly growing business. is visited by thousands of prospects a month, many who turn into long term customers. If you have a story you would like to tell, or would like to comment on my story, please do so. Thanks for reading this post.



Neil Williams, President of Keyword Farms LLC


Used Frozen Yogurt Machines – Good or Bad Idea?

March 6, 2013

Used Frozen Yogurt Machines

Good or Bad Idea?

Soft Serve Frozen Yogurt Machine Buyers Guide and Information   So you want to add  soft serve ice cream or frozen yogurt, but starting to realize the machines aren’t cheap. Going new would be nice, but at an average cost of $15k for a two flavor machine  you’re having second thoughts. Hmm…doing the math, that is a lot of soft ice cream or frozen yogurt to sell before you achieve payback on the investment. So you start thinking about used and search google. This starts to give you a headache because there are so many choices, and you can’t tell what is a good deal and what isn’t. Or who you can trust not to sell you garbage.  You also need to make sure the machines are the right model for the type of store you want to open. This can be tricky. There are companies out there who rebuild older machines, but the catch is that they have old technologies. This can be a huge problem. I wouldn’t buy an older model (I draw the line at 10 years old, anything within 10 years old is still a relatively new machine in machine years – they last a long time) machine for many reasons –  higher electrical requirements, no refrigerated hoppers and  a host of other problems. But these guys who rebuild machines won’t be up front about how old the machines are, and if you don’t know how to figure that out, you can be taken for a ride. We all know that Frozen Yogurt machines can be expensive. In my opinion, the better road to take is to buy a good quality used machine if you are able to get one. You must make sure you buy it from a reputable dealer. Buying from individuals is taking a much bigger risk because most of them are interested in selling you the machine they own as quickly as possible. This means they won’t really be offering what you work best for your business and your customers. Individual sellers also don’t properly represent what they have, because most don’t even know the specs of their own machines! Buying from Craigslist or Ebay, is also very risky. At TurnKey Parlor, we will help walk you through the machine that makes most sense for your business AND your budget. Two things that can help. 1) Download our free soft serve machine comparison guide HERE and 2) Get on our Used Equipment update list below, so you’ll receive a weekly email with the latest and greatest used machines each time our used inventory is updated. Click HERE to get a free ebook on how to open a frozen yogurt store.

Frozen Yogurt Store Machines – How many do you really need?

February 18, 2013

Frozen Yogurt Store Machines: How many do you really need?

How many frozen yogurt machines do you really need for a self serve store to be successful? Is there a “right” number of machines? Many people struggle with this question.


The number of machines you use in a self serve yogurt store can vary from 3 to 10. The bigger franchise stores like Yogurt Land, Menchie’s and Orange Leaf seem to like the 7 to 8 machine offering. The real question is – will more machines really make you more profitable? I don’t think so.


I can see many reasons why limiting the number of machines to 5 or less will in the end be the most profitable strategy. Other equipment dealers will hate me for saying this, but I really believe it. Sure, I would love to sell you 8 machines instead of 5. But I would prefer that you have a more profitable business, and open three stores that have 3 to 6 machines each. We both end up making more money this way. As an independent, the number of machines you go with will be determined in part by the following factors:


  1. Size of location: Obviously, you can’t pack 10 machines into a 750 sq ft. space. The machines need about 12″ to 18” between them, and total space becomes a factor considering you need topping counters, register space, back room coolers, sinks, etc.
  2. Start up Money: If you don’t have enough $, you aren’t going with a high machine number. You might be forced to stick to 3-6 machines in order to keep your total investment under control.
  3. Competition: Who are you competing against? How many machines do they have? Again, just because you are competing against a nearby store that has 8 machines, do you really need to match the number of flavors they offer? A less expensive option is to offer more toppings than your competitor with more machines. 


The question is…………is it really better to go with more machines? There is a certain “WOW Factor” when a customer walks into a store that has 8 machine and 16 flavors of frozen yogurt. And if you have a super high volume location, more machines might be the best, most profitable choice. But going with 3-6 machines can also be wise for many reasons. This number helps minimize your investment, control your utilities cost and run a leaner store. And because this business model is still relatively young, there still isn’t enough data out there to tell me that having that 16 vs. 10 flavors means incremental sales that make up for the added overhead and investment.


