The familiar adage, "location, location, location," so often applied to real estate, applies in equal importance to the location of kiosks and carts. However, when it comes to these more portable retail venues, different kinds of locations often call for variations on the basic theme.
That's why Crystal Fresh Inc., a Minneapolis company that has developed the Sno Biz shaved, flavored ice program, offers its vendors a slew of flexible formats, from small standalone carts to trailers, to programs that incorporate a variety of other (primarily food) products. And it backs its programs with a wealth of support, often tailored to the kiosk operator's particular environment.
Sno Biz has been in operation since 1985, and there are currently 11,000 Sno Biz programs in operation, according to Tom Novetzke, the company's president. "They're not franchised, but we provide the same kind of support a vendor would expect from a major franchiser," he says.
That includes the ice shaver machine that is intrinsic to making the product. There are two sizes. It also includes the recipes and ingredients for the 36 base flavors, but also goes well beyond such basics. There are recipes for producing up to 150 different combo flavors. Vendors are invited to invent their own flavor combinations.
The company supplies menus and signage, a frequent buyer promotion, and a range of non food products that can be sold from kiosks and carts. Chief among them is Bizzy, the Sno Biz penguin mascot that appears on all kiosks, carts, advertising and promotion.
There's also a Bizzy plush toy to sell, and a six foot tall Bizzy mascot costume for openings and special events. The tall Bizzy can go beyond the vendor's location to appear at fairs, schools and other events, handing out coupons that direct traffic to the kiosk vendor's site.
Bizzy not only adds to sales, but also promotes the brand, which Novetzke says has evolved into a cult following in many locations. Crystal Fresh also offers an apparel line of T-shirts, caps and aprons that Sno Biz vendors can wear and also sell.
It includes a few units free with each starter program, and sells them to vendors at cost. "They can make double mark up," Novetzke says, "and still sell them at prices that make it easy for consumers to buy." They carry catchy phrases, such as, "Got Sno?," and, "Li'l Shaver," for kids.
The program comes with recorded jingles in English and Spanish for radio spots and print art, featuring Bizzy. Art for menu boards, posters, banners and other materials is also available. Crystal Fresh will provide credits on merchandise to cover half of a vendor's advertising expenses.
A newsletter, "Sno Biz Buzz," provides vendors with a continuing flow of news and ideas. The company has developed a training video on DVD and VHS tape, and it is periodically updated. The Minneapolis staff is always available to help. "We're a very personal business," Novetzke says. "We want our vendors to succeed, and our constant message to them is: You're not alone."
"A vendor doesn't need experience to operate a Sno Biz program," Novetzke says. "We do have a qualifying process, but we're basically a business for entrepreneurs, and if a person is not afraid of hard work he or she, or the whole family can, do very well." His experiences tell him that a mom and pop operation can typically net approximately $40,000 in about seven months.
The smallest start up package, "designed primarily for weekend warriors at flea markets, fairs, grand openings and sports events," Novetzke says, calls for an initial investment of $4,995. It includes the cart, and is a complete turnkey program with ice shaver and all the flavors and merchandising tools required to produce and succeed.
The cost of providing a Sno Biz shaved ice unit is 25 cents, and they retail for between $2.50 and $3.50 a unit, depending on flavor. "If you do 800 to 900 a day at two day events," he explains, "it doesn't take long to get payback from the investment."
The company will also tailor programs to meet a mall owner's requirements. "We get calls from malls wanting this," he says, "and we work with vendors to find a location for them." He estimates that rent generally represents from 15 to 20 percent of a vendor's costs.
While the summer months are prime, and operations in warm climates do well year round, success is not limited by season or geography, he says. "Indoor malls love these at Christmas time, because they're entertainment."
Furthermore, Crystal Fresh's flexible approach to its vendor's needs gives them opportunities to combine Sno Biz products with other compatible foods. Beyond its starter package and mall based standalone Sno Biz kiosk programs lie a wealth of other options.
The company will custom configure trailers in three different sizes that can be fitted to sell smoothies, cappuccino and other popular coffees. "We have several different business plans that don't call for food experience," Novetzke says.
Many of the company's trailer vendors set up near malls and outside big box retail chains and at zoos and other entertainment venues. It also has expanded programs that do require Health Department approval. "We'll tell them how to source other products, such as hot dogs, hot pretzels, and tacos, for example," he says. In one instance, it even designed a cart for adding Cuban sandwiches in a Cuban neighborhood, and put the operator in touch with supplier sources.
In addition, Novetzke says, there are some existing retailers, such as Mrs. Fields' Cookies franchisees, that want to add a Sno Biz component to their business. Crystal Fresh will configure a program that works in such locations.
Of the 11,000 Sno Biz operations in 26 countries, the majority are in the U.S., according to Novetzke. Some of its vendors have up to four different units in operation. "That doesn't mean that retailer is four times as profitable as someone that operates one unit," he cautions. "This succeeds best as a hands on business. Labor is a critical component. You need good, enthusiastic personnel to make that work, and while some people have been successful with multiple units, it's a difficult undertaking."
For more information, contact:
Crystal Fresh Inc., Sno Biz
12132 Riverwood Drive
Minneapolis, MN 55337
Toll Free: 800-742-8342
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