Thursday, May 29, 2008

Employee Suggestion Program

Back in my old engineering corporate days at the 'big company', we had what was called an Employee Suggestion Program, or ESP for short. There was a fancy form in quadruplicate and an official five step resolution process. Metrics were tracked on how fast departments responded to ESP's. Employee teams were tracked on the number of ESP's they submitted. Results were displayed on posters. To an engineer, they were mainly just one of those annoying little responsibilities that came up whenever you least had time for it. The cool part, at least for the employee, was that if your idea was good and actually saved the company money, you got cold cash for your idea. How much you got was based on some fancy calculation that involved some percentage of the savings for the company, your age, your shoesize, and who was president at the time. Most of the ideas didn't pay out, but sometimes an employee would get a nice ESP bonus in their check, just enough to encourage them to submit more work for you in the future.

I haven't exactly instituted an ESP here, although I've got a great crew and they're constantly coming up with good ideas. As I've mentioned and you've probably seen, I do have suggestion jar in the shop. It's been the source of some great ideas, except for poplar tree spore ice cream and a few others perhaps, and provided a nice way for customers to shout out for their favorite flavor of which I haven't made in forever, in their estimation.
One of my recent suggestions came from a little girl just under four feet tall. I was making ice cream in the back when she poked her head around the wall and asked if I could tell her what the flavors of Jelly Bellies were on the top row. Seems the labels are on the tops of the jars and well out of her viewing range. Never noticed it since, although I'm no giant, I'm tall enough to look down on the tops of the top row of jars. So ESP or no ESP, this week I sent Katie into action to redo the labels and move them to the front...

Ta da... And sparkly new labels for all the j-beans...

I've often diss'ed the corporate gig as one of the ultimate creativity crushers, able to dissolve any semblance of fresh thinking into a cloud of ESP's and TPS's. So I guess it almost goes without saying that one of the great things about owning your own business is there's no 'creativity governor' on your brain. It can be tough to shut off and simply relax sometimes, but I always enjoy trying to think of stuff to try in the shop. And as they say, no need to reinvent the wheel every time. So when I go into someplace interesting like the Williamsburg General Store, I'm always on the lookout for stuff to try in my shop. This place is cool. Your classic old-country store. Chock full of candy store ideas.

One of the things I noticed there, and seen at a number of candy store-type places, is pre-packaged stuff with their store label on it. So what did I just purchase? You got it, a slick Dymo LabelWriter and a gang of cello clear bags. A quick design of the label and a protype build, and Lauren was off to make the first batch of Mt. Tom's candy bags...

And here they are. Set up a display right by the front counter, and they've been selling briskly ever since.

Here's another idea I 'borrowed' from a shop I visited somewhere recently. T-shirts in rolls on display. Sorted by color. Easy to grab.

Not rocket science, but t-shirt sales have picked up significantly since. And it saves the scoopers a bunch of time trekking down to the basement to hunt for sizes and colors all the time. If that one had been an ESP, real labor savings and a payout for me. Nice. And we did it all without a form.

Finally, we've had the thinking caps on for this one for a long time now. When the shop gets busy, things quickly turn chaotic. Some people heed the 'order here' signs and form a proper line in front of the dippers. Then other people come in and just go right to the cash register, which is fine when there aren't a bunch of people in here already. Short of redesigning the whole shop (and possibly having to remove the soda fountain barstool counter, just can't do that), traffic flow is problem not so easy to solve, even for a guy with more engineering degrees than a train conductor. In any event, I welcome all suggestions. The old standby 'Can I help the next person in line!' yell works in most cases, but that gets frustrating for all parties eventually.
Enter the velvet rope. It was given to me by my buddy Mark back when I opened, and it's sat in the basement ever since.
Until today.
In the spirit of this rant, I thought, let's just dust it off, place it out there, and see if it helps. So here it sits. I don't think it'll solve the problem, but I'm hoping people might see it when they come in the front door and be drawn to it like butter on movie theater popcorn. It seems to be helping a bit so far. I'll keep you posted...
What does all this mean, really? I guess it just comes down to, in life as in biz, the only way to know if something will work is to try it. And solution and ideas are constantly around us, just waiting for us to notice.

Puppies rule.

This is Molly. Her first trip to the local ice cream shop. (Disclaimer: Four-legged ones usually are required to patiently wait by the fire hydrant outside, but in this case we made a little exception). Katie was immediately smitten with the beagle pug (puggle?) mix, so I lent her my camera to get this shot. Molly was a good sport about it. I think she was more concerned with how to get her giant paws on some of the cookie dough...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Random Long Weekend Snaps.