Competition is heating up these days. I would rather be the guy with the manageable debt load and lower overhead than the guy that lets his fruit toppings go bad because he’s so worried about losing a nickel to pay his bills. When its all said and done, the lean will survive while the weeding out is happening. Here is another reason you may want to consider limiting your number of yogurt machines. If you line up more than 6 machines, you will need to spend more on air conditioning to ensure the machines don’t overheat. Or you will need to go with a glycol system, which adds about $15k to your investment.


6 or less machines, you can get away with air cooled machines. What is the difference? Air cooled machines are fully self-contained. You don’t hook anything up to them, aside from the power cord. But they create more heat inside your back room. Water cooled machines are cooled by water – or a glycol system. They won’t make your store warmer, but they will cost you $ in water. Air cooled machines cool themselves by blowing hot air out and away from the machines. This means more heat in your store. When 6 machines or less are blowing hot air into your location, the heat is manageable. You can either have your contractor put in an extractor fan, which helps pull the hot air up and outside your store, or you can buy a higher powered air conditioner and over power the hot air. Best bet is to CLEARLY discuss this with your A/C contractor prior to construction. A lot of times a split system A/C is the best idea – so that you don’t freeze the people inside your store while trying to keep the back room at a reasonable temperature. But once you go past 6 machines, going air cooled is a tough call. At the 6 machine or more mark, you still might be able to go air cooled if you have enough space, but it is a little more challeging. So, you’re looking at plumbing 7 or more machines to city water, which means a substantial water bill.


If you want to avoid a high monthly water bill, you have a glycol system installed. This is sort of like the radiator in your car and the glycol is the coolant that runs through it to keep the engine from overheating. This isn’t cheap. It can run about $15k or more depending on installation costs and what system you buy. Stores with 7 or more machines almost always go for the glycol system and the high initial investment. We periodically have used chillers in our inventory, so check with us if you think this might be the route you want to take. In summary, the number of machines you decide to go with will depend on many factors and less machines doesn’t necessarily mean a less profitable store.


Thanks for Reading!

Neil Williams – President of TurnKeyParlor

When the Scoop Falls Off the Cone

October 25, 2011

turnkey parlor ice cream neil williams

When ice cream goes wrong

When the scoop falls off the cone.
While finishing up a purchase at the grocery store with the family, my daughter Coco (10) asked me if she could run next door and buy a scoop of ice cream. I said sure…… so my wife Amy and Coco headed out toward the ice cream shop. Amy handed Coco a $5 bill and walked over to our car, which was right in front of the ice cream store.
At few minutes later, I was coming out of the super market with the groceries and Coco was jumping in the back seat of the car. I walked up, put the groceries in and off we went to take Coco to dance class. Later that afternoon, Amy went to pick her up at dance and Coco mentioned that she actually didn’t eat ice cream.  It seems that Amy and I were too busy talking in the car earlier to notice that Coco wasn’t eating a cone. Here’s what happened. Coco bought the cone, walked outside, took a lick and the scoop dropped on the ground. She went back in to explain what had happened, and the employee told Coco she would have to buy another scoop (more than $3).  So Coco, being the good kid that she is, decided to accept her fate and move on.
The story could have ended there…..but of course, it didn’t. My wife Amy isn’t one to complain, but if she feels wronged, you’re going to know about it.So, Amy went back to the ice cream store and explained to the employee that our family has been in the ice cream business for more than 20 years, and charging someone again for a dropped scoop is just plain wrong. The employee went on to say that this was the owners policy. She said that it happens all the time. Two other employees were “snickering” in the background as if Amy was an evil, hard to please customer.A few things wrong with this picture:If you’re so desperate to lose the 50 cents the scoop costs you to replace it, you’re in big trouble and should either sell the business or accept that you will soon be closing it.If  it happens all the time, meaning scoops fall off the cone all the time, then the “scoopers” are doing something wrong. There’s an art to putting ice cream on a cone. Sure, once in a while someone is going to lick the scoop off the cone, and it will fall to the ground. But if this is happening regularly, then it is not the customer’s problem, it is the store’s problem. At the very least, the server should warn the customer if the scoop is not secured to the cone the way it should be.Our family is a “great customer” who is capable of spending at least $100 a month at an ice cream or yogurt shop that we like. We will never patronize that store again.Is it worth losing a potential regular client for 50 cents? The answer is clearly NO in my opinion.It’s difficult and expensive to get new customers in the door. Make sure that the experience is outstanding and your business will grow and grow.Worry about losing 50 cents on a replacement cone and watch yourself start cutting back hours, laying off employees and see your business slowly deteriorate.The owner of this shop is obviously struggling and he or she probably thinks that it is due to the economy, or because of some other reason other than the stores customer service.I’m sure if I went to that store again, at some point, they would serve me re-frozen ice cream.I say this because it’s a slippery slope when you try too hard to control costs and do so in areas where it has no place (product quality and customer service).I understand the need to control food costs and keep them low. It’s tough to throw away product. But the minute you start selling ice cream that “just melted a little” is the day you need to be in another business. If you have to raise prices, raise prices. Trust me on this one – you will lose a lot more customers by selling them sub standard product than by charging them more for a quality ice cream.
If you’ve had a bad experience in an ice cream shop, please feel free to comment below and share your experience. Or, tell us about a great experience you had in an ice cream  shop and why you will continue to go to that store.
If you own an ice cream parlor, frozen yogurt, gelato or Italian ice store, tell us how you make sure your customers have a positive experience (comment below).
Happy Holidays and good selling!
Neil Williams

