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    Kona Ice: Tony Lamb

    By incorporating a tropical island aesthetic and introducing self-service flavor customization, Tony Lamb successfully created an engaging and enjoyable experience for customers.

    enNovember 06, 2023

    About this Episode

    Kona Ice founder Tony Lamb had a knack for sales since he was a teenager - a skill that served him well when he decided to sell Hawaiian-style shaved ice in Kentucky, where people had barely heard of it. After thirteen successful years as a vacuum cleaner salesman, Tony launched his first shaved ice truck in 2007. Fueled by a bad experience buying freezer-burned popsicles off a battered ice cream truck, he built a custom-made vehicle with a tropical vibe and a built-in “Flavorwave” that let customers dispense their own syrups. Two decades after surrendering his salesman’s suit for a Hawaiian shirt, Tony has grown Kona Ice into a sprawling franchise with 1500 trucks across North America.

    This episode was produced by Casey Herman with music by Ramtin Arablouei.

    Edited by Neva Grant, with research from Katherine Sypher.

    Our engineers were Ko Takasugi-Czernowin and Robert Rodriguez.

    You can follow HIBT on Twitter & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.



    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Successful entrepreneurs learn from their experiences and use rejection as motivation to overcome challenges and build thriving businesses.
    • Independence, determination, and establishing one's own worth are essential for success in business and career.
    • Establish a connection with potential customers by finding common ground, personalize the sales pitch, present the product as a solution, and emphasize the customer's role in decision-making for successful salesmanship.
    • In sales, don't let rejection discourage you. Use it as an opportunity to address concerns and provide more information, turning a "no" into a potential "yes." Building a strong team is also crucial for success.
    • Success can blind individuals to important aspects of their professional journey. Humility and continuous growth are essential to avoid overlooking opportunities and hindering progress.
    • Think outside the box, be resourceful, and always search for new opportunities in order to overcome obstacles and thrive in business.
    • With creative thinking and careful planning, it is possible to create a successful and sustainable business, even in declining industries.
    • Recognizing profitable business opportunities and taking calculated risks can lead to successful ventures and higher profit margins.
    • Tony Lamb's innovative approach of tapping into the children's market with a quick and accessible product, coupled with efficient production methods, paved the way for a successful business venture in the shaved ice industry.
    • Building a successful business requires finding a partner who shares your vision and is committed to navigating the challenges of entrepreneurship together.
    • By incorporating a tropical island aesthetic and introducing self-service flavor customization, Tony Lamb successfully created an engaging and enjoyable experience for customers.
    • Perseverance and confidence in your own abilities are crucial when faced with uncertainty and criticism, as demonstrated by Tony Lamb's transition from a vacuum cleaner business to a shaved ice truck business.
    • Tony Lamb's story emphasizes that true success lies in creating joyful experiences and meaningful connections, rather than solely focusing on financial gain.
    • Targeting specific neighborhoods, forming partnerships with residents, and maintaining a consistent presence can lead to steady sales and profits, even in challenging economic times.
    • Thinking outside the box and adapting to circumstances is crucial for business success.
    • Kona Ice's willingness to offer financing and personal interviews with potential franchisees has allowed individuals without upfront capital to start their own business and succeed.
    • Tony Lamb prioritizes community-oriented franchisees and focuses on low expenses and unique sales calculations to drive profitability and projected sales growth of $370 million by 2023.
    • Kona Ice's success lies in their independent franchisee network, unique advertisement strategy, and adaptable business model, ensuring stability and growth even amidst challenging times like the Covid-19 pandemic.
    • Tony Lamb and his team at Kona Ice utilized government assistance, innovated their ordering platform, and started a new coffee business, proving that adaptability and diversification are key to success during challenging times.
    • Tony Lamb's coffee business thrived by addressing problems, finding solutions, and staying committed to his vision. Luck played a role, but surrounding oneself with great people and maintaining personal relationships are crucial in entrepreneurship.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Perseverance and Inspiration: The Journey of Successful Entrepreneurs

    Successful entrepreneurs have the ability to persevere despite facing rejection. Tony Lamb, the founder of Kona Ice, started his career as a door-to-door vacuum salesman, taking inspiration from his father's success in the industry. He learned the importance of resilience and determination from his dad, who was hailed as the greatest vacuum cleaner salesman. Tony's upbringing in a household where his family lived a comfortable lifestyle through vacuum sales shaped his perspective on success. Despite the unconventional locations associated with their products, such as Dave Anderson's barbecue empire in Northern Wisconsin or a Finnish man's pizza ovens in Scotland, these entrepreneurs proved that hearing the word "no" doesn't deter them. They continue to push forward, meeting challenges head-on and building successful businesses.

