FEDERAL WAY, Wash.–Jack Walsh was looking for a new business opportunity when his daughter came home from a trip raving about an ice cream shop she’d visited in Boise.
Instead of mulling over barrels of flavored ice cream sitting in glass-topped freezers, she said, customers had mulled over a list of ingredients and then watched as their own personal serving of Sub Zero ice cream was created right in front of their eyes with a 15-second blast of liquid nitrogen.
Immediately, Walsh was intrigued. Sub Zero was founded in 2004, but as of 2011 there were only about a dozen stores in the U.S. and none in Washington or Oregon.
Walsh remembers thinking, “maybe this is it.”
“I’ve got a marketing background,” he said, “and this just jumps out at you—no question. It’s made for promotion and it’s also a great, great product.”
Business counsel in stalled economy
From the beginning, he said, his plan was to open a store in Federal Way and then become an area developer to help other would-be franchise owners in the Pacific Northwest.
Despite Walsh’s conviction that Sub Zero would find a robust customer base in the Seattle area, the banks he contacted to get a startup loan were unenthusiastic. In 2011 the economy was still sluggish, he said, and banks were reluctant to finance new restaurants or specialty food stores.
Fortunately, one of the loan officers he worked with suggested he talk with Rich Shockley, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Des Moines.
Help with loan, franchise development
Walsh didn’t need help with marketing, but Shockley was able to help Walsh work through financial documents and put together a strong loan application.
“Rich gave advice and feedback and helped us significantly,” Walsh said. “It went so smoothly that I couldn’t believe it. I kept waiting for the ‘gotcha’ and it never came.”
Over the past year Walsh has been expanding the on-site catering side of his business, bringing his mobile science lab/ice cream truck to everything from corporate events, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduation and birthday parties and neighborhood barbeques. Already, he said, about 15 percent of venues is from catering parties.
“It’s totally, totally customized,” Walsh said. “You see it happen. It’s an experience as well as a dessert.”
Walsh’s first goal is to be profitable, he said, but his second goal is to give back, which he does in different ways. In addition to doing mini science lessons in the school—which end with a small treat—Walsh also sponsors a reading program which rewards students who read regularly for a month with a coupon for an ice cream and frequently sponsors fundraisers for nonprofits at the shop.
“The ideal franchisor is someone who is very customer oriented and wants to be out in the community.”
By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC