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

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

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!

How to Build Muscle

So you decided you want to look like an Instagram model with rippling and glistening muscles. Whether it’s because you just want to look better, or to feel all of the other amazing benefits of having more muscle mass.

Now it’s time to do it.

How the hell do you do it?

How Does Muscle Grow?

First, through science! You need to understand how it muscles work bio-mechanically, to understand how to channel that into practical steps.

Science Alert: Muscle fibers are super unique because they change size based on their activity levels. Bigger muscle fibers have more surface tension, and are capable of exerting larger amounts of force and power. There are two main ways that muscles grow in strength and size.

The first way is through the muscle fibers themselves growing. With activity and exercise, more protein chains can be created, making muscle fibers thicker. While this doesn’t always increase the size of the total muscle, it does work to improve the strength and moving power of the individual fibers, and the muscle as a whole.

The more effective process that boosts total muscle size is through an increase in a protein-containing semifluid substance around the muscle fibers. Type IIb, fast twitch, muscle fibers are the ones that grow the most through this process, as they are already larger than Type I slow twitch fibers. This increases the size of each fiber, but not necessarily the strength. This type of growth leads to higher protein levels throughout the muscle, which makes it grow and heal better. When you exercise, stress is applied to the muscle, which results in micro-trauma and small tears to the muscle fibers. In response, the body works to repair the tears and rebuild the muscle by filling in the proteins from the semifluid.

Alright, now onto the real steps.

Calfin_

Big Weights -> Big Muscle

How to Exercise to Build Muscle

How you exercise to build muscles depends on your goals. Gains in strength but not necessarily in size can be achieved by exercising with higher repetitions. Using lighter weights in this way can help improve aerobic efficiency which leads to higher endurance and reduced fatigue.

Big growth in size can generally be best achieved by exercising with heavier loads. This activates those Type II muscle fibers, which are larger and have the most impact on increased muscle size and definition. Using heavy weight for fewer repetitions can lead to growth from increased protein containing fluid, which may increase size, but not necessarily gains in strength.

There are a lot of other factors that can also affect your strength and size gains. The amount of time you rest between sets, the speed in which you perform your reps, utilizing eccentric contraction, and how often you exercise the same muscles, can all affect the way your muscles react to stress from exercise. Making sure to get enough rest between working out the same muscle by following a good progression plan can help keep growth stabilized. Experimenting with these elements can help you find and create the right total program for you.

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A protein filled breakfast

What to Eat to Build Muscle

What you eat also has a massive impact on muscle development. Muscle is mainly made up of proteins, and the protein in the food we eat helps to support this function. It is extremely important to make sure to eat enough protein to support growth and maintenance. The building blocks of muscle all need adequate protein levels in order to support growth and hypertrophy. While there is no magic number of how much protein to consume, the general recommendations are anywhere from 60-200 grams of protein each day. This of course depends on your goals along with your body weight and composition. Talk to a nutritionist or dietician to find out what’s right for you.

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Incline Pushups will get you there too!

Do it.

Increasing and maintaining the strength and size of your muscles can be a complicated process, but it’s made much easier by knowing the science behind it. While a decent amount of trial and error is involved to find the right way to exercise for your body and your goals, the most important thing to do is to get up and get moving. Any activity can help to strengthen the muscles, which is the basis of improving their function. Have fun, and enjoy the process of hypertrophy and mass gains.

How Building Bigger Muscles Makes Your Life Better

The Benefits of Building Muscle

Muscles, guns, buns of steel, six pack washboard abs, cannons. We idealize and fantasize about having strong and defined muscle, but why? Sure, it makes you look great, but building muscle mass can have drastic positive effects throughout your life.

But I Don’t Want to Get Huge!

A lot of people are afraid to strength train because they are worried about getting too big. This really isn’t something you should worry about. While starting to build muscle only takes a little bit of work, it takes significant amount more effort to build a lot of muscle, and it’s very easy to lose it. As soon as you’ve built enough muscle, you can shift over to just maintaining that muscle.

Read More

Watch How to Easily Complete The Perfect Pushup

Why Pushups?