    From Working for Others to Establishing His Own Worth

    Tony Lamb learned a valuable lesson about the limitations of working for someone else and the importance of establishing his own worth. While working at The Gap in high school, Tony was determined to win a Christmas contest for selling the most. However, his schedule was cut, making it difficult to compete with a coworker who had more hours. When he expressed his frustration to his father, Tony was reminded that working for someone else means they will always dictate your worth as a person. This sobering realization stuck with him and led him to start his own car detailing business, where he thrived. This experience taught Tony the value of independence, determination, and establishing his own worth, which later influenced his successful career in sales.

    Building Relationships and Addressing Individual Needs in Salesmanship

    Tony Lamb's experience in sales taught him the importance of finding common ground with potential customers. Instead of simply pushing products, he focused on building rapport and creating a comfortable atmosphere. By acknowledging the customer's hobbies and interests, he was able to establish a connection and personalize his sales pitch. Additionally, he understood the value of presenting the product as a solution that would make the customer's life easier. Rather than pressuring customers, Lamb emphasized the role of the customer's partner in decision-making, further strengthening the likelihood of a sale. Overall, Lamb's approach highlights the significance of building relationships and addressing individual needs in successful salesmanship.

    The power of persistence and turning a "no" into a "yes" in sales.

    In sales, it's important to have the confidence to ask for the order and not to be intimidated by rejection. Tony Lamb, a successful salesman, emphasizes the value of persistence and moving past "no." He highlights that a "no" simply means that the customer's decision is based on the information they currently have. By effectively addressing their concerns and providing additional information, you can potentially change a "no" into a "yes." Lamb also emphasizes the importance of building a strong sales team and creating a successful business. Ultimately, his story serves as a reminder that with determination and hard work, even a seemingly ordinary product like vacuum cleaners can lead to remarkable success.

    The Pitfalls of Success and the Importance of Humility in Professional Growth

    Success can sometimes lead to ego and complacency, causing individuals to overlook important aspects in their professional journey. Tony Lamb, who experienced significant success in the Rainbow business, felt undervalued and overlooked by the new management. This led him to disassemble his organization and seek new opportunities. However, Lamb soon realized that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Despite his initial discontent, he discovered the challenges and limitations of other ventures. This highlights the importance of humility and continuous growth, as success can sometimes cloud judgment and hinder progress. It serves as a reminder to appreciate the opportunities and successes one has achieved while remaining open to learning and improvement.

    The importance of adaptability and resourcefulness in overcoming challenges and finding new opportunities.

    Tony Lamb, the entrepreneur in the conversation, had to adapt to challenges and find alternative solutions to keep his businesses thriving. When faced with fines for placing signs, he turned to using billboard trucks to advertise his furniture store, which eventually became its own successful business. This shows the importance of thinking outside the box and being resourceful in finding creative solutions to obstacles. Furthermore, when faced with setbacks after selling his vacuum business, Lamb continued to search for new opportunities, leading him to start the Kona Ice business. This highlights the mindset of always looking for the next big thing and being willing to venture into new ventures. Adaptability, resourcefulness, and a continuous search for opportunities are key lessons to take away from this story.

    Recognizing Opportunities for Innovation and Improvement

    Tony Lamb identified a business opportunity by recognizing a gap in the market and envisioning a better experience. His dissatisfaction with a traditional ice cream truck prompted him to imagine a truck that was visually appealing, with high-quality products and engaging customer service. Despite the declining ice cream consumption and challenges in the ice cream truck industry, Lamb saw potential and decided to pursue his idea for Kona Ice. This highlights the importance of thinking creatively and critically about existing businesses or industries, as well as the ability to identify opportunities for improvement and innovation. Tony Lamb's success with Kona Ice demonstrates that with careful research and strategic planning, it is possible to create a profitable and sustainable venture, even in an industry that is seemingly in decline.