Make Your Own Ice Cream or Buy 3 Gallon Containers from a Distributor?

January 17, 2011

Make Your Own Ice CreamWhat’s the better option, making your own ice cream or buying and reselling 3 gallon tubs of  a recognized brand? Truthfully, there is no right answer. Both could be great options. This  post will simply to outline reasons why you would go in one direction vs. the other depending on your specific situation and your specific goals. This question is frequently debated and asked by almost everyone planning to enter the ice cream store business. In my opinion, it depends on many factors.  I encourage those of you who make your own or buy a national brand in 3 gallon cans to post what led you to your specific strategy. I’ll start with the benefits of buying a national or strong regional ice cream brand that is pre-packaged in 3 or 2.5 gallon round tubs:
  • People like to buy what they are familiar with
  • Initial investment is lower – you only have to buy dipping cabinets and storage cabinets vs. a batch freezer, hardening cabinet, dipping cabinets, etc.
  • Less machinery means less utilities expense
  • Product consistency – making your own can also be consistent if you are the only one doing it, but once you have employees start making ice cream too, it can get tricky to maintain that consistency
  • Simplicity – no manufacturing labor – you buy 3 gallon tubs from an ice cream distributor, you drop them in the dipping cabinet and scoop away
Ok, now we move on to why making your own ice cream  might be the best choice:
  • Cost – normal markup on ice cream you purchase from a distributor allows you to make around 70% gross profit when charging what the market will bear.  In other words, if you charge $2 for a scoop, your cost is about $.60 for that scoop. When you make your own, the materials cost is much lower. That $2 scoop should cost you more  like $.30-$.40. If you make Italian Ices, your cost is even less
  • Exclusivity – Only YOU can sell your ice cream. Customers can buy national brands in many parlors and can also pick them up at the local grocery store
  • Variety – With an Emery-Thompson Batch Freezer, you can make not only ice cream, but you can also make your own Italian Ice and Gelato.
  • Homemade – People love homemade ice cream. Customers like the idea that the ice cream is made fresh and with a local twist to it. Customers like to see and know the owner of the business
  • Creativity – You can invent new flavors. You can make changes to the product suit your region’s tastes. You can hold contests for new flavors using social media tools. The options are limitless
As you can see, the decision to make your own or purchase a pre-made product depends on many factors. You can make good money with both options.  For those who are on a tighter budget, the best option might be to start with a pre-packaged product.  For those of you who are creative and have the necessary start-up financing, you might want to consider making your own. Look forward to hearing the comments and stories of those who have made the decision one way or another. Interested in attending a FREE, live webcast on how to make ice cream, gelato and italian ice? Click the link below to read more and to sign up if you’re up for it. Don’t forget to come back here and post your comments! Thanks again for reading this post! Neil CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR FREE, LIVE WEBINAR ON HOW TO MAKE ICE CREAM, GELATO AND ITALIAN ICE

