From Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul

Cold Stone Revolution

Have you ever noticed that business magazines love to write stories about successful businesspeople? The ups, the downs, the quirks and the quandaries, and, of course, the extraordinary achievements.

Now that Cold Stone Creamery has grown from a small Arizona company to an international one, I’ve even had a few stories written about me, too, as have many other members of our “Creamery Team.” It’s almost surreal to see the headlines and words in print. After all, to me success has become less about the achievements of the individual or even the team, and more about the success you inspire in someone else. But I didn’t always think that way.

Before I came to Cold Stone Creamery, I worked in sales and marketing for Procter & Gamble. Any young business graduate couldn’t have asked for a better training ground. It was the ideal place to learn the right way to do just about anything in business. But beginning in sales, the emphasis seemed to be on personal achievement. Sure, we wanted our division to achieve its objectives, but first and foremost, my success landed squarely on my ability to meet my sales quota. Success was all about me making it happen. Interestingly, when I came to Cold Stone, some of that thinking had to change.

We may as well start at the beginning. Cold Stone Creamery was founded when Don and Susan Sutherland—two ice cream lovers and entrepreneurs in their own right—put everything they had into opening up the first Cold Stone Creamery in Tempe, Arizona. If you doubt their humble beginnings, here’s a fact: They came up with the name Cold Stone Creamery while sitting on playground swings in a community park in Mesa, Arizona. There they made a deal: they were going to stay on those swings until they came up with a name for their soon-to-be-open ice cream store. It took all of thirty minutes.

As you might expect, establishing a successful ice cream business took considerably longer. There were many lean days, weeks and months, but together, the Sutherlands turned the first Cold Stone Creamery into a sensation. Their success and their joy for what they were doing inspired other would-be entrepreneurs who were asking them, “Can I own a Cold Stone?” When I joined the small company several years later, my job was to grow the popular local ice cream store into a franchise. We wanted to spread the love of the best ice cream around the world, which at the time we defined as Arizona and Colorado.

The early days of Cold Stone kept me exceptionally busy, and the first franchisees we brought on board taught me more than I could ever convey. You see, at Procter & Gamble my job was to simply serve my customers, keep them happy and make my quota. In the franchise business, I learned franchisees were more than customers; they were “philosophical” business partners who had invested in us, and us in them. Suddenly, I realized, my job wasn’t just to keep them happy. It was much more than that.

As we awarded more and more franchises, we really got to know these early pioneers, the people who, in some cases, risked everything they had on the ice cream they loved and even a stronger desire to have a business of their own. Many told stories of coming to Arizona and stopping by chance at a Cold Stone for ice cream, then immediately calling to find out about owning a store. These people weren’t just names on a list, they were ice cream enthusiasts who inspired us with their passion. We cared about their success as much as we cared about our own.

By the time we had about ten stores open, a man named Dan Farr came into our offices unannounced and boldly said, “I want to open up a Cold Stone Creamery in Alaska.” I smiled and told him Alaska really wasn’t a priority for us right now. And almost with a laugh, I said, “We were thinking of going to California first.” Dan wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, and by the end of our meeting he had talked me, a young entrepreneur in charge of franchise development, into opening a store in Anchorage.

I came to find out that the late Dan Farr was one of Alaska’s true business pioneers, and today I feel honored even to have known him. When Alaska became a success, it was then that we knew that Cold Stone Creamery could be a national phenomenon. Aside from being a great store owner, Dan and his unbridled belief in us opened our eyes to how big the world could really be.

About three years later, in August 1999, with an even greater view of our potential to change ice cream forever, our leadership team (all four of us) went on a strategic planning retreat to figure out where we should take this rapidly growing company. We returned with a vision statement that we were afraid to tell anyone about for fear they might think we were crazy. With just seventy-four stores open, we staked our claim that: “The world will know Cold Stone Creamery as the Ultimate Ice Cream Experience by having one thousand profitable stores open by December 31,2004.”

This was a milestone in our company. But as monumental as that vision was, equally important was a single line in our mission statement that we penned at the very same time. Simply put:

The success of the franchisee
and the ultimate happiness of the consumer
will go hand-in-hand
as our number-one priority.

And what a logical priority this was! After all, our success so far was hardly a solo act. From Don and Susan who struggled together and succeeded together to the early franchisees like Dan Farr who believed in us more than we believed in ourselves, we have been inspired by and have contributed to each others’ success.

Today, we have achieved our 1,000-store goal and are now setting our sights on being the number-one best-selling ice cream brand in America. And if history serves as a guide, it will take making each other, not ourselves, successful to do it. Our leadership will continue to support the Creamery Team. The Creamery Team will continue to support the area developers in our markets. The area developers will continue to support our franchisees. And the franchisee will continue to support the crew members who deliver the Ultimate Ice Cream Experience® around the world. Today, that world is truly the world, not just Arizona and Colorado!

Mutual success—the success that you inspire in others and that others inspire in you—is the true success story at Cold Stone Creamery. Our success isn’t about an individual, and it isn’t really just about a team. It’s about putting the success of others before your own. It’s about asking, “What are we doing today to make our franchisees successful?” These words, which we proudly display in shining metallic letters at the door of our headquarters office, remind every Creamery Team member who enters what their daily purpose is, how we all got to where we are and what it’s going to take for us to realize our future.

Doug Ducey

EPILOGUE: Cold Stone Creamery has been taking the country scoop-by-scoop, and is one of the nation’s fastest-growing franchises. But what makes this ice cream company so special? Why, the ice cream and entertainment, of course!

Cold Stone’s ice cream is freshly made, smooth and creamy. Once a customer selects an ice cream flavor, generous amounts of the treat are placed on a large frozen stone. This is when the magic begins; per the customer’s exact specifications (toppings and mixtures, that is), the entire order is then chopped and blended while the customer watches. And don’t forget the singing, laughter and all-around rambunctiously fun entertainment provided by the Cold Stone Creamery crew members while they serve their customers. This is one happy place to work!

According to Doug Ducey, CEO and chairman of Cold Stone Creamery, the company’s mission is to put smiles on people’s faces by delivering the Ultimate Ice Cream Experience® , and the company is doing just that. And what is Ducey’s favorite ice cream blend, you ask? Sweet Cream ice cream with black cherries and graham cracker pie crust. Yum!

To learn more about Cold Stone Creamery, visit one of their many locations or

Dahlynn McKowen

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