4 Things Your Business Can Learn From the Ice Cream Man

Last Updated Feb 28, 2011 6:31 PM EST

Is there anything more emblematic of an entrepreneur than a person who not only works in his store, but actually drives it around town? And while doing so, is searching for customers, meeting them face-to-face, and transacting business right on the spot? Well, that's the ice cream man... and I have great admiration and empathy for him. And I believe he can teach us all a thing or two about business.


Hanging just outside my office is a photograph of a Good Humor ice cream truck. It's there to remind me that in an age of impersonal, digital conversations, like the kind we have at my company Blinds.com, we must never forget the lessons from the Ice Cream Man.

First, there's the store itself. Any successful driver knows that when the truck is clean and the ice cream pictures emblazoned on the outside of the truck are well positioned and graphically appealing, you sell more. Who wants to buy ice cream from a dirty truck with peeling paint? You get a favorable impression of the product when it drives up in attractive packaging.

Then there's the advertising. Cheerful, albeit sometimes annoying, tunes announce the truck's impending visit. The music does two things really well: It cuts through the clutter (it's audible from blocks away) and it elicits fun and exciting times ahead -- hopefully just like the advertising you're doing, right? (Note to all ice cream drivers: Please change your "Pop Goes the Weasel" melody from time to time. People get tired of the same ad over and over and over again.)

The ice cream truck makes excellent use of its limited selling time. It occurs to me that there are some gaming aspects to selling ice cream on the run. The scarcity concept of fleeting and small inventory levels, popular with sites such as Gilt.com and Hautelook.com, works in the ice cream man's favor. When you hear the music coming, you know you only have a matter of minutes before the truck rolls right by your home. Do you recall as a kid tackling your mom for some coins once you heard the truck? Didn't want to miss him.

Finally, it's about getting close to customers. Once the truck stopped, I liked the way in the old days when the driver would stand outside, reach into the truck, hand out the ice cream, and give change from that little belt-attached coin dispenser. That ensured there'd be a personal touch in every transaction as the driver learned what sold out the quickest and automatically received feedback from EVERY customer.

So I ask you... are you taking time to ensure you and your business are like the ice cream man? How close are you to your customers? Do you know what's selling, whether your customers are happy, and if not, then why not? Maybe it's time to change into that white suit and hat.

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    Jay Steinfeld is the founder and CEO of Blinds.com, the industry leader in online window blinds sales. He is an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. His company was named Best Place to Work in Houston, won the American Marketing Association's Marketer of the Year, and Steinfeld was named by the Houston Chronicle as Houston's top CEO in the under-150 employee category for the last 2 years.

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