Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interview with Tim from Tim's Ice Cream Truck

Who doesn't long for the ice cream truck to come by on a hot summer day?! Well Tim @ Tim's Ice Cream Truck knows a good thing when he sees it and decided it was his turn to be the ice cream man. Below is an interview about his experiences living his dream.

How did you get your ice cream truck?
My original plan was to buy a used ice cream truck. It was much harder than I expected and the only truck I could find that was in my budget (under 5k) was in New Jersey (a full days drive away) and needed a new freezer (most ice cream trucks use special cold plate freezers that cost thousands of dollars that stay cold the entire day without needing to be plugged in).

In desperation I decided to call around to all the ice cream truck companies in Boston and found one guy who had a few extra trucks. They were out of my price range but I told him my story and what I was trying to do and he said he might be able to help me out.

I ended up leasing the truck from him and paying by the week. The process was still very involved though because I was not a high priority on this guy’s agenda (He owned over a dozen trucks) and it required persistence and over two months of nagging him to finally get the truck lease set up and the vehicle insurance figured out. Many times I felt like giving up; he rarely returned my calls and would often forget to call me back when he said he would.

Sometimes I would call him two or three times a day every day for a week until I finally got through to him. It was actually kind of ridiculous. However one piece of advice to anyone who is thinking of getting into this business, or really any business, is that persistence pays off. The best way to show you are serious and to set yourself apart from everyone else is to be very persistent and never give up, because this shows better than anything else you can say that you will work hard in your business and be a good business partner to work with.

The other thing is you can’t take rejection personally. People in general just have a million things to work on and think about these days and a lot of times they just forget about you. I remember something my mom told me once I finally got the truck, “it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.”

Where do you get your ice cream?
Most of the ice cream I sell is not available in stores and can only be ordered in bulk from a wholesale ice cream distributor. You will notice that some items, like the Good Humor strawberry shortcake bars that you buy at the supermarket, are significantly smaller than the versions that are sold out of ice cream trucks. Ice cream trucks are facing more competition these days from Wallmart and gas stations because companies like Blue Bunny and Klondike are selling items in stores that you used to only be able to get at the ice cream truck, like the Choco Taco.

Tell us something interesting that happened to you while being the ice cream man?
I was parked by the pool one day and a girl wearing a way-too-big Dunkin Donuts shirt and dirty camo pants came walking down the sidewalk with a big army ruck sack on her back. I said hi and we started talking. I was sort of surprised when she told me she grew up in the same town I did because she was dressed so raggedly and our town is pretty wealthy. She had been homeless for the last 3 years and had been living in abandoned buildings all around Massachusetts.

She told me about the homeless community in Harvard Square and the knife she always carried and how most kids on the streets, including her, were addicted to heroin. She told me story after story that I could hardly believe and yet I knew they were true. She wasn’t even twenty years old but it felt like she had already lived through a lifetime of experiences.

We must have talked non-stop for almost an hour and when my throat started to get dry I pulled two cold IBC Root Beers out of my fridge hoping she would stick around a little bit longer. Another half hour went by. My mom, who swims every day, saw my truck parked on the street by the pool and stopped by to check on how things were going. Without a second thought she greeted the girl by name and explained to us that we used to go to preschool together at the church right down the street from where I lived. Small world…

Do kids still scream iiiiice creeeeeeam when they see you coming?
Yes. Sometimes the younger ones would think that I was another ice cream truck and yell the other guy’s name which was a little embarrassing.

Have you been chased down the street to stop? Or how far will someone go to get you to stop?
Unfortunately, the idea of chasing an ice cream truck is largely a thing of the past, at least in the town that I spent most of my time in. I found that a lot of people are so lazy that they aren’t even willing to walk over to the ice cream truck unless it is within a 15 second walk of where they are sitting. The best way I found was to park on people’s path back to their cars so that they didn’t have to go out of their way to buy something. I talked to one guy who used to park in a pool parking lot and when they made him park on the street instead he lost about 30% of his business.

I have talked to other ice cream truck drivers who have told me that some towns don’t even allow you to play the ice cream truck music in the neighborhoods now because there was an accident where a kid who was chasing an ice cream truck was hit by a car while he was running down as street.

What do younger kids vs older kids typically order?
Younger kids like popsicles and the cartoon faces. Older kids go for slushes, chaco tacos, ice cream sandwiches, and cones. Older girls and women will often get a FrozeFruit bar (Coconut and Strawberry were the most popular). Men like the fancy Dove bars but also like the chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches a lot.

Does the ice cream song drive you crazy all day?
There were 2 other ice cream trucks in my town and some days I would be just sitting in my truck and I would hear the faint sound of the jingle from across town and I couldn’t be sure if I was really hearing it or if my mind was playing tricks on me. Sometimes I would hear the jingle very faintly as I fell asleep, knowing all along that there was no way one of the trucks was still out at 1 AM.

Check it out. Tim’s website, Tim’s Ice Cream Truck, is a great resource for anyone who wants to get into the ice cream truck business or who is just curious about what it is like to run an ice cream truck.

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