Beth Richardson of Spotz Gelato: “How tickled are you when someone compliments your outfit or your hair? Just think how easy it is to share that thrill with others”

Kindness and Compliments. It’s an uncomplicated idea that can make a real difference to someone. Being kind doesn’t cost you a cent and could brighten the day of someone who really needs it. A compliment has the same effect. How tickled are you when someone compliments your outfit or your hair? Just think how easy […]

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Kindness and Compliments. It’s an uncomplicated idea that can make a real difference to someone. Being kind doesn’t cost you a cent and could brighten the day of someone who really needs it. A compliment has the same effect. How tickled are you when someone compliments your outfit or your hair? Just think how easy it is to share that thrill with others.

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Richardson. Beth is the soul behind the magic at Kentucky-based brand Spotz Gelato. Known for award-winning, handcrafted, small-batch gelato, Beth (along with her husband) founded the colorful brand and creates of all of their fabulous flavors while showcasing a real passion for local foods since 2012, Spotz has been a favorite of foodies and families alike and has grown from a single vintage food truck to a fleet of mobile units and several brick & mortar locations.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Thanks so much for having me! I was born in the late 1960’s in Louisville, Kentucky to a Baptist minister and his wife. My mother was a great southern cook who never measured a thing while cooking but could manage to pull off a delicious, full spread of food at a moment’s notice. I was raised with tables filled with wonderful dishes and great company and learned the value of both. After the sudden death of my father, my mother went back to work. I watched her learn to build her own successful business and saw the dedication and passion she had for her work.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

It is a somewhat winding story. Several years ago, my husband and I purchased a lovely old house at auction that happened to be situated on a small farm. We did lots of research and quickly learned to raise many different things on the land. We eventually started a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Program that fed as many as 30 families from our gardens each summer. Eventually, we weren’t able to grow enough produce to meet the demand and reached out to other local farmers to purchase items from them to include in our weekly subscription boxes.

At the same time, we were traveling quite a bit during our winter off seasons. During our travels, we kept coming back to a particular town that happened to have a great ice cream store that we visited almost every night after dinner. I finally asked the owner what made his ice cream so much better than any I had ever had. He told me that it was actually gelato, and not ice cream, and went on to explain that his gelato was made fresh daily from local ingredients.

I decided to go home and try to make gelato in my own kitchen. When I took the finished product to family gatherings and potlucks, one too many people encouraged me to sell it. Spotz was born!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we first started, we decided to build a food truck to take to local events. We bought a vintage travel trailer and my husband rebuilt it from the ground up, transforming it into a little gelato shop on wheels. At this point, we only had one truck and it had our gelato machine on it, a dipping case and two serving windows. All our gelato was made on this truck that only measured 7X4 feet… that’s only 98 square feet!

At events, we usually had three people working inside this tiny truck, making and serving our gelato to the huge crowds that lined up to buy it. It was so hot inside the truck and such close quarters, it is a wonder we didn’t kill each other that first summer!

The demand was so high we soon figured out that we needed another truck. The following summer, we added a second truck and built our own commercial kitchen on our farm to our exact specifications to produce our gelato. That was one of our best decisions and all our gelato is still produced in that kitchen to this day.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The most common mistake I have seen people make is growing too fast and not keeping their costs in check. Rent and labor costs can be significant and will kill your bottom line quicker than anything. We were so lucky to have started our first truck inexpensively without borrowing money and were able to work it mostly ourselves that first summer. That allowed us to save enough money to add another truck the following season. Again, we didn’t have to borrow money to build that one. We keep our labor costs in check by working shifts on the trucks (and in the stores, now) ourselves and by paying close attention to our staffing needs by monitoring our daily sales figures.

My best advice would be to be sure you are counting your own money. What I mean is, you should personally be aware of where every penny is going in your business and keeping an eye on your ratios. Grow when you can actually afford to do so. Staff your locations based on your sale numbers. And, always keep your eye on your bottom line and be flexible enough to scale back your costs based on what is coming in.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Do your research about the market in your area. Ask yourself the following:

  • Is there a need for your product?
  • Are people likely to embrace it?
  • Who is your target customer and where will you find them?
  • Is anyone else making a similar product? What are they doing right and wrong?
  • How will you be able to make yourself stand out from any competition?

