Ah, there is nothing like enjoying a cold ice cream bar on a hot summer day. One recent sunny day, I was sitting outside my home and could hear a faint musical tune off in the distance. At first, I ignored it. But as it became louder and louder I thought to myself, “The Ice Cream Man?” with a nostalgic smile on my face. You all know this person; the one who drives around suburban neighborhoods in huge white gas guzzling van with images of ice cream plastered on the side and a loud speaker on top.
As I watched the van go by, my smile drifted away as I was suddenly concerned that this Ice Cream Man was a child perpetrator in disguise. The white van looked very old, had no windows in-tact, and produced a low rumble from a rusted out exhaust system. The 20-something individual driving the van looked far from being in the ice cream business. I’m sure we both had interesting expressions on our faces as we exchanged glances. His face said “come on, are you going to buy something or not?” My face said “should I call the authorities, or is this guy the ‘real McCoy?’
1. Rising fuel prices
2. Inefficient, gasoline powered vehicles
3. Freezers that hamper fuel efficiency even further
4. Antiquated vehicles (maintenance issues)
5. High liability insurance (driving around children) – an assumption here on my part
6. Image and professionalism
7. Seasonal sales cycle
So the questions is: Does the Ice Cream Man have a survival strategy or not? What are your thoughts?
I personally give this business model, in its current state, a few more seasons of survival at best. If higher fuel prices don’t kill this business model, a poor image and the other challenges listed above will. It’s clear that this business lacks strategic direction and needs some in order to survive.
In response to my evaluation, I told myself that the next time I hear an Ice Cream Man, I would flag him down and let my four year old boy pick out some ice cream. I wanted him to experience this before it becomes extinct. Then he could say “I remember the Ice Cream Man, what happened to him?” Four weeks later, I was outside playing with my son when we heard the music in the distance. He was not headed our direction, so I made a mad dash to get his attention. As he saw me run down the street waving like I had been stranded on an island hoping for rescue, his face said “is this guy the ‘real McCoy,’ running down the street to get ice cream, or is this a joke?”
After my son picked out his Ninja Turtle ice cream bar, I chatted with the driver for a few minutes about their business model and how it works. In essence, he said business some days is better than others, but overall he agreed with my observations. After he drove away, I felt a little sad that the Ice Cream Man is on the verge of extinction. Where does your business stand?
The legend of “the real McCoy”: Elijah McCoy (1844 to 1939), was a Canadian inventor who developed and worked on lubrication systems for steam engines. Competitors attempted to make counterfeits of his products. The legend is that railroad engineers looking to avoid these imitations and knock-offs would inquire if a locomotive was fitted with “the real McCoy.” Whatever he did, he clearly had a strategic competitive advantage with his product.