How fast and how big you grow requires perfect balance

In a recent Forbes article, contributor Alison Coleman wrote that mastering scale is the biggest issue facing entrepreneurs today. At Velvet Ice Cream, we’re no different.

“Scale at a speed beyond your company’s capabilities and you can end up in over your head,” Coleman writes. “Scale too slowly and you risk losing momentum and vital opportunities.”

That challenge is one we consider at Velvet every day. In order to stay relevant and viable, we have to grow and change with our customers, the market and our suppliers.

We can’t produce more ice cream, for example, than what we can make from the cream our farmers deliver or than our customers will buy. And yet, in order to remain healthy and continue to contribute to the Licking County economy, growth must be part of our equation. But how fast and how big remain key issues.

Coleman and her sources compare business growth to that of a person going through phases and demanding to be nurtured — the way a parent raises a child.

Set your plan

These issues prompted Velvet to join Columbus-based Conway Family Business Center, which recognized us as its Family Business of the Year. This relationship adds a wealth of resources to our arsenal.

The center helps companies find the right pace for growth, while avoiding risk. A solid development strategy can shield businesses from the temptation to chase short-term performance at the expense of long-term health, a practice that has brought many a corporation to its knees.

A longer-term plan with moderate expansion — and thus, risk — increases chances of staying alive, while still achieving healthy expansion over time. We’ve been on that slow-but-steady trajectory, taking Velvet from $25 million in revenue in 2009 to more than $30 million today.

Add capacity

Growth also means Velvet needs added capacity, like expanded freezer facilities at our Utica factory. While we’ve added people and shifts to increase production, without space for storing and shipping our ice creams, growth may have stalled.

Our new $3 million, 21,000-square-foot expansion will open later this year. It more than doubles our freezer and order picking capacity and makes it possible to meet increased demand. It also allows us to expand into new markets, thereby adding employees and increasing our contribution to the region’s business climate.

Rapid pace of change

In our business — and every industry — change has ramped up to lightning speed.

We must be ready to turn on a dime. We must strike a balance of adhering to our core brand principles, while not clinging to old ways that may hinder our ability to stay strong and viable.

We create exciting new flavors, but still retain our ingredients and pure recipes. We redesigned our packaging to appeal to a growing younger consumer base, but were careful to keep true to our brand.

We’re ready to meet today’s challenges head on. We’re excited about our future, not just because of what it brings to us, but for what it brings to our employees, our customers and the community that has supported Velvet for more than 102 years.

 

Luconda Dager is the president of Velvet Ice Cream. Family-owned and operated since it was founded in 1914, Luconda is the fourth generation to run her family’s company in Utica. In addition to leading the company’s tremendous growth, Luconda is a frequent speaker and author, sharing her experiences and ideas with the region’s and her industry’s business community.