People have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

Everyone needs a good elevator pitch. Imagine you have 20 seconds in an elevator to explain to someone what your business is. How could you sum up your business in 20 seconds? Figure out your elevator pitch and build your business around that. By sticking to a narrow idea, you will be able to concentrate your efforts on building one cohesive brand of products or services that work well together. When adding a new item, always ask if it is serving that pitch.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

Though our business didn’t require an invention, I think it depends completely on the person, their background and their skill set. There is no right or wrong answer here. Some people are very detail-oriented and able to do lots of research on their own. They can put that research into play to create their product and market it on their own. Other people may not have that same skill set and need more help with the business side of things. There is no shame in either scenario. I think it is most important to know what your skills are and find help that fills in the gaps for you and your business.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. A great product — It is a pretty straightforward idea-your food needs to taste good. Every flavor of gelato we produce starts as an idea in my head. Sometimes, I am inspired by an ingredient that is in season or otherwise available to us. Sometimes, I am inspired by another food item made elsewhere with interesting ingredients that I can’t wait to put my spin on. Sometimes my recipes just sound like they would be a combination of flavors. In each case, we will make a batch of the flavor and try it. We will tweak the recipe as many times as needed to get just the right flavor and texture. If I love the flavor and am excited by it, chances are my customers will also love it.
  2. The right market — Who are your customers and where will you find them? For my business, I know that I need to have a location that attracts families and young people. My locations need to be close to where my customers will already be. It also helps to have a good restaurant close by as an anchor. Typically, people have dinner and then visit my trucks or stores for their dessert.
  3. Enough capital — You need to have a clear idea of your start-up costs and your cash requirements for the first several months of operation. What time of year are you opening? It makes sense for us to open a new store in the Spring or Summer so that we have several months under our belt before the slower winter season starts. Will the sales of your product also be affected by the seasons? If so, you will need to know what your costs will be to carry you over until your next busy season and when that busy season will be.
  4. Smart marketing — How will you get the word out about your product or new location? Who are your customers and how can you best reach them? For our gelato business, we start marketing 2–4 months prior to opening a new location in several different ways. We use our social media channels to announce the opening and offer weekly contests to get the word out to the local community and create some excitement. We also schedule our trucks to participate in events in the local area in the months leading up to the opening for name recognition. We get to know other business owners in the area and try to build partnerships with them through joint marketing. We also work to secure press and media opportunities to create a buzz. We partner with local charities for our opening events and also reach out to local schools to schedule events and spread awareness.
  5. Making sure your product is available — You could make the best product in the world, but if you don’t have an open outlet to sell it or enough product to meet the demand, you won’t have much success. It is important for us to not only choose the right location, but to have regular operating hours at the times our customers want to visit and be able to keep a consistent supply of product during the hours we are busiest. We are most busy in the evenings, especially on weekends. As such, we must be prepared with a full case of our best flavors during those times. Our customers need to know that we will be open and ready for them every time they want to visit.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

In my experience with Gelato making, I find that my best flavor creations are those that I really love too. My customers usually buy flavors that are at least somewhat familiar to them, but always love to try new and different flavors as a special treat. We offer samples in all our stores so customers can try new things on every visit. Sometimes that new and different flavor, ends up being a fan favorite.

To better figure it out, we pay close attention to sales trends on new flavors. What sells out quickly? What comments are we hearing from customers? If a new flavor sells well, we will plan to bring it back at a later date.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Though it may seem simple, Spotz is a place for memories and celebrations. It is a happy place where people can spend time with their friends and families. When a child loses a tooth, they come to my shops to celebrate. When they learn to ride their bike, that calls for a Spotz visit too. An afternoon with a grandparent, a first date, a birthday…. all are perfect times to visit. This is truly the best part about what I have created. I love being part of memories that people with carry with them.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Kindness and Compliments. It’s an uncomplicated idea that can make a real difference to someone. Being kind doesn’t cost you a cent and could brighten the day of someone who really needs it. A compliment has the same effect. How tickled are you when someone compliments your outfit or your hair? Just think how easy it is to share that thrill with others.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Martha Stewart would be a fabulous lunch date, especially if we could get in the kitchen together to prepare it. I truly believe the kitchen is the best place to really get to know someone! I love the fact that she created a successful brand based on all the things she loves and has been able to combine her love of food, home and entertaining under one umbrella company. I am sure we would find a million things to talk about and I could learn an immense amount from her. What a dream lunch!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Thank you so much for the invitation!

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