I hope you enjoyed the long holiday weekend. Here in New England, the weather was just about as good as it gets. 70's and 80's with unlimited sunshine all weekend. Perfect for all those graduations, bbq's, hikes, trips to the ice cream shop, and any other outdoor events you had up your shirtsleeve.

I did just watch a cool Season five Northern Exposure episode this morning and was preparing to launch into a deep discussion about the self-esteem versus external validation drama that played out in Cicily, Alaska, but on this first day back from what was an extremely hectic (and successful) weekend spent mostly in the weeds, I thought I'd keep it a bit lighter. Here are a few random images from the long weekend...

Again, didn't catch her name. A content birthday party goer, enjoying the 'seems-like-it-takes-forever' post ice cream making ice cream tasting. Fresh out of the machine at 27 degrees, like softserve but way creamier, denser, and tastier.

I got an excited 'Jim, you gotta check this out' yell from Katie, ace scooper, yesterday while she was restocking some candy jars. Seems the bag of sour bright crawlers held within its plasticy confines, one giant scary sour gummy bear, the likes of which Mt. Tom's candy jar-land has never seen. Right out of a cheesy Japanese Godzilla movie, this gummy Grizzly wrought fear into all the other gummy residents, particularly one of the 'normal' gummy bears, as seen here. It was hard to capture the fear on this young GB's face, but believe me, he was terrified. One of our other scoopers, Mi-Mi, jumped in to save the day, though, by fearlessly tossing down the overgrown gummy mutant in one bite.

What's a good sign you have a great crew. When, on a hot Memorial Day weekend day you can still sneak away for an hour to wax your truck. Ain't she pretty? Alas, with a dusty, dirt parking lot for its daily resting place, she won't be this clean again until, well, probably never.

Jackson and Amalie got a new dog. Seems he's gotten pretty attached to her already. Here he is pining for her, while Jackson impatiently waits for his cookie dough cone. Then again, the pooch could just be pining for a puppy cup of vanilla.

Here's one for all my cityslicker buddies. Easthampton isn't exactly the deep woods of Maine, but it does have its moments. This one always cracks me up. A man, his tractor, and swanky red trailer. Why bring the gas to you when you can just go to the gas. The gas station across the street this morning...

And finally, a quiet, contemplative view of our backyard front row ice cream seats. Grab a cone, wander down the alley, and plant yourself on one of these for a while. The fishing is just ok, but the view is pretty darn nice.

I promised I wouldn't launch into a metaphysical Northern Exposure-induced rant, but looking at this 'chair soldiers on the pond' image brought back the quote from that same episode...

Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and sequestered vales, and they watch in tenderest affection over the lonely heart of the living, and often return to comfort and visit them.
- Chief Seattle quoted by Marilyn

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Happy Memorial Day Weekend to you and yours.

High gas prices be darned. The weather is sweet. There's plenty to do right around here (besides the obvious, go out for ice cream). Enjoy your graduation parties, 'welcome back summer' gatherings and backyard bbq's. And if you think of it, check out the annual Memorial Day parade. 10 am. Starts at the Community Center on Clark, wanders down Cottage, Union, and Main, to the War Memorial by the Library. It's always cool, in a small town, tip your hat to a veteran, wave to a little leaguer or girl scout, kind of way.

Whatever you're doing, hope you're enjoying it.

All we have of freedom, all we use or know -This our fathers bought for us long and long ago.
~Rudyard Kipling, The Old Issue, 1899

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sweet ride.

One of the best parts of this gig is meeting new and interesting people. John, shown here casually getting himself out of the shot, is a good example. We got to talking one day about stuff, and although he doesn't know much about baseball, he knows a lot about old cars. Turns out John's quite the antique car collector. He's got a giant barn full of them. Model T's, the works. This is the one he chooses to tool around in. In case you don't recognize it, you're looking at a 1931 Ford A400 convertible, parked in the backyard of the shop. He tells me she'll go over the mountain no problem, although he usually chooses to go the long way around.

In his words, 'what's the hurry?'

Amen brother.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Good things come to those who don't mind standing in the rain.

I'm sure I looked slightly crazy standing there at the edge of the pond getting soaked in my old Eddie Bauer hoodie. Staring at the water, the sky, seemingly waiting for a bus.

Come to think of it, I probably just looked like a fisherman.

In any event, in case you missed it, just a few minutes ago, here you go...

