How I Grew my Seasonal Business to be Open All Year – Seasonal Part 1

Article originally written for and featured in Square’s Seller Community: https://www.sellercommunity.com/t5/General-Discussion/How-I-Grew-my-Seasonal-Business-to-be-Open-All-Year-Pesso-s/m-p/123102#M23884

My father and I opened up Pesso’s Ices & Ice Cream, our small neighborhood Ice Cream shop in November of 2004. It’s very much a weather-affected business, with the busiest part of our year definitely being the summer. Throughout the years we’ve tried both sides of being seasonal, with years where we were open all year, and years where we were closed during the winter.

Before we owned it, our location was already Italian Ice shop run by our friends for a couple of years years, and we had the opportunity to take over and make it ours. Because the main product was Italian Ices, and we are in the super residential town of Bayside, New York, they started out as Seasonal.

The shop was open from March through November, and closed for the 3 Winter months. So after only 1 month of owning our shop, we closed down for the winter. Luckily, we saw this as a huge benefit because we were able to reflect on what we learned in our first month of the business, and take a few months to clean up, organize, make a plan, and get ready for the future of our shop.

From Seasonal to Open All Year

From the beginning, our goal was to build up our customer base so that we did not have to be seasonal and closed in the winter. We figured that since we’re paying rent and utilities anyway, being open all year would only increase our income and our profit. It took a couple of years for us to feel comfortable doing it, so we started small. We started small, staying open an extra month the first year, and then 2 months the second year, and then finally in third year we able to just stay open.

Changing our Hours

As a little compromise, and as a way to save some money and run our business as efficiently as possible, we set up different Store hours for each of the seasons. In the summer we open the store the earliest and stay open the latest, and in the colder months, we open later and close earlier. In the first few years we made these decisions using a lot of guess work, but since we switched to Square in 2012, we were able to use Sales Data through Square to figure out our optimal opening and closing times, which was incredibly valuable.

Expanding our Offerings

We made a plan to try to expand our offerings to help draw in more customers during the traditional non-ice-cream-weather. We tried Coffee and Espresso, Pretzels and Hot Dogs, Candies, Fruit Smoothies, Soups, Hot Chocolate, and more. While this strategy and these offerings can definitely work for a lot of businesses, because we were already established and were known as a seasonal Ice Cream shop none of these really stuck or resonated with our customers. Once we realized that, we decided to hunker down and focus on our primary offerings because that’s what we were experts at.

Shifting our Focus

Raise your hand if you’ve ever excitedly proclaimed “Let’s go out for Italian Ices!” on a beautiful sunny day.

Yea. I didn’t think so.

While Italian Ices are fairly popular in New York City, their demand pales in comparison to the global appeal of Ice Cream. So we channeled that universality and made a plan to become a destination for Ice Cream. Even though we made Ice Cream and Gelato ever since we opened, we sold much less of them because people knew us primarily for our Ices. So we started by improving our Ice Cream and Gelato recipes, adding more unique flavors, and we made it a point to offer more customers tastes of our growing Ice Cream line.

Next, we rebranded and changed our name from Pesso’s Italian Ices to Pesso’s Ices & Ice Cream. We updated our website, our in-store signage, our online listings like Yelp and Google, and of course our social media accounts. A huge benefit of changing your name on Facebook is that it automatically sends out a notification to all of our followers, which is a great easy way to bring your brand front of mind to your fans. And with all of that our SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, improved dramatically. Because we had ‘Ice Cream’ in our name, we showed up higher on the search results when people searched for that category on Google and Yelp.

Educating our Customers

Since we were busy enough in the warmer months, we figured the best solution would be to encourage our existing customers to come in the Winter months. The big Italian Ice chains in New York are all seasonal, and even though we are a small family business, the majority of our customers naturally thought that we were closed in the winter. So the biggest step of convincing our existing customers to come more in the off-season was to first educate them that we were still open when it’s cold out.

We tried a lot of strategies to make sure our customers would know that we were Open All Year. We attached a banner to our awning, put signs on our walls in our store, edited it onto our photos, a headline on our website, put it on our business cards, the labels on our Pints, signs on our Napkin Dispensers, and more. We also used the amazing Square Marketing tools to send out Email campaigns to reach customers outside of our store.

One of our most effective marketing and education tools is what we call Bag Tags. We print out little slips of paper to advertise any specials, new flavors, or anything else that we’d like to promote, that we put into every bag when customers take items to go. Towards the end of our season in late July and August, we made some Bag Tags that simply said “Pesso’s is Open All Year,” which definitely helped get the word out to a huge chunk of our customers.

Expanding our Reach

Our next big move was to improve our marketing to reach more new customers. We switched our focus from posting in local newspapers and giving out coupons, to higher yield and further reach mediums. We started by revamping our Social Media Strategy. Instead of randomly taking photos and posting them as we felt like it, we built out a schedule on a spreadsheet to keep our posts varied and engaging. We started out posting every other day, and more recently we’ve started to post everyday. We set up our Instagram posts to automatically post Twitter too, to have a wider reach and impact with no extra work.

Tough Decisions – Going Back to Seasonal

All of this work definitely paid off to a certain extent, and our sales in the off-season months consistently grew year after year. However, it wasn’t enough for us to cover all of our expenses, and didn’t end up working for us, and it may not work for you. So after 10 Years of trying to make Open All Year work, we decided to shift back to being a Seasonal business.

Stay tuned for my next post to read about why decided to go back, how we did it, and what we learned along the way.

How to Make Square Data Work for You

The data that Square gathers and creates for you is so extremely valuable to keep a pulse on your business, as long as you know where to look. To see just how valuable, check out my other post all about How I Revamped My Business Thanks to Square Data. But that’s how I did it, let’s talk about how you can do it too.

Article originally written for and featured in Square’s Seller Community: https://www.sellercommunity.com/t5/Questions-How-To/How-to-Make-Square-Data-Work-for-You/m-p/111297#M46082

The data that Square gathers and creates for you is so extremely valuable to keep a pulse on your business, as long as you know where to look. To see just how valuable, check out my other post all about How I Revamped My Business Thanks to Square Data. But that’s how I did it, let’s talk about how you can do it too.

How to Do it Yourself

So what steps do you take to you reap the benefits of Square Data yourself? Here are some simple ways to start:

1. Assess Your Item Library

Take a good hard look at your in-store menu and the items you sell. Think about how they are naturally organized and how that would translate to organizing them them on Square using Categories, Items, Variants, and Modifiers.

Categories would be things like Entrees, Appetizers, Desserts, or Shirts, Pants, Socks. Items would be individual pieces of merchandise like Steak or Men’s Socks. Variations are different versions of one Item, like 8 oz and 12 oz versions of the item Steak, and Red and Blue Men’s Socks. They can be easily tracked to different SKUs, and can be set up to be the same or different Prices. Modifiers are great for add-ons or changes to an item, and can be an added cost, or no charge. They’re great for changes like adding extra onions, or if a customer ordered a chicken or steak taco.

There are millions of ways to set up your Item Library, with a lot of different factors to consider. It all depends on your store set up, and your goals. Striking the balance between data and efficiency is incredibly important. A lot of data is valuable, but if you have a long lines and need fast transaction times, the time it takes to enter in too much data can slow down your service.

2. Organize Your Data

Once you’ve started to make sales with your new Item Library, it’s time to organize that data. Think about your goals and business needs, and build our your spreadsheets accordingly.

What trends do you want to track? What is important for you to find out? Do you want to track how your business is doing year after year? Do you want to see what items or categories sell better in the winter months than in the summer months? Do you want to know which items or categories have been increasing year over year, and which ones have been decreasing?