Opening an Ice Cream Store

July 23, 2010

new soft serve ice cream machines for sale, used soft serve machines for sale, used soft serve ice cream machines, commercial ice cream machines, start a soft serve ice cream business, how to start an ice cream business, soft serve ice cream store business plan, soft serve frozen yogurt machines   This article was written to provide a few basics on opening an ice cream parlor. There’s a lot more to it that is listed here, but reading this might give you a little bit of an idea of what is required. If you own an ice cream store, and would like to comment, please do. We encourage you to challenge our assumptions and contribute to our knowledge base. The most important decision you will make on the road to success is most likely to be the location you choose. You’ve probably already heard of the 3 most important factors involved in a successful retail operation: location, location, location. I cannot stress enough the importance of this, especially when it comes to ice cream. Ice cream is an “impulse” product. In other words, people who buy ice cream usually do it on impulse when they see it and are tempted. It is less likely these days that people will make a conscious thought to go to an ice cream parlor. Sure, some still do, but more sales are made to customers who happen to be brought to the area for another reason. I have listed the key factors to look for when considering your location below. If your location meets most of these, you are off to a good start:


  • Car traffic is nice, but more importantly, how many people are walking by?
  • If you are counting on high car traffic, make sure that your location is easily visible from the street and easy to access (parking, etc.)
  • Are they typically there to browse or to buy?
  • Being in a Wal-mart type plaza doesn’t guarantee success. It depends on how close to the Wal-Mart door you are.
  • Talk to existing businesses and ask them what the traffic is like.
  • If you are counting on car traffic as your main traffic, a drive thru window is almost mandatory.
  • Enclosed malls are better for year round traffic and people prefer them to stroll through and buy ice cream! In general, it’s better to pay more rent and be in an enclosed mall than to pay less and be in a strip mall.
  • 3-4 good anchor stores would help.
  • Visit the site on different days at different times to see how consistent the traffic is.
  • Competition: How many parlors within a 1 mile radius? If inside a mall, who else is serving ice cream? Competition is not necessarily a bad thing. If someone else is on one side of the mall and doing well, chances are that you will do well on the extreme other side of the mall.
  • Population is key. If the area is somewhat congested, that’s a good sign.
  • Visibility. Will everyone who walks close by know that there is ice cream there?
  • Would you buy ice cream there?
  • Hours of operation: Make sure that the peak traffic flow is during hours that you’re willing and able to be open.
  • Make sure you have adequate space. 800-1000 sq ft is a pretty good middle ground.
  • Is the area growing?
  Good locations/Bad locations: Good:
  • Indoor Malls, airports, zoo’s, university campus, amusement parks, strip malls (high traffic), next to a movie theatre, superstore (inside a Wal-mart), professional building, train station, beach area, sporting arena.
  • Strip Mall unless in thriving area with obvious high traffic (low traffic, no real anchor’s), busy street (but being on the wrong side), gas station, defunct fast food/snack operation.
  • After you find out what they want for monthly rent, don’t be afraid to ask for a stepped up lease with a low initial amount. For example, free rent for the first month, half the rent for the next three months, then full rent beginning in month four.  Or a couple of hundred off per month for the first year. This is just a negotiating guideline. They may not go for it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. In fact, they may be expecting you to. If you don’t, they may feel they can take advantage of you in some way. So it’s always best to shoot for the sky and then see what they will give in to. It is in their best interest to help you get off on the right foot and be successful. Many will be willing to help if they believe in you.
  • From my experience, you probably don’t want to pay more than $3000 per month. It’s very hard to make a go of it at a higher monthly rent unless you are talking about an airport or ridiculously high traffic mall. An average rent for a parlor is in the $1800 range. Of course, these are just general benchmarks. An average parlor should sell around $18,000 per month. A rough industry standard says that rent should fall within 8-12% (10% x $18,000 = $1800 per month)
