How I Grew my Seasonal Business to be Open All Year - Pesso's Seasonal Part 1
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. When 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 making Open All Year work, we decided to shift back to Seasonal.
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.
Thanks for reading!
Thanks for such a thorough, well-thought out post on your seasonal business. It's too bad that you couldn't make it work as a year-round business, but no one can say it was due to lack of effort on your part. Our business has seasonal variations, with the warmer months underperforming the cooler/colder ones, but not by enough that we'd close over the summer.
I'm actually looking forward to reading your future posts on this subject. Please keep them coming!
Thanks so much, @GlassJudy !!
I really appreciate it!
It definitely would have been great to make it work, but as you'll soon see in Part 2, going back to Seasonal worked out really well and was one of the best decisions we've made!
That's great that you have cycles and that even your low months are still profitable!
Really interesting that the warmer months are slower than the cooler ones - I feel like that's not the norm.
I'd love to hear more about your business and its seasonality! Maybe you could write a post about it too!
I've thought about it, @Pesso based on your great examples, but I'm not sure I could make it very relevant. We are a stained glass retail/supply store, so it's a hobby for most of our customers. Which means that in the warmer months people don't want to be cooped up in their basement workshops, but prefer to be outside taking advantage of the weather.
I'm going to put more thought into our story and see if I can come up with something that may be of interest to other businesses, as you have done so well. Stay tuned - you never know.
That’s super cool!
Well I’m definitely interested in hearing more, and I’m sure there are other sellers getting started in similar businesses, and you’re expertise and knowledge can definitely help them!
That seasonality pattern definitely makes sense when you put it that way.
Do you also do date night type events or tutorials / lessons - like how there are those paint night and pottery night places?
I would totally go for a stained glass making lesson!
Thanks for posting this. I run a seasonal business (farm market and bakery) that has some very drastic highs (Fall Pumpkins) and we shut down for 4 months a year. Customers keep begging us to keep the bakery open through the winter. December is already our slowest month (less than 8% of our season). I am afraid Jan-Feb would be even slower. I look forward to reading the second part of why switching back to seasonal works well for you.
Thanks for explaining your "bag tags" and other marketing ideas.