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What can ice cream teach business owners about balancing integrity and innovation?

On Behalf of | Feb 22, 2023 | Business Formation, Mergers And Acquisitions |

Entrepreneurs often start with a great idea for a product or service. This product or service is the backbone of the business. If successful, the business may consider expansion — but how do successful business owners take advantage of this opportunity without losing the integrity of the original idea that led to success?

In some cases, these businesses are family operations with a history that runs for generations. This history can make the need to maintain that balance even more important. NPR recently dug into one of these stories, a family-run ice cream shop out of Ohio. The interview with the company’s chief executive officer provides an example of one way to attain this balance.

The business, Graeter’s, began in 1870. It was a pioneer in its time; selling ice cream before a key innovation: refrigeration. The owner had to rely on saving ice from the winter to create the product during the summer months and used a unique recipe that involves a large bowl placed into a bucket of ice. The ingredients, primarily cream and sugar, are placed into the bowl to make the product. Over 100 years later, the company still uses this very same system.

The business owners had many opportunities to increase the scale of their product, but it would have meant a change to the way they made the ice cream. Instead of using the recipe above which relies on the French Pot Freezer or bowl in a tub of ice, they would have needed to use the Continuous Process which relies on whipping the ingredients through a tube. This led the business leaders to discuss the need to balance innovation and the integrity of their product.

Tip #1: Always keep the product or service at the forefront

Although a much faster way to make more of the product, the family was concerned that use of the Continuous Process would change the texture of the ice cream. The family chose to keep the original process and focus on a smaller scale of growth.

But grow it did. Even without fully shifting to all innovation had to offer, the business was able to grow from a small-town ice cream shop to one with 55 locations and national distribution.

Tip #2: Add innovation where appropriate

Although the business owners did not apply innovation to their recipe, they still chose to use innovation in other ways. This included tools that helped with sanitation, marketing, and distribution. Implementing these innovations helped increase the amount of product and reach of the business without changing the product.

The key lesson from this business’ success: find the most important part of the product or service and work to protect it. Other areas can benefit from innovation, but it is often wise to protect that initial creative idea.

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