    INCORPORATING/FORMING YOUR BUSINESS: I am not qualified to give legal or tax advice, so I really cannot guide you here. I can tell you that is a great website that can explain in pretty basic terms what would be best for you as an individual or group of people and do it pretty cheap and painlessly. COST PER SCOOP ANALYSIS: In general, parlor ice cream is packed in 3-gallon tubs.  Edy’s, Breyer’s, Blue Bell and most premium brands come in 3 gallon, round cans. A ballpark figure as far as cost is concerned is about $26/tub for premium ice cream. Some companies charge less for Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry and a little more for everything else. The $26 is a good average figure for premium ice cream. You are supposed to get 55 four-ounce scoops out of a 3-gallon tub. This works out to .47 cents per scoop. I like to add 8 cents to the cost to cover waste, giveaways, etc. So were looking at .55 cents per scoop. Many companies will try to manipulate these figures in their best interests, but I can tell you from experience that the $.55 per 4 oz scoop is pretty reliable. Add another 5 cents for cup and spoon or the cone for a total of .60 cents per scoop. Very doubtful that in real life it works out to be any less, even if you are paying a few bucks less for the tub. Cheaper tubs usually have more air whipped in and you yield less, therefore having the same or higher cost when it comes down to it. My recommended retail is $2.00. $2.25-$250 isn’t out of the question, but might be too much depending on the area. You are in this to make money, so do some competitive research in your area and make sure that you start off as high as the market will seem to bear. Raising prices later because you realize you aren’t charging enough is never good, so make sure you pay particular attention to your pricing strategy right off the bat. The majority of new business owners make the mistake of not pricing their products high enough. Don’t let this be you. A $2.00 retail makes the COGS (cost of goods sold) 30%. (.60/$2.00 = 30%)   BASIC SAMPLE OPERATING PROFIT/LOSS STATEMENT: ( this statement is intended to be a very basic example and is not a guarantee of anything. Actual p/l varies according to hours open, full time employees, etc.) One Month: Sales:                                          $18,000 Cost of Goods: (30%)                   $(5,420) Gross Profit                                 $12,580 Less: Overhead Rent                                            $(1,800) Utilities                                       $(600) Labor                                          $(4,000) Equipment/Biz start Loan             $(1,200) Advertising                                  $(500) Administrative                             $(200) Misc                                           $(200) Total Overhead                            $(8500) Total Monthly Profit:                    $4080 OTHER ITEMS TO SELL: It is not a bad idea to try and diversify your operation as much as possible. Popcorn, cotton candy, and other fun foods are a good incremental sale. Cookies and pastries are also good if you know a good place to get them fresh. A suggestion may be Otis Spunkmeyer, a vendor of cookies, brownies, pies, muffins, etc.). 888-ASK-OTIS. SOFT SERVE? It would be great to be able to have both soft serve and hard pack in your parlor. Depending on your financial situation, this may not be a reality. Soft Serve machines are relatively expensive. They are a good investment if you are adding them to an existing snack shop and want to get into the ice cream business, but I don’t necessarily recommend them to start off with if you are on a limited investment budget and trying to get a parlor off and running. You can purchase 2 sixteen-flavor dip freezers for less than what a 2 flavor soft serve machine will cost you. Hard pack yogurt can be excellent! On the other hand, if you have the financial backing, there are many soft serve fans out there, and this can be an incremental sale. CHOOSING YOUR BRAND There are great premium brands out there such as Edy’s, Breyer’s, Blue Bell, Blue Bunny, as well as many strong regional brands. A key issue when choosing a brand is not only the quality of the product, but also the distribution services in your area. Not all brands are available in all states. You need to find out who distributes the brand (company owned routes vs. independent distributors) in your area and make sure that the organization seems capable and competent to handle your needs. Do they stock as many flavors as you want to carry? Can they give you a flavor list to order with? Who else do they service in your area (you can check with them to see if they give good service and are dependable). What brands to they distribute? MAKING YOUR OWN ICE CREAM If you feel you have the passion and ability that it takes to make your own ice cream I would not argue against it. If this is something you are thinking about, make sure you read the sample business plan closely. The bottom line is: you need to be extremely devoted (full time) to your parlor for this to work. If you are devoted, and passionate about the product you are making, you have a great chance of succeeding. The investment for a parlor that makes their own requires a substantially higher investment.   Ballpark Initial Investment: (depending on what your situation is, the minimum investment would be 15-20k if you go with a portion of the equipment used)   It can be done for less, and certainly for more, but an average independently owned basic parlor would cost you in the vicinity of 50K to put together. Depending on the theme you choose,  (“old fashioned parlor with steel stools, etc.) how much work needs to be done to the location, etc., you could be looking at 6 figures.The figures below are intended to give you an idea of how the initial start up costs might breakdown. Depending on your specific theme or situation these figures could be adjusted up or down. Working capital (basically what you should have in your checking account to maintain positive cash flow, etc.) can be as low as $3500. I’ve seen some franchise numbers that suggest a 10k working capital figure. Obviously, the higher the better and the main objective here is to guard against a slow start, unexpected costs, a need for increased advertising and promotions, etc.

