Never let it be said that the love of ice cream can’t lead to good things. It led Jeff Buck and Dave Gall to ownership of a Cold Stone Creamery franchise and a new life in North Carolina.
Before their venture into the world of ice cream, Buck and Gall worked in the information technology sector in Phoenix Arizona, close to Cold Stone Creamery’s base. As a treat, they would visit the local Cold Stone Creamery, and that’s where the idea of launching a business was hatched.
“There was one just around the corner from where we worked,” Buck and Gall recall. “One day we were talking about wanting to go into business for ourselves, and we were looking into a lot of different concepts and different ideas”.
By chance, Cold Stone was also looking to expand from its base of operations on the West Coast. The company saw the East Coast market as wide open for their high quality ice cream, cakes, smoothies and shakes. Cold Stone Creamery saw Buck and Gall as the right entrepreneurs for expansion and thus, in 2000, the two began their journey into business ownership.
We quit our jobs, took a cross-country trip to look at different cities, and ended up in the Raleigh-Durham area. Actually, it’s kind of the American Dream,” they say.
In August 2001, Buck and Gall opened the first Cold Stone Creamery in the Triangle. They found that starting a new business was full of surprises and challenges. Because they were new to business ownership, there were many details to learn. Being part of a franchise meant there was some support from the corporate office in Arizona. However, Cold Stone Creamery was rapidly expanding at the time and was still learning how to support its expansion.
“While Cold Stone Creamery knew what to do in terms of how to help you sell and make ice cream, they didn’t really know how to support businesses all over the United States,” explain the two owners. “So it was like the Wild West. It was quite a wild ride and of course we were growing our business and making mistakes. You know, we’ve made every mistake that you can think of.”
Buck and Gall weathered the rough times at the start of their business and are still going strong eleven years later. They attribute their success to their products and their client base. Because they mix the ice cream up right in the store, the combinations are almost limitless. Cake flavors can also be customized as well. The overriding attribute of their products is the homemade quality.
“We literally make the ice cream, every batch, in our store. Our cakes are also home-made. You can make a cake any way you want it. We know the product is fresh, and that’s a huge difference. It is not being shipped in from half-way across the country. It’s made on the premises, which is very different than any other ice cream store,” say Buck and Gall
The client base is large, but both Buck and Gall see a lot of room for increased business.
“Even though we have been in the Triangle for almost eleven years, it’s amazing to me that people still come in who have never been to Cold Stone,” says Buck. “We actually have people that come in and ask, ‘When did you guys open?’ Everybody loves ice cream. So our customer base runs the whole gamut: young, old, families, grandparents coming in with grandkids.”
The two owners also attribute their success to their ability to serve a broad base of customers.
“We have a little bit of everything for everybody,” they say. “Whether it’s a smoothie, a cake, a pie, a plain old sundae, or a banana split for our more traditionalists, we cater to everybody.”
As Cold Stone Creamery expanded with more franchises in North Carolina, so did the networking possibilities. Buck and Gall welcomed the opportunity to share ideas and best practices with other Cold Stone owners.
Buck and Gall comment, “They’re business owners too and, of course, Cold Stone owners, so you can get the best of both worlds. You can hear the general business end as well as the specifics to your business.”
The biggest advice Buck and Gall offer to would-be business owners is to be involved. Do not rely on your manager and/or employees to run your store. No one can run your business like you can or want to.
“Be in your store and just get to know the people that work in the store and get to know your clientele and the operation,” they advise. “The most learning that we have had is being in the store and being in the trenches. That’s the best thing to do. You know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work pretty quickly.”
Looking forward, the entrepreneurs see sales as their biggest challenge. They realize that their products are a luxury item, and they’ve taken steps to adapt and to keep attracting customers. They have promoted the catering side of their business and have developed additional products.
“You know, people have to buy gas, they have to buy groceries, but they don’t have to buy luxury ice cream,” explains Buck. “We do more catering and market our cakes and other products. We have grown from selling just ice cream to hot desserts, ice cream cupcakes, ice cream cookies, ice cream pies, smaller cakes. We really cater to what our customers want.”