Learning from a Hometown Ice Cream Shop That Went Out Of Business

I grew up in a town of about 7,000 people in metro Detroit – a typical example of urban sprawl, whilst holding that “hometown vibe” close to the heart. The downtown area was the heartbeat of the town. Main Street hosts the homecoming parade, jazz concerts with street vendors, and car shows up and down the main drag. Right along Main Street used to lie an adorable ice cream shop and restaurant. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll use a pseudonym: “The Delicious Delicious Coniferous.” For 35 years it remained the cornerstone of my town. Voted “Best Sundae” in our county newspaper year after year, it had checkered apron tablecloths, old pictures of early town hall meetings, and a choo choo train that ran above patrons’ heads as they split a scoop or a sandwich. It was the type of place where grandparents would take their kin and talk about how the town used to have one stop light back in the day. It was a perfect staple to our perfect little downtown.

In March of 2018, The Delicious Delicious Coniferous closed its doors. Yes, the town’s beloved ice cream shop, a local business, failed.

Disclaimer: I’m not a business owner, nor am I an entrepreneur. My opinions of why this business failed are not reflective of the realities the business owner faced, but are just my observations from afar.

Three Reasons Why Businesses Fail

There are many reasons why a business fails. The following three are ones that surely played a role in The Delicious Delicious Coniferous shutting its doors and are the same reasons many other businesses can’t survive.

1.  They Refuse to Evolve

Nostalgia may get people in the door once every few years, but it’s not a model that yields loyalty and the desire to come back on a regular basis. The target demographic for The Delicious Delicious Coniferous was grandparents and grandkids. Marketing to that demographic can work for a while, but half of their target customers grew up and became high-school aged and the other half . . . well, let’s just say this shop was selling to a dying market. Their paralysis to change their business strategy and failure to target new clientele hurt their ability to grow in popularity and differentiate their offering. Instead of evolving, they stuck with the status quo, seemingly accepting their slowing growth rate year after year. There was likely a time when business was booming and the line flooded onto Main Street. But when sales started growing just a bit slower than in years past, the owner was okay with complacency. Once they realized they were knee deep in quick sand, it was too late to get out.

2.  They Don’t Stand by Their Mission

“Life Is Short, Eat Dessert First” was embossed on the big menu The Delicious Delicious Coniferous hung above the counter. Honestly, it’s really a great mission. That’s a rallying cry customers can get behind. Their biggest failure was they didn’t stick to it. This business failed to see the value in having a single go-to-market strategy rolled under the umbrella of a mission. Their marketing team doubled down on their ice cream arm of the business, but they still invested in a full menu. A menu that if described as “mediocre,” would be a generous overstatement (read reviews). If your mission is to bring top-quality dessert to a community of people rich in tradition and lore, then do it. Don’t throw a frozen patty on the burner and pretend that’s the reason customers are coming in the door.

3.  They Don’t Pay Attention to Changing Consumer Trends

It’s currently 2018, and The Delicious Delicious Coniferous opened in 1983. I just got back from a coffee shop where I ate avocado toast and enjoyed cold brew coffee from a tap with almond milk. For dinner tonight, I’m heading to a gastropub where I’ll be having a craft beer or cocktail and a turkey burger. While I fall on the moderate side of the hipster spectrum, I do fuel Millennial stereotypes. Millennials are a big culprit in healthy eating, but society overall has become a lot more health conscious. A lot more “craft/artisan” conscious, and a lot more “hip and different” conscious. While I’m not suggesting this business needed to add exposed brick and high ceilings to the shop, it desperately needed a response to the changing expectations and trends that were swirling around them. The virtue of nostalgia was quickly overtaken by modern, hip offerings from the new frozen yogurt shop on the other side of town. The dessert needs in 1983 looked a lot different than they do today, yet The Delicious Delicious Coniferous still marketed their Superman ice cream and hot fudge sundae like they were timeless treats. Don’t let this be the reason your business fails. It’s possible to stick to your roots and stay relevant at the same time.

Never Stop Evaluating Your Strategy

Businesses at every level need to see the value in evolution. Organizations need to respect the winds of change, align on a plan, and flex their human capital to embrace that change. As the world keeps moving, innovation continues to take shape and disruption looms at the forefront of every industry, making change more commonplace and more important than ever.

The speed of change is faster than it has ever been and will never be this slow again, and every business, no matter its size, the product it makes, or the service it provides, needs to plan with this mindset. So the next time you open your own ice cream shop, remember to embrace evolution, rally your team and customers behind a mission, and pay attention to the outside market . . . and for heck’s sake, throw a fruit smoothie on the menu. There’s no reason you need to be the next shop on the block to disappear. Your business doesn’t need to fail just because the times they are a changin’.

Do you have something so share about what a business needs to avoid in order to stay on the path to success? I’d love to hear from you!

November 15, 2018


I want to hear how you can help my organization align on and activate our strategy. Call me, today.

*Required fields. By submitting this form you agree to receive emails from Root Inc. and can unsubscribe at any time.