Pushups can be intimidating. Lifting yourself up off the ground takes a lot of strength and coordination throughout the body. Despite the challenge, a pushup is one of the most practical exercises you can do. And not to mention the incredible feeling of accomplishment when you finally master it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it and comes in super handy. It’s an exercise you can do just about anywhere, even while you’re cooking, and can let you see some fantastic progress. This is just about everything you need in order to learn how to do a pushup.

How Do You Do A Pushup?

At its core (I love puns!), a push-up is a plank. The Plank forms the foundation for a lot of exercises and movements by training you to keep your core and hips stable and engaged. And the pushup is no exception. By taking the base of a plank and modifying it, you end up with this amazing strength building and core workout.

To start, the first step of performing a perfect pushup is nailing down The Perfect Plank. If you can stabilize yourself on your hands up in a plank, without breaking form, you’re a third of the way there! You can then move ahead and advance into the movement part of push-ups and focus on lowering yourself down to the ground. But before you actually start lowering yourself down, you have to prepare yourself.

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Twist those elbows forward!

How Do You Prepare for a Pushup?

Push Up Pads

When you’re first starting out, it can help to have some padding set under your body and head. A yoga mat is best since it is padded but it also stays in place without stretching too much under the tension of your hands. You could also use an exercise mat or a blanket, but make sure keep your hands stable on the floor right under your shoulders. Feel free to set up any extra cushioning under your knees if you need it.

Shoulders

First up, try to rotate your arms so the inside of your elbows are facing forward. When it’s time to start dropping down, pull your elbows in tight into your sides, scraping your ribs. You should feel the softness of your shirt on your elbows. This rotation of the arms and shoulders activates more of the Lats (Latissimus Dorsi) of the back and Pecs (Pectorals) of the chest. This recruits more muscles so you don’t have to rely on just your arms for all of the strength of the exercise.

Hips

Squeeze those buns, hun!

Maintain the Plank

That plank wasn’t just for the top of the push up. As you move, make sure to keep thinking about each body part and maintain the form of the perfect plank. Keep the tension in the legs, in the glutes (butt) and abs. Try not to arch the back or bend the hips, and keep your hips pushing forward to keep your body in a straight line. When you lower yourself down, your hips and your chest should hit the floor at just about the same time.

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Get Low

Slow Down

They’re called a push-ups, but you’re doing a lot more than just pushing up. The first movement focus is on going down. Like in a lot of movements, going down is just as important as coming up, and the speed you go makes a big difference. Moving slowly has benefits for improving your strength.

This slow lowering is called an eccentric contraction, when you’re going in the direction of gravity but still fighting against it. Go super slow here. Pretend you’re in The Matrix and you’re moving in super slow motion. The last few inches are the hardest. Don’t drop down, but lower yourself gently and keep pushing yourself down to the floor, fighting gravity.

Relax

You made it more than half way! Most of the hard work is done, so go ahead and relax for a bit. You can keep practicing this part, and when you’re ready, come back to the floor and get ready for the real part, the Push Up!

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Started from the bottom, now we’re here.

Push Up

Brace yourself. This is going to be hard. You can give up when it starts to get hard, or you can push through and reach the top. I vote for the latter. Think about what you did for that plank, and make sure everything is aligned and you’ve build up that tension while you’re still on the ground.

The key difference between planks and a pushups here is the arms. Place your hands nice and close into the armpits, and spread those fingers wide to get as much surface area and tension throughout your hands. Next up, roll your shoulders back, rather than down and forward, bringing your shoulder blades down and close together. We call this “packing your shoulders.” Keeping your shoulders packed and your chest puffed up helps to recruit the lats and the muscles of the back. It also keeps your back in a straight line, reinforcing that plank foundation. And just like with your plank, make sure to keep squeezing into your stomach and glutes

Get ready, and push with everything you have!

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Modified incline pushups against benches are awesome.

Progression

I’m not expecting you to be able to do all of that your first try, especially if you’re just getting started, and neither should you. If you can, awesome, power to you, you’re in the minority! Otherwise, you’re going to need a solid progression plan. You can start doing them against a kitchen counter, or a set of stairs, or on the floor on your knees. Just make sure to keep your hips forward and engage the abs and the glutes, just like you would in a plank or standard pushup.

If you could use a little bit more help, I’ve built out a proven program to get you doing full real push ups. Train with me online or in person, and I’ll be more than happy to help you get there.