Monday, June 18, 2012

Chasing Mister Softee

Nothing stands out more from my childhood than the first time I saw a Mister Softee ice cream truck. Let me rephrase that...heard an ice cream truck. It was magical. But you may be surprised in the fact that my first time was when I was 12 yrs old!

You're probably thinking "Huh?"

Let me explain. While visiting one of my Boy Scout buddies on the edge of town, I heard the music FIRST– that Pavlovian trigger that drives all children to drop what they are doing and just react. At first I was like, "what's that?" And my buddy Paul said "It's Mr. Softee." My puzzled look said it all and he followed up with "...the ice cream truck is coming."

We ran back inside Paul's house to get some money then, like the wind, we sprinted up the block. Like a hoard of sugar craving Zombies with dollars in hand the children of the neighborhood rushed towards the music with one singular mercurial purpose...hoping they weren't late to the party. Out of breath, we came to an abrupt stop. There in front of us were at least 25 kids ranging in age from 5 on up to adults. Since I had never seen a Mr. Softee truck  –  or Good Humor depending on where you live – I had no idea what to expect.

Now some of you are like,  
"Brad, how could you not know about Mister Softee?"

Well, you see, I lived in the heart of town on Cumberland Street. That was main street in downtown Lebanon, PA. USA. So whenever we wanted ice cream, Dieter, Frank and any other friends, brothers and sisters would just walk to one of three corner stores in the area – Big Bertha on Walnut Street, or the store at 3rd and Chestnut, or if we really wanted to walk, Hoffman's News Stand on the corner of 6th and Cumberland Streets.

Each store had the same wonderful smell. A combination of old wood and sweet custard. To a child it was intoxicating. There, near the cash register, were several waste high freezers. Looking back now, I realize these were brilliant marketing devices, capable of luring even a 5 year old. There, just behind high impact glass, were stacks of Good Humor ice cream bars, and since we lived near Hershey, there was plenty of Hershey ice cream products in the freezer. Every possible tasty treat was spread out before us. 

Now if we wanted a Coke® Slushy we walked to the Turkey Hill Market on 8th and Chestnut. All of these stores were a ten minute walk and on a hot day...well worth the trip. So for us, there was no need for an ice cream cream was within walking distance. But, in the suburbs, the corner store didn't exist, and if it did, you had to drive there.

Of course back then a candy bar was 50¢ and you could get 100 pieces of candy for ONE DOLLAR! Whatever Happened To Penny Candy? by Richard Maybury can answer what happened to prices over the past 40 years. But I digress.

So when I tell you I never saw a Mister Softee truck 'til I was 12, you now know why. But more importantly, the question that should be on your mind is...

What happened to the Mister Softee and Good Humor trucks? I mean, they are still around, but you can go broke trying to make money from an ice cream truck franchise. So I ask you: did Ben & Jerry's and Häagen-Dazs ruin Mister Softee? Or was it ice cream stores like Baskin Robbins and Dairy Queen?

Or Did Customer Habits Change?

The correct answer is customer habits changed. Families changed. Neighborhoods changed. When was the last time you saw children playing outside in neighborhoods like they did twenty or thirty years ago? Children stopped playing outside, and started playing video games indoors. Parents got their children involved in organized sports like soccer, lacrosse, karate and dance lessons. So if the customer has changed and moved on...

WHY do so many companies ignore the facts
and continue to sell and market as if it is 1977?

When your customer changes, change your tactics. If they move, you move. I know this can be exhausting because it requires constant diligence. But remember, children used to chase those ice cream trucks…now, those ice cream trucks are looking for customers.

 The children DID NOT MOVE! Their habits changed!

Take a lesson from Mister Softee. Reinvent your sales, marketing and branding tactics at all times. Look for markets that are secondary such as those corner store freezers. Social media may be hot today, but pretty soon it will be replaced by something else. Your customers love for ice cream is still there, it is only their habits that changed. Your job as a business owner, marketing pro, or executive is to adapt and change according to your customer. You’ll be glad you did.

And BTW: We have Mister Softee trucks all over the place in New York they get a crowd. Pretty cool when you can drive to where your customer needs you most.

Thanks for reading,

Brad Szollose

PS: The Good Humor story can be found in Navigating The Growth Curve by James Fischer. Check out James Fischer’s Growth Curve Institute.

Web Pioneer Brad Szollose is the *award-winning author of Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia which explores the subject of new leadership styles – mainly how to get the tech-savvy Generation Y and analogue driven Baby Boomers working together. ISBN-13: 978-1608320554

But this is not based on management theory: Brad is a former C-Level Internet executive who went from entrepreneur to IPO in 3 yrs– co-founding K2 Design, the very first Dot Com Agency to go public on NASDAQ. His Results Only management model was applied to the first wave of Gen Y workers producing great results– 425% profitable growth for 5 straight years and winning K2 the Arthur Andersen NY Enterprise Award for Best Practices in Fostering Innovation among his employees!

Today, through his workshops and keynotes, Brad helps Fortune 500 Companies close the Digital Divide by understanding it as a cultural divide—created by a new tech-savvy worker...and customer.

Mr. Szollose also writes a monthly column on business and marketing techniques that reach Generation Y for A Captured Mind newsletter and is part of The Mind Capture Group faculty.

* 2011 Axiom Business Book silver medal winner in the leadership

* #1 Amazon Best-Selling Author

"I just had my mind blown..." - A.S., Vistage, New York

Liquid Leadership by Brad Szollose is available at all major bookstores and for Kindle, Nook, iPad and Sony ereaders. Internationally published in India and S. Korea.