    From Ice Cream to Shaved Ice: A Profitable Business Transformation

    Tony Lamb's observation of a video store owner making a significant profit from selling shaved ice sparked a business idea in his mind. He realized that compared to traditional ice cream trucks, shaved ice trucks had lower costs and higher profit margins. This realization, combined with his previous experiences in turning around businesses, led him to pursue the idea of transforming ice cream trucks into shaved ice trucks. The simplicity and profitability of selling shaved ice became apparent to Tony, and he decided to venture into this new business opportunity. This story highlights the importance of recognizing profitable business ventures and being willing to take risks in pursuing them.

    Introducing Shaved Ice: A Sweet Treat for Kids

    Tony Lamb recognized the opportunity to bring shaved ice to parts of the United States where it was not yet popular. Despite the potential challenges of introducing a relatively unknown treat, Lamb believed in the appeal of a sugary treat for kids. He understood that children rarely turn down a sweet treat. By tapping into this market and offering a quick and accessible product, he aimed to create a winning business. Additionally, Lamb's decision to use an ice shaving machine instead of a traditional method allowed for efficient production and scalability. This allowed for a wider distribution and greater potential for success.

    Transforming the Ice Cream Truck Experience with Style and Partnership

    Tony Lamb wanted to revolutionize the ice cream truck experience by creating a comfortable and visually appealing truck that would be hard to resist. He recognized that traditional ice cream trucks looked unappealing and wanted to change that. With a line of equity of half a million dollars, Tony decided to go for a custom-built truck instead of repurposing an existing one. He sourced his billboard trucks from Elkhart, Indiana, a hub for the RV industry. While initially planning to work with a big operation, Tony was impressed by a smaller fabricator who not only wanted to build a truck but also wanted to go into business with him. This partnership showcased the importance of finding someone dedicated to your vision and willing to navigate the ups and downs of starting a new venture together.

    Creating an Immersive Experience with Tropical-themed Shaved Ice

    Tony Lamb wanted his tropical-themed shaved ice truck to provide an immersive experience for customers. He enlisted the help of an industrial designer named Tony to map out the truck's look, aiming for a scene that would transport people to a tropical island. Tony envisioned a painted truck with ocean and sand elements, bamboo huts, palm trees, and characters in the sun and sand. He also wanted to create a self-service aspect, allowing customers, especially kids, to flavor their shaved ice themselves. This idea came from Tony's conversation with two boys who expressed excitement at the prospect of having control over their own flavor combinations. The result was the creation of the Flavorwave dispensers, which allowed customers to customize their shaved ice with various flavors.

    Embracing Change and Taking Risks for Success

    Taking risks and embracing change can lead to success, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Tony Lamb, the entrepreneur behind the shaved ice truck business, faced doubts and heckling from others as he transitioned from running a successful vacuum cleaner business to selling shaved ice. However, he believed in the potential of his idea and was willing to put his money and effort into it. Over time, as he saw positive customer reactions and the business grew, his confidence grew as well. This story teaches us the importance of perseverance, adaptability, and having faith in your own abilities, even when faced with uncertainty and criticism from others.

    Finding Joy and Making Meaningful Connections Through an Ice Cream Truck Business

    Tony Lamb's ice cream truck business was not just about making money, but about creating joyful experiences for kids and communities. Despite doubts and concerns about scalability and becoming a "lifespan entrepreneur," Lamb found fulfillment in the simple pleasure of driving around and seeing children's excitement as he pulled up. He even turned a regular stop into an impromptu block party, with people gathering around the truck, playing games, and enjoying the moment. While financial goals were important, Lamb's true success was measured in the happiness he brought to others. This story reminds us that finding joy and making meaningful connections can be just as valuable as monetary success.

    Tony Lamb's Success with Kona Ice Truck: Targeting Neighborhoods and Creating Strategic Partnerships

    Tony Lamb was able to make substantial profits by operating a Kona Ice truck, earning over $100,000 per year. He realized the potential of his business when he calculated that he could generate revenue of about $150,000 annually. Despite initial skepticism, Lamb's dedication and consistent efforts paid off. He strategically targeted neighborhoods, using yard signs to create awareness and anticipation for Kona Ice's arrival. By forming partnerships with residents, offering free treats for their children, and establishing a recurring presence in the same areas, Lamb was able to maximize sales and achieve a steady income. However, he also learned that economic downturns, such as the 2008 financial crisis, could significantly impact neighborhood sales. Nonetheless, Kona Ice's high profit margins helped mitigate the effects of decreased sales.