Rent ($1500)      x 3 (first/last/security)                       $4500

Utilities (Deposit)                                                        $1000 Contractor (Cabinetry, etc)                                         $10,000 Ice Cream, Drinks, Cones, Candies, etc.                     $2,500 Advertising                                                                 $500 Paper goods, cleaning supplies, office sup, misc         $750 Plumbing (sink, dipper wells, etc.)                              $1500 Insurance Premium                                                    $400 Signage                                                                      $2000 Deposits/Liscences                                                    $1500 Cosmetic work to space                                              $1000 Working capital                                                          $7500 Architectural & Legal                                                 $2500 Equipment: Dipping & Storage Freezers                                     $8000 Flavorail                                                                         $2800 Under counter Fridge                                                    $1600 Waffle Cone Baker                                                        $600 Hot Fudge Warmer                                                        $400 Glasses/Metal Shake Tins                                              $350 Shake Mixer                                                                  $600 Register                                                                         $300 Total                                           $50,300

Ice Cream Temperature Setting

July 21, 2010

How to Set Your Ice Cream Freezer Thermostat to Hit the Optimal Scooping Temperature

  How to Set Your Ice Cream Freezer Thermostat to Hit the Optimal Scooping Temperature  
Most thermostats are the “dial” type. Some have numbers, some simply have a screw that you turn clockwise or counterclockwise. Some freezers have digital thermostats, which are ideal. The thermostat is most commonly found by removing (unscrewing) the grill (vent). Regardless of what type of thermostat dial you’re dealing with, you need to understand that you should only adjust the dial one number at a time, up or down. When you re-adjust the dial, you have to be patient and wait 2 days to see where the average temperature settles. Only at this time can you determine if it needs another adjustment. If it does, you repeat this step. Again, you only adjust the dial one number at a time and wait two days to see where it settles. You repeat this process until you find the sweet spot. You need to be patient because  the freezer compressor turns on and off intermittently while working its way toward the dial setting. Other factors that come into play when finding your optimal dipping temperature include the flavors that you are scooping. Yes, some flavors are “softer” than others. For example, flavors like Rum Raisin or anything caramel based can be soft while some of the other flavors are at perfect scooping temperature. Chocolate is famous for being rock solid and virtually “unscoopable” when other flavors are at a good scooping temp. How do you deal with this? The best way is to make sure that the flavors like chocolate stay out of the corners of the cabinet. Put the hard flavors in the middle of the freezer. Put your softest flavors in the corners. The reason you put soft flavors in the corners is because in this spot they are up against two freezer walls. The corners are the coldest area in the freezer. In the middle, the tub is only up against one  wall and therefore the middle is a little warmer than the corner. I know many of you already know this, but I’m hoping that some of you will benefit from the information. Thanks! Neil Neil Williams – President –

Hurricanes and Melted Ice Cream

July 6, 2010

Hurricanes and Melted Ice Cream

Ice Cream Cone

If you read my blog post titled My Humble Beginnings in Paradise, you already know that I spent 10 years in the Virgin Islands building an ice cream distributorship with my older brother John and my younger brother Michael. Every year, as hurricane season approaches, I’m reminded of how Michael and I went through two of them that completely decimated our business. Hugo in 1989 and Marilyn in 1995.