For you photo techies, I took these with my Canon Digital XT Rebel (didn't record the F stop or shutter speed since I was standing in the rain). A little bit of post processing in Photoshop... hit it with a 35% unsharp mask filter and darkened the RBG levels ever so slightly. And of course I scaled it down to make it a smaller file to fit the blogger.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Finally, a facelift.

This is what the shop looked like when Mt. Tom's and I moved in. I still have a scar on one of my fingers from a scraper blade mishap while painstakingly (literally) removing those darn 'Sunrise Sweeties' letters. Hard to believe that was almost five years ago. Wow. I remember wanting to paint the facade of the shop way back then, but due to the eighteen hundred other start-up tasks of that year, it just didn't happen. I've thought about it here and there ever since.

A few months ago, I was across the street at the Sunoco station, talking Red Sox with my buddy Jack, the head gas honcho over there, and we got to talking to a woman sitting in her car as it was being gassed up. She commented that my shop didn't look like an ice cream shop. 'Ice cream shops should be bright and colorful and cheery', she explained. I remember getting a bit defensive, leaning on 'it's a really old historical building and my landlord would never let me, etc. etc.' She went on to tell me the front needed to be more inviting and eye-catching. I remember thinking, 'what could be more eye-catching than two giant windows with hundreds of candy jars glistening inside!'

But I guess the seed was planted.

And now, finally, months and years later, this morning, with lots of help and the right tools from Bre, and one chilly Monday morning, the job got done. We even fixed the spots where all the wood was falling off. A nice improvement I'd say.

Here we are. Ta da...

Not quite done yet. Still have the top parts that my eight foot ladder couldn't reach, but I must say, it's looking more ice cream shopp-ey already.

Don't you think?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dogs rule.

This is Lucy. She can be seen mulling about the backyard of the shop on most days. She's my landlord's daughter's feline friend. Unfortutately, I'm still an apartment dweller, and it just wouldn't be fair to keep a mutt holed up in my little place while I made ice cream all day. When I buy that house with the fenced-in backyard, well, that'll be another story. In the meantime, I'm a would-be dog owner, living vicariously through our friend Lucy...

This isn't Lucy. Just a cool shot of a weiner dog, patiently waiting for his/her master to order up a cheese danish with a side of milkbone hopefully...

In any event, hope all is well, and throw a log on the fire tonight.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Field Trip Season is Underway.

Yesterday marked the official beginning of field trip season here at the local ice cream shop. Today, we had a visit from one highly enthusiastic Maple School kindergarden class. Here they are...This shot was a lot tougher to put together than it looks. A little like coralling cats I think. Twenty-one kids in all, with enough excess ice cream/sugar energy to power a small town. These shots were a little easier to get. Apologies in advance for not catching the names of these cool kiddos. Some photojournalist I turned out to be...

Seems like a good time was had by all.

FYI: You can click on an image to see a 'full size' version.

Ice Cream headache!
Stay tuned for more field trip shots over the coming weeks...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ah, green.

Doesn't get much better than today. Mid 70's, blue sky, cool breeze, zero humidity. A rare perfect day. Perfect for a ride on Easthampton's own Manhan Rail Trail. Nice.

The thing I really like about these kinds of days here in ice cream land is I can leave both front and back doors open. Nice cool breeze blowing through. My screen door view from my kitchen, ice cream making sweet spot makes it almost feel like I'm working outside. What's not to like about that. Especially when I think back at the office I had at that startup back in my old life. My first office with a real door and not just a space between two cubicle walls to walk through. My first professional door, but alas no windows. I'll take the windows. Come to think of it, I'll just keep the screen door.

Even with the homeless guy drinking a PBR can at 11:30 in the morning...

Get outside and enjoy it today. Tomorrow brings not so nice.

Friday, May 09, 2008

ArtWalk, Paint Out, & a whole Art More...

Tons of cool activities tomorrow (sat.) for ArtWalk Easthampton. Check it out

Especially, the First Annual Easthampton Paint-Out, as you see above. Local artists set up their easels and paint the local landscape. Looking forward to seeing how this one came out... You can see them all, and find out who wins tomorrow night at the Nashawannuck Gallery.

And don't forget to check out the Easthampton High School art show at the old City Hall featuring Easthampton High School students and faculty. I wonder if that piece is for sale, thanks Bre for the tip and the art choice for your blog... The Easthampton Jazz Band is playing that night too. So much to do in 3 hours! Good thing there's a free shuttle bus now!

And while you're out, feel free to stop by Mt. Tom's and check out Eric Mauro's show...

