As summer settles in, seasonal businesses like landscaping, pool maintenance, and lawn care services are in full swing. And nothing screams summer like ice cream! While it’s hard to imagine now, the long days and warm sunshine won’t last forever. For ice cream shops and other seasonal businesses, a plan to boost revenue in the off-season is crucial.
So, what to do when business is slow? See how these five ice cream small businesses promote their off-season sales to keep business going—even as the weather cools down.
Fort Collins-based Walrus Ice Cream has operated continuously for 35 years. Current owner, Lisa Paugh, knows that’s in no small part thanks to their loyal customer base and numerous small business partnerships throughout the city of 170,000. In fact, their customers and business partners, in tandem, drum up business for Walrus Ice Cream.
“There’s a couple restaurants here in our town whose dessert products we make into ice cream and sell back to them, which they serve in their stores,” explains Paugh. “That helps bring people back to Walrus because they see the ideas we can produce, and they want to know what else we have to offer.”
Their local partners include not only restaurants—like Jay’s Bistro, Sonny Lubick Steakhouse, Cafe Vino Foco, and Wing Shack—but also distilleries, grocery stores, and even breweries.
“Our collaborations have led to several beer ice creams.” Paugh adds, “We also make cinnamon roll ice cream with a breakfast place here in town.”
That commitment to supporting local businesses goes both ways.
“We only sell to local businesses, but we also source our ingredients as locally as possible,” shares Paugh. “When things slow down in the shop for the season, we can count on those partnerships to bring in additional revenue that ties us over.”
Since its opening in 2012, Tin Pot Creamery, a Bay Area staple for fresh, honest-to-goodness ice cream, has sold their products at five different locations. Owner, Becky Sunseri, however, saw the writing on the wall.
“I think in the last several years, the liabilities of having brick and mortar became crystallized to me,” says Sunseri.
Even before the pandemic hit, the landscape for food retailers was changing. With online ordering and delivery apps on the rise, foot traffic has slowed considerably.
Though it was a difficult decision, Sunseri and her team began to transition their popular brand to sell exclusively in grocery stores late last year. This, they hope, will bring Tin Pot Creamery’s offerings to a broader audience while reducing overhead like leasing expenses.
“In order to be able to have something that works in the long term, it feels like distribution is one of the ways we can continue to bring great ice cream to people,” she said. “It’s an evolution of the business.”
Not only does her ice cream reach a broader audience in supermarkets, but its sales are spread more evenly throughout the year.
Tin Pot’s eight most popular flavors—in newly-designed cartons—are now available at 44 Whole Foods locations throughout California.
Victoria and Syed Rizvi, owners of Ice Cream on Grand in Englewood, NJ, lean into the seasonal model of their business. Without the winter season downtime, they would have no time to get organized for their busy period.
“My husband spends all his time in the winter planning promotions and new projects, new ideas for next year,” Victoria shares. “We recently redid the whole outdoor area with a gorgeous patio and an absolutely amazing landscape that looks like a botanical garden.”
Their trick for staying profitable? Maximizing their opening hours during the busy season.
“We’ll have about 40 people working on any given day of summer across multiple shifts,” explains Victoria. “As things wind down for the season, we start to reduce our hours and the size of our staff.”
Ice Cream on Grand is open from 12pm until 10pm every day (and 10:30pm on Saturdays) during the busy season—Memorial Day to Labor Day. Between Labor Day and Columbus Day, they reduce their hours to 3-9pm and 2-9pm on the weekends.
La Gelati, an ice cream shop with locations throughout Southeast Michigan, is known primarily for ashta, a hand-stretched ice cream with ancient origins in the Middle East.
Their signature product provides a comforting, nostalgic experience for many of their customers, yet it faces the same seasonal drawbacks as ice cream.
“Sometimes you’re not in the mood for ice cream, so we want everyone to have options,” explains owner, Hussein Saad. “We have crepes, smoothies, brownies, waffles, baklava, you name it.”
Besides offering alternatives for the off-season, being willing to expand your menu can help you reach new customers beyond your regulars.
“We hope to attract families and groups of all sorts, not just Arabs,” Saab shares. “We have a mix of variety, so everyone, whatever they want, they can find in our store. That’s our goal.”
Lisa Paugh also works to diversify Walrus Ice Cream’s offerings in the wintertime. One of their best off-season sellers is their s’mores kits, which include graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows—complete with tabletop fire pit for roasting.
Even during the lull of the off-season, it’s important to engage with your loyal fans and customers online. A few well-timed posts can drum up hype in advance of your seasonal opening.
LaToya Gardner, co-owner and founder of Holy Rolly Charleston—a rolled ice cream food truck that travels around South Carolina’s Low Country—knows full well how to keep her followers engaged during the slow season.
“Once you’ve built that audience online, stay with them,” advises Gardner. “You have to continually engage with followers in your niche so that your page remains relevant and active.”
In other words, keep them dreaming of summer and all of the ice cream yet-to-be. And, of course, photos of your beautiful confections can’t hurt.
“My best advice is that quality content over quantity of posts yields more success,” stresses Gardner.
Read more stories about merchants who use Clover to help expand their offerings, reach new markets, and keep customers coming back.
Sign up and learn more about Clover.