At the end of this post, there is a video with some pretty intense footage from both hurricanes. Hugo hit the Virgin Islands with such force (category 5), that our house was without electricity for 4 months. Yup, 4 long months of filling our little generator with gas when we got home from sweating our @%* off at work. The generator would run out of gas at about 3am, the fans would shut off, the temperature would go from 78 to 90 and the mosquitoes would start biting. Ahh, life in paradise


We lost everything, except our ice cream truck and my pick up truck. As you’ll see in the video below, I had an old GMC Sierra, and it was crushed by a huge tree that came to rest on top of it. We weren’t able to leave our house for 4 days after the hurricane because the roads were all blocked by debris. Incredibly, after we cut the tree off the truck, it sprang up and ran (another thing you’ll see in the video)! Once we did, we headed to our “warehouse”, which wasn’t really a warehouse, but a big, old Flavorich side loader truck that warehoused our inventory. When we got there, it smelled like rotten ice cream and it was really, really disgusting. Sticky, melted ice cream dripping out of the door seals.


Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to have someone else clean it, so I had to jump in the maggot infested compartments and power spray it clean. Another little “visual” that has managed to stick with me to this day. John, who was living in Puerto Rico at the time, flew his airplane to St. Thomas and rescued us. We spent a few days in PR getting fed and cleaned up before we headed back to rebuild. John told us he had to freeze our salaries. We had no insurance and took a big hit with our inventory loss. We had to go on an “expense only” allowance where we were reimbursed when we presented receipts. Which basically meant we got to eat food and pay the rent. That was it. This lasted for 3 months while we built the business back up.


We slept very little given the conditions, and it took a while for the island stores to get back up to speed. Those were tough days. We really wanted to quit…but hung in there. In 1995, our business was going great. We had built a walk-in freezer in St. Thomas, and had expanded to St. Croix, St. John and the big island of Puerto Rico. Our sales had increased 5 fold. Then the “little” hurricane called Marilyn decided to pay us a visit. By the time Marilyn hit in 1995, I was married to Amy and had a 5 year old baby girl named Chelsea. We lived on Mt. Top, which was about as high up on St. Thomas as you could get. Not a good place to be during a hurricane. We had taken in Amy’s dad, “the Bear” who had a brain injury and incapable of taking care of himself.


We also took in Thad, who was an 18 year old kid who needed help. He worked for us on the delivery truck. During the same week, Amy’s brother Josh was paying a visit. We had a full house of 6 plus the cats and dogs. Marylin was supposed to be a minor hurricane. But it turned out to be a monster. Much worse than Hugo, even though it was a category 3. Which was a joke, because I went through both of them, and Marilyn hit us squarely and brutally. We had been through many small hurricanes, so we were all excited in that weird way you get when you know a storm is approaching. Although I must say, having been through 2 major ones, I no longer get excited about any storm. We fell asleep around midnight, only to be awakened by vicious winds. Things started slamming up against the house making really loud noises. Josh grabbed a flashlight since it was pitch black inside the house, pointed it at the ceiling and I asked “is that sky”? Josh said “yes, that’s sky”!!


Realizing that the roof was ripping off (our landlord said it was supposed to withstand category 5 winds…ha) we rushed to the bathroom, which seemed to be the safest room. All 6 of us in a bathroom that was tiny – 6 feet by 3 feet at most. For 5 grueling hours, we wondered if we were going to survive. Again, the damage was so severe, it took 4 months to get electricity back to our home. Again, the generators, the mosquitoes, and this time around, grandpa bear asking every 5 minutes, “when is 60 minutes coming on the TV?”


Needless to say, there was no cable or TV for that matter… We were barely able to save our inventory. Having gone through Hugo, we were smart enough to buy an old, used generator on the cheap. It worked, but was leaking water and had to be refilled hourly. This was brutal…..pouring water in the radiator, diesel in the tank in 90 degree plus weather. We did have a freezer though, and it managed to hold, which was a plus in our life. No need to clean melted ice cream this time. I guess I wrote this post to let you know that even when things get really tough, they are temporary. You keep plowing through and good things will turn around. Today, the distribution business we built sells a combined $15 million a year with 20 routes. Watch the video below to see some pretty cool footage.