And if that weren't enough, there's 'Spa Day' at the Easthampton Community Center over on Clark Street, 11-4pm, just 15 bucks toward the Center gets you massages, Reiki, lots of local snacks, and more...

Who cares about the rain when there's so much to do here in little old Eho!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Few Moments.

It doesn't happen quite so often anymore, but I used to regularly get asked, 'So how did you end up owning an ice cream shop anyway?' If you've perused my original Ice Cream Diaries, you probably know the whole story and then some. I was thinking about this yesterday on my little jog around the block. You can never be too sure what triggers the thought process, but how ever it was kicked off, it left me thinking about what actually turned out to be the first link in the chain of events that ultimately landed me here.

As Bud Fox in the movie Wall Street calmly stated on his way into Gordon Gekko's office to make the pitch that changed his history, 'Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them.'

I remember that moment for me. Like it was yesterday. I was in a stuffy, windowless conference room back at Lucent Technologies. About a dozen engineers, analysts, and managers slumped in uncomfortable chairs as they sipped industrial strength coffee and fought over stale danish. It was probably some weekly production check or perhaps a hastily called meeting about a troubling trend in some quality measurement, it doesn't really matter. I was doodling on my notepad, thinking about what to do with my upcoming weekend, when I happened to look across the table at a fellow engineer. His name was Ned Johnson. Actually, it wasn't. I've changed his name in the long-shot chance someone who might read this might know him. In any event, Ned was a good guy. Ambitious. Had a long, comfortable, and fairly lucrative career going at LU. He was knocking on the door of thirty years and a full pension. He seemed to still enjoy his job. It was in this moment I realized I was gazing across the table at my ghost of Christmas future. Ned was thirty years older than 30ish me, yet there he sat, doing essentially the same job as I was. Scribbling the same notes. Filling out the same TPS reports every week. In this, my course-changing moment, I asked myself, 'Do I want to be that guy in thirty years?' Sure, I loved my life back then. Great job, fairly low stress, all the money I needed, and the hours were reasonable. But then I thought about how I would feel on the last day of my career. Particularly how I would feel if that last day was in this same building, perhaps even this same dingy conference room. Would I have regrets for not pushing myself to try other things in the 'professional category' of my life? Is the nice paycheck more important than trying something I might really enjoy and feel good about during the half of my waking life I spend working? These questions played a mean game of dodgeball in my head as I stared glassy-eyed across the table at my future.

I went back to my desk after that meeting, and the first thing I did was pull out my resume. That night I cleaned it up, and posted it right up on A few weeks later, I got a call from a cool optical networking startup. A few weeks after that, I got the killer offer oozing with stock options with this promising and well-funded new company. An offer I couldn't, and didn't, refuse.

From there, my life was completely different. A year and a half with a cool startup. Got the great apartment in downtown Boston. Got laid off which freed me up for two years of amazing travel that included four months across the U.S. and Alaska, just me, my Acura, and a bunch of camping supplies. And four months backpacking through Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii. A winter spent writing a book from my friend's condo in Miami. And now my own little ice cream biz.
I guess I owe Ned a beer.

Can you think of one of those 'moments'?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Key Metrics.

Back in my old work-life, we used to measure stuff like 'turnover ratio', 'days of stock', and 'work-in-process'. In fact, while in engineering grad school, I even wrote a thesis called 'Interval as the Driver of Quality, Cost, & Service Improvements'. In this gig, this is how we measure success....

As an old friend used to say, 'Life really is simple. We just choose to make it complicated."

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Happy Birthday Luke.

Made this cake today for young Luke's big 7.0. His mom supplied the props, I just made the ice cream cake, frosted it, and assembled the game on the top. It's probably been consumed by a gang of 7 year olds by now, but I took the chance to immortalize it through the magic of the digital camera, a broadband wifi connection, and the mighty blogosphere. Looks good enough to eat...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

April's Top 10...

10. Peppermint Stick

9. Coffee

8. Deer Trax

7. Chocolate Fudge Brownie

6. Cookie Dough

5. Vanilla Fro-Yo

4. Cake Batter

3. Black Cherry

2. Chocolate

1. winner, and still champion.... Vanilla.

Popular Special Flavors...bound to make a return soon...

Hazelnut Cappuccino Fudge

Mocha Chip... making a strong argument to get back on the permanent flavor list

Swiss Chocolate Almond

Mexican Chocolate - chocolate and cinnamon, who would have thought.

Cantelope Sorbet

Chocolate-dipped Ginger (still available right now)

Got many more in the works, stay tuned...

A now a long time ago...

On a lighter note, Cottage Street back when Grandpa was a lad..