“It’s June 2020. I’m feverishly looking around for Ice Cream Trucks,“ says Ice Cream Social partner Mike Weiss. “We find an ice cream truck for sale about 20 minutes from where I grew up in Detroit. So, we buy an ice cream truck and we’re like, okay cool, let’s start this thing.” That summer, Weiss and his business partner Victoria Roedel bought a 53-year-old Good Humor truck, rolled up their sleeves and began to restore it.
It all started back in 2017 when Weiss and Roedel were working together at social media agency, Laundry Service together. They sat down for a glass of champagne after work when an idea popped into their heads. What if they started an ice cream themed social media agency? Fast forward a few years and the Instagram handle they had saved back in 2017 would come into play when both Weiss and Roedel lost their jobs in 2020 during the pandemic. Both of their respective agencies downsized, giving them an opportunity to bring their ice cream truck and agency dream to life.
Little did they know, the ice cream truck would be much more than a side project to support their agency. With summer activities cancelled and everyone at home, they started selling ice cream every day from 1 to 6 p.m. “It was a great opportunity not only to start our business and make a name for ourselves but also bring people and families in the community we were in some kind of sense of joy and relief to have a sense of excitement during the summer.“ As the truck saw unexpected success, Ice Cream Social leveraged technology to reach customers, connect with customers online, and manage their cash flow.
Modernizing the ice cream truck experience
“We put our social media skills to work. Not only were we consistently posting on our Instagram stories and Instagram where we were going to be on a specific day. We were also taking advantage of other methods of reaching people like search or paid ads,” says Weiss. Rather than the more traditional approach of parking and ringing their bell, Weiss can answer messages in real time from customers who just missed them and let them know their next stop quickly. Beyond leveraging platforms like social media, even accepting contactless payments has helped them connect with customers.
“Typically ice cream trucks, it’s cash only. Historically it’s been cash only so when people see we have the Square reader or we accept cards and they don’t have enough cash it’s really easy to do that transaction,” says Roedel. Ice Cream Social also provides ice creams for events so taking contactless payments has helped them serve 30 to 50 people in a short amount of time as well as include their fee, share a total cost for the event, and finalize the payment with the customer hosting the event in a seamless way.
Integrating Square’s Point of Sale system gave Ice Cream Social better insights into their customer’s habits, inventory, sales, and ultimately even taxes. They have used this to analyze last year’s reporting in order to help them make future decisions such as scheduling for day’s that are the most popular with customers, which routes to take, and how to optimize managing their inventory.
Ice Cream Social carries a large selection ranging from standard ice-cream to low fat or sugar free ice cream. They keep these items up to date with new pictures often and feel that this seamless system has helped them scale more quickly, especially as they respond to customer demand for new items.
Breaking down the costs
Weiss and Roedel say there’s a lot to consider when it comes to costs around a food truck business. There are associated costs like gas, running the generator and even licenses and requirements that change by municipality.
“It’s about 35%,” says Weiss of the cost of goods sold for Ice Cream Social. “So the margin is about 65% and in the last half of the season last year, we broke even on all of our initial expenses, plus all of our cost of goods sold, and we turned just a sliver of a profit but we did it in half a season, only. So, the ice cream truck was paid off.”
The truck sells between 500 and 800 units of ice cream a day on average. The types of ice creams that are popular can vary by week, month, or even neighborhood. “There’s 22 weeks of ice cream selling so understanding what our bestsellers were allowed us to expand,” says Weiss. “This year we bought a second truck and got a 16 cubic foot chest freezer because we intend to handle more inventory.”
The chest freezer was born out of need. As with most ice cream trucks, theirs tops out at 40 miles per hour and going out of the way to restock could take longer than anticipated. With some suppliers, Ice Cream Social is on an independent seller list and they will make a pick-up at all times of days during the week. It is often a juggling game of finding items that are in demand or supplementing with other ones. “The procuring of ice cream is the wild west. There’s no consistency to it at all. The night before we need ice cream, we send an email to the supplier with the order and then they give us a total and we go with cash, pick up all the ice cream, and put it in the freezer as fast as we can,” says Weiss.
Sales are going to heat up for summer
SpongeBob SquarePants ice creams are already flying off the shelves this year. Last year’s most ordered was a classic, Chips Galore. Weiss says that items will be popular for a few weeks and sometimes suddenly drop off. Take snow cones for example, a top seller the first half of the summer in May, June, and July that fizzled out later in the summer.
What’s popular with kids and adults changes, too. Last year Ice Cream Social had a hard time procuring Batman or Ninja Turtle ice creams from distributors and now that they’ve been able to stock them this year, kids are asking about Angry Birds, Avengers, and Captain America. Even a favorite like the screwball can change slightly by distributor and look, and kids can tell the difference.
So, what’s next for Ice Cream Social? May kicks off their summer season and they’ve already experienced some 90 degree days in the first two weeks. This prompted them to add water and sodas as customers began requesting them. Weiss and Roedel are also experimenting with shelf stable items this summer like novelty candy, cotton candy, and even ice cream for dogs. They’re combining their insights from last summer’s sales and this year’s to forecast inventory needs, routes the truck should take, and even when they should hire their third employee. Analyzing their performance consistently has even paved the way for looking at new re-investment opportunities for Ice Cream Social.
This year, the second truck and 16-cubic-foot chest freezer Roedel and Weiss purchased will streamline operations “We’re going to see how it goes this season. “We’re going to see how it goes this season, we hopefully can bring a lot more product variety to people and so far they’ve been receiving it well. This is not something that we have ready but we’ve had thoughts on doing something for the fall or winter season — things like donuts and apple cider, coffee.” said Roedel.
While a fall or winter truck could become a reality in 2022 or 2023, for now they’re excited to expand on their current business and focus on taking advantage of the opportunity to modernize ice cream while still keeping the tradition of ice cream trucks alive.