The Dreaded Health Department – Why so Difficult?

March 31, 2010

Low Cost Outdoor Hand Washing Sink Station

The Dreaded Health Department – Why do they make life so difficult? Every day I speak to folks trying to break into the Ice Cream or Italian Ice outdoor vending business. And every day I hear the frustration they experience when trying to get permits to street vend. I’m talking entrepreneurs who are just trying to make an honest buck and do it legally. They are treated like they plan on spreading the plague. I understand the need to keep our public safe…..and yes, the health department plays an important role. But you would think the health department would be a little more business friendly. If I was to list every variation and interpretation of the rules, I’d probably be writing for years. Even within the same county, one person will tell you one thing and the other will tell you another. But if you are trying to break into this business, don’t lose faith. Be persistent and you will find a way. Vending Italian ice seems to be one of the more popular businesses to get into. The cost of entry can be relatively low, so it makes sense that a lot of people see it as a way to make some decent cash without taking major financial risks. The lowest cost way to break into vending Italian ice outdoors is to buy a basic push cart with or without refrigeration. It’s much easier to get a permit to sell Italian water ice simply because it is water based as opposed to containing dairy. Some health departments will allow vendors to peddle Italian ice without refrigeration or any type of sink system. They simply tell the vendor to use a separate scooper for each flavor, and not to cross contaminate the flavors. Seems simple enough. But most health departments will tell people that they need to have a hand washing station. When you only have a few thousand dollars to invest, and most of that is going toward your cart, it’s tough to hear that you need a hand washing sink with running hot water. We sell these outdoor sink systems at, but they are very high quality stainless steel mobile sinks and run about $2000. So what are the options if the health department is telling you that the only way you will get a vending permit is if you have a sink with hot water….and you don’t have an extra $2k to invest? Here’s the good news: one of our more industrious customers (Chico Pagan of  Kiki’s Italian Ice to be specific) has found an inexpensive way to try and meet this requirement. You can go to (see the link below) and get a Coleman hot water on demand unit. This, along with a little ingenuity and a 5 gallon “catch” bucket may meet the requirement. Essentially, you put the fresh water tank on top of a table, connect it to the Coleman propane unit and there you have it. Fresh hot water, complete with the spigot and waste water bucket. All for well under $300. I hope this helps those who have limited funds and are trying to break into the business. If you came across an idea that helped you meet health department requirements, or anything in general that helped your vending business, please share your story by posting a comment. Here’s the link to the Coleman system: Outdoor Coleman Hot Water On Demand System If you have any other questions, feel free to email us at!Thanks for reading this post! Neil Williams President – KeyWord Farm, LLC 877-817-5716
Social Media:
Facebook Youtube Twitter ALSO, Check out our FREE business e-books HERE
BLOG Ice Cream Cakes Made Easy

Ice Cream Cakes Made Easy

February 28, 2010

How to make ice cream cakes

How to make ice cream cakes? Cold Molds!

What’s the best way to make your own ice cream cakes? I get this question all the time. And I  was never really sure how to go about answering it……. until now.   Thanks to a company founded by Russ L’Hommedieu and now operated by ice cream entrepreneur Steve Reppucci, the answer is easy. Cold Molds!   Cold Molds are revolutionary tools that make it easy to produce professional quality ice cream cakes, ice cream pops, ice cream tartufos, and more. They are specially designed for use with ice cream, sorbet, juice fillings, or any other frozen filling.   I highly recommend you check this stuff out. Ice Cream Cakes can make up a huge, profitable part of your business. With Cold Molds help, you’ll be able to make high quality cakes and other novelties.   One of the major benefits to producing cakes and novelties in your store is that you will be able to keep your employees busy during your slow times.   Let me know what you think. If you have a special way to make ice cream cakes that has worked well, and you would like to share it, please go ahead and post a comment.   Thanks, Neil Williams President – KeyWord Farm, LLC 877-817-5716

Social Media:                                                                   

Facebook Youtube Twitter