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Why Invest: Kona Ice Reinvents America’s Iconic Ice Cream Truck to Become a No. 1 Franchise (Part 1)

by Brian Bixler on April 1, 2013

in Frozen Dessert Franchise, Why Invest

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This post is the first of two parts. To read Part 2, please click here.

Tony Lamb paints a vivid picture of the day his idea for Kona Ice began to crystallize.

He and his family were enjoying the weather outdoors when they heard a sound that sends young children running. The music of an ice cream truck sent the family to the front yard to wait for the vehicle to come down the street delivering treats. But when it came into view, the truck was a worn out Chevy van from the 1970s with blue smoke billowing from its undercarriage; and its operator was a shirtless, tattooed, and pierced man who startled Lamb’s young daughter.

“It was a disaster,” Lamb recalled.

Tony Lamb, Founder and CEO of Kona Ice

Tony Lamb, Founder and CEO of Kona Ice

But he purchased some freezer-burned Popsicles for his family anyway, paid an exorbitant price, and watched the vehicle pull away with nary a thank you. Lamb looked at his wife and said, “They’ve completely destroyed that business model.”

Despite her father’s reaction, however, Lamb’s daughter Ava, just a toddler, seemed fascinated by the experience and that’s when Lamb began formulating ideas to restore an American icon. It started, he said, as a game of “what ifs.”

What if the vehicle had been attractive and sanitary? What if it had an “open kitchen” concept that made its operation more transparent? What if the driver had been clean-cut, friendly, and welcoming? What if the loud, scratchy music coming from the van had been something that created a party atmosphere? And what if the product had been a delicious treat that appealed to both children and adults?

Kona Ice Concept

Lamb, 44, set out to make his “what ifs” a reality. With his daughter’s delight as an inspiration, the father of four, who had spent most of his life selling Rainbow vacuum cleaners before becoming a business consultant in 2004, soon started Kona Ice. The company not only entered Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list this year, but was also named the No. 1 new franchise and rated No. 27 among the fastest growing in the country.

“We were blown away when they called us No. 1,” Lamb said.

And when Lamb attended the International Franchise Association‘s convention earlier this year, his company, which was “kind of under the radar,” started enjoying a higher profile, he said.

“Like being the pretty girl at the prom, we’re getting a lot of attention.”

Once he decided to build a new and improved ice cream truck, Lamb began researching and developing equipment and designs, and had five prototypes built by 2007. By then, he took the suggestion of a former secretary, who was having success selling shaved ice in her video store, and decided to concentrate on that frozen dessert in place of ice cream.

But Kona Ice isn’t like a typical snow cone one might buy at a county fair. It’s branded as a gourmet treat. The ice is shaved in patented machines that cost $3,000 and the nearly 40 flavors include exotic choices such as banana colada, bubblegum blue, strawberry daiquiri, wedding cake, tiger’s blood, Creamsicle, rock & roll, and watermelon. The model also allows customers to customize their purchase through Kona’s patented Flavorwave system, a dispenser built into the side of the truck that allows them to choose as many and as much as they want of the 10 most popular flavors.

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