Some great trends to track are Sales of All Category, Specific Item Sales Comparisons, Discounts, Sales vs. Labor, Hourly Sales, and more! The beautiful thing is that you can create your own spreadsheets for each and every trend you want to follow, with whichever metrics and variables work best for you.

On your Square Dashboard, you can run Standard Reports or create Custom Reports, and either export the data, or type the data into your new spreadsheets manually – whichever works best for you!

3. Analyze the Trends

Look over all of your amazing new spreadsheets and try to find some useful trends and patterns. The patterns may be comparisons between items or categories, the same item or category over time, or hour by hour sales. Go back to your goals and trends you were interested in, and see what your sales data tells you.

4. Improve your Business

As the brave and wise G.I. Joe once said, “Knowing is half the battle!”

Now that you know a little bit more about what’s going on in your business, you can make changes to improve things! Use your newfound knowledge to make changes that will cut costs and increase sales. Whether it’s getting rid of high cost & low sales items, ordering supplies in larger discounted quantities to match historical sales, changing your hours based on sales, or increasing marketing or changing positioning on your menu to promote and sell more of certain items. Implementing improvements based on data is one the best ways to keep your business growing and thriving!

5. Keep the Data Flowing

Don’t forget to keep updating your spreadsheets every month. This way you can continue to spot and track trends, and keep making changes so your business keeps growing!

I hope this has helped gives you some ideas for ways to make your data work for you, and help your business grow as much as it’s helped mine.

Now, I’d love to hear from you:

How has seeing your data helped your business?

What business decisions have you made based on data?

Do you have any Questions?

Comment below and keep the data and the conversation flowing!

How I Revamped My Business Thanks to Square Data

I’ve been running Pesso’s Ices & Ice Cream, my small ice cream shop in suburban New York, with my father since 2004. For the first 8 years, we were using a standard CASIO cash register, and we were basically running blind. In 2012 we took a leap and set up an iPad with the Square POS app, we immediately started to get data we could use to track our cash and credit sales. This was the beginning of sweeping changes for us to become the efficient and modern shop we are today.

Article originally written for and featured in Square’s Seller Community: https://www.sellercommunity.com/t5/General-Discussion/How-I-Revamped-My-Business-Thanks-to-Square-Data/m-p/108828#M21771

I’ve been running Pesso’s Ices & Ice Cream, my small ice cream shop in suburban New York, with my father since 2004. For the first 8 years, we were using a standard CASIO cash register, and we were basically running blind. It was incredibly hard to program and make changes, and even harder to track any actual sales data.

While we could see how much money we made, we couldn’t see or track any sales trends. We couldn’t tell what our best sellers were, which sizes we were selling the most and least of, if we were making a profit on Milkshakes, or any other figures we could use to make educated business decisions.

We were also cash only for those years, since we always thought that taking credit cards was too complicated, too expensive, and too far out of reach for us. In 2012, more and more customers were asking to use credit cards, and we knew we had to do something. So we took a leap and set up an iPad with the Square POS app. It was incredibly easy to set up and program, taking less than 30 minutes to input our entire Item library. And as soon as we were live, we immediately started to get data we could use to track our cash and credit sales.

I then started tracking all of the sales data that we finally started collecting thanks to Square, and organized it into my own spreadsheets to find trends. This was the beginning of sweeping changes for us to become the efficient and modern shop we are today.

Making the Menu

The most important step of setting up our Square Point of Sale System was really putting together our Item Library. It had to be organized in a way that not only got us great usable data, but also allowed our servers to ring up customers quickly and efficiently.

We quickly realized that our ever changing lineup of 100+ Flavors was way too much to track on the Register, being too complex and taking too much time to update and ring up. Even though it would be an incredible trove of data, we resigned to the fact that we’re better off having an efficient system and not gather that bit of data that we could still track by the number of tubs we use.