    A Unique Approach to Franchising

    Tony Lamb and his partner were able to achieve profitability in their business by adopting a unique approach to franchising. Instead of charging high royalties and marking up the cost of their trucks, they decided to keep things transparent and affordable. They offered minimal royalties and sold the trucks close to cost, focusing on building their brand and attracting franchisees. Despite launching during the financial crisis of 2008, they were able to attract franchisees because of their partnership with a finance company, which provided financing options for potential buyers. This lesson emphasizes the importance of finding creative solutions and adapting to challenging circumstances in order to achieve success in business.

    Kona Ice's Unique Franchise Opportunity

    Tony Lamb and his company, Kona Ice, stood out in the early days because they offered financing to potential franchisees when nobody else did. This allowed them to attract and work with individuals who may not have had the upfront capital to start their own business. One example is Mark from Georgia who sent his last $20,000 to Kona Ice and drove six hours to pick up his truck. Despite doubts from his wife, Mark's dedication and hard work paid off, and he now owns multiple franchises along with his entire family. Additionally, Tony Lamb personally interviews every person interested in owning a Kona franchise, ensuring that there is a genuine connection and shared vision before moving forward.

    Creating Partnerships with Passionate Franchisees for Sustainable Growth

    Tony Lamb's business model relies on creating a strong partnership with franchisees. He looks for individuals who are passionate about their community and want to give back, rather than just focusing on financial gain. Lamb provides support and guidance to first-time business owners and helps them set up their operations. While franchise fees make up a small portion of the revenue, the majority comes from selling trucks and supplies to franchisees. Lamb emphasizes the importance of keeping expenses low to maintain profitability. Interestingly, he doesn't require franchisees to report revenue, but instead calculates their earnings based on cup and flavor sales. This unique approach has led to significant growth and projected system-wide sales of over $370 million by 2023.

    Maintaining Control and Growth in Franchise Business: The Success Story of Kona Ice

    The success of a franchise business relies heavily on the loyalty and hard work of franchisees. Unlike a big franchise system that depends on a few key players, Kona Ice doesn't become needy or reliant on any particular franchisee. This gives them the freedom to maintain control and set standards without compromising their values or code of conduct. Additionally, Kona Ice's unique advertisement strategy has proven to be highly effective and cost-efficient. With their fleet of moving billboards in the form of 1800 billboard trucks, they attract the attention of both kids and adults alike, making their business highly desirable. Lastly, when faced with the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, Kona Ice successfully pivoted their business to continue serving their franchisees and maintain stability within the company.

    Innovative Strategies and New Ventures Help Kona Ice Thrive During Pandemic

    Tony Lamb and his team at Kona Ice took a multi-pronged approach to navigate the challenges of the pandemic. They pursued stimulus opportunities such as the Paycheck Protection Program and worked tirelessly to negotiate installments and deferments with financial institutions. Additionally, they developed an ordering platform called Herbicide Kona and improved their Flavorwave to enhance customer experience. Amidst the crisis, Lamb also seized the opportunity to start a separate coffee business called Traveling Toms, which has been flourishing since its launch in March 2020. What's interesting is that the coffee business has shown promising results and may even eclipse the shave ice business in the long run. This success can be attributed to their mobile nature, allowing them to reach areas where good coffee is not readily available.

    Finding Success Through Hard Work, Luck, and Perseverance

    Tony Lamb attributes the success of his coffee business to a combination of hard work, luck, and being a good student of life. Despite not having the same economics as larger companies, Lamb's truck-based business has been able to thrive by recognizing and addressing problems, finding solutions, and staying committed to his vision. He acknowledges the role of luck in his journey and highlights the importance of surrounding himself with great people, including his family. Additionally, Lamb values his 31-year marriage as his greatest accomplishment, emphasizing the perseverance and dedication required to navigate the ups and downs of personal relationships and entrepreneurship.

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