So we decided to have our Menu Categories align with our Product Categories (Ice Cream, Gelato, Italian Ice, Shakes, Sundaes, etc.), with each separate Item being based on each size. This sped up our line since our servers only had to tap a single button for each item rung up, rather than tapping through Modifiers or Variants to get to the correct size. It also allowed us to more easily track Size Sales by the item, rather than by Variants or Modifiers.

We also made Cones and Toppings separate Items, and saved the Modifiers for tracking add-ons for less frequently sold items. We do use Item Modifiers for changes that don’t affect price (just in case an employee skips through the popup) but that are still nice to track, like which one of our Signature Sundaes was sold, or whether the Milkshake was made with Ice Cream or Gelato.

Our Original Square POS Setup

A Small by Any Other Name

At our peak, we had 5 sizes for each of our Categories: Kid’s, Small, Medium, Large, Pint, and Quart. We noticed customer transactions were taking a long time because of this. Customers were confused by the sizes, and ended up asking our Servers every time just how big each of the sizes were. We had to explain to almost every customer that the Kid’s was 1 Scoop, Small was 2 Scoops, and so on.

After seeing the Data from our original naming system, I tested re-naming our sizes to a simple “By the Scoop” system: 1 Scoop, 2 Scoop, 3 Scoop, 4 Scoop. This simple rebranding had two huge impacts on our sales: First, it sped up all of our customer interactions, and therefor our transactions. Customers instantly knew how our sizes worked, and knew what to get. Second, customers started getting our smaller and more profitable sizes.

This simple name change ended up doubling the sales of our smallest size, and by the second year of this sizing model the 1 Scoop became our top selling item. As a result, sales of two of our largest and least profitable sizes dropped tremendously, so it only made sense to drop them from our menu. The same thing happened with our Milkshakes and Sundaes, so we also dropped them down to just a single size.

All of this, again, improved our customer experience by making our sizes clearer and easier to navigate, which sped up ordering and increased our profit along the way.

Focusing on Italian Ices & Ice Cream

Cutting Categories

Another big trend we found was that our Frozen Yogurt sales were dropping dramatically year over year. This dropped both in quantity and in percentage of sales, while every other item and category increased tremendously. Meanwhile, the expenses for froyo were only increasing with all of the extra labor involved with machine maintenance, as well as rising costs of utilities like electric and water since we used water-cooled machines. When our machines started breaking down, the reduced demand along with the extremely high cost of repairing or replacing the machines made the decision easy for us. As each of our 3 machines broke down over the course of 2 years, we dropped Frozen Yogurt from our offerings.

While sales dropped somewhat as a result, our profit margin rose tremendously. The Pareto Principle of optimization was completely at play here: a huge chunk of our problems and expenses came from Frozen Yogurt which made up less than 10% of our Sales.

And all of that savings was all thanks to the data from Square. If we weren’t tracking our data and didn’t have access to the data and tracking sales as we did, we would have kept pumping in money and losing it all into the flailing Frozen Yogurt. We saved money, time, effort, and frustration, all because of this data.

An updated look at our Square Register Setup

A Page Out of the Register

When I first set up our Item Library on Square, we started with 5 full pages of menu items, and some of the sizes in the same category didn’t even fit on the same page. It took a lot of time to flip through all 5 pages, because it was impossible to try and remember which page the right items were. This led to longer customer interactions and checkout, fewer customers served, and longer lines.

Because we cut down on our number of Categories and Sizes thanks to insights from our real sales data, we ended up with fewer buttons on our register. Fewer buttons took up fewer pages, and without as many pages to fumble and tap through, our checkout process took up a whole lot less time. After all of these changes, with our new menu and pricing model, we managed to drop down to just a single 1 full page. Our transaction times dropped, and our customers were happier.

How to Do it Yourself

All of this together makes Square an absolutely indispensable reason for how my business has grown and simplified.

But how can you do this yourself? Want to learn exactly what steps to take to Make to your Square Data work for you? Just Click here to read Part 2 of this series!