Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Interview with Britton Roller: College Student and Entrepreneur in Oklahoma

Britton Roller, college student and business owner at 22 years of age. Britton is one busy guy! When he’s not attending Southeast Oklahoma State University studying for his degree in aviation, he pretty much spends the rest of his time inside his shaved ice stand. While at school (between classes of course!), Britton took some time to talk with me about his shaved ice business and answer some questions.

What’s the name of your shaved ice business?

Britton: I just use the traditional name, Hawaiian Shaved Ice.

How many years have you been in business?

Britton: I’ll be starting my 3rd season on April 12th. I’ll only be open a couple of days each week until the spring semester ends. Once I’m out of school though, I’ll be open seven days a week. I’m open from 11am to 10pm Monday thru Saturday and 2pm to 10pm on Sundays.

Why did you choose to go into the shaved ice business?

Britton: After spending a summer working at a factory with low pay and bad hours, my dad and I sat down to discuss other ideas for generating income for me so I could pay for college. We came up with the plan of opening our own shaved ice stand and operating it during the summer months. I did a lot of research about the business online. I found the website, downloaded and printed out their COLD CASH business manual. After more research, my dad and I went through it all together. Once we had looked at everything and the cost vs. profit, we put our plan into action. My dad loaned me the money to start up the business (which I paid back in full during my first season of operation).

Would you tell us a little about your equipment and where you operate?

Britton: Fortunately, my dad and I were able to design and build the stand ourselves. Initially the building was 15’x30’. However, due to the need for more freezers, we expanded the building and it is now 15’x45’. We have a great location in a business parking lot in town. I have a New Orleans Block Machine and it’s perfect for our stand. It creates the best shaved ice around! We make our own block ice in-house too. During my first season, we underestimated the amount of ice we would need and consequently had to purchase additional block ice from a local ice house. However, after adding on to the building, we now have 2 upright freezers for making ice and 3 deep, floor freezers for storing ice blocks. I go through about 15-25 blocks of ice every day. When I first opened my stand, there were two other stands in town too. However, they have both closed since then, leaving me without any local competition. There are several stands in the larger town just north of us.

What advice would you give to someone interested in starting their own shaved ice business?

Britton: I would have to say that they should expect to put a lot more time into it than they originally plan. It’s very time consuming. Your time invested goes way beyond just the hours you are open for customers. Also, I’d recommend that they operate it themselves. If you’re looking to make the most money, you need to do it yourself. I work everyday and don’t have any employees. I feel that I’m fortunate though because by doing this, I don’t have to work at all during the school year.

Be open to customer suggestions too. I’ve had customers suggest different flavors or recipes and I’ve tried them. If they’re popular, I’ve added them to my menu. Customer service is critical and part of that is responding to their requests.

Another thing I would recommend to someone interested in operating their own shaved ice business is to set your hours and stick with them. Be consistent! You can’t close just because you have something else that you want to do that particular day. You will lose customers! You have to set your hours and be open in order to build repeat customers.

What has been your best day as far as gross sales?

Britton: On my busiest days, I’ll bring in about $300-315 per day. I probably make about 150-200 servings on those days. My profit margin is pretty high because my expenses are very limited. I’d say that my profit margin runs around 80%.

How has helped your business?

Britton: is fantastic. When I first started my business, I ordered everything from them. I ordered my machine, mixing supplies, bottles, utensils…everything came from Now I order all of my flavors, sugar free base packs, and other items through them. I think their customer service is awesome. I know that I can call them, ask a question and they’ll get an answer for me. When I ordered my machine in the beginning, Gary called us up and counseled us in making a decision on a machine that was slightly higher in price, but much better in quality. He was right and we really appreciated the time and effort he took in helping us choose a great machine for our business.

Have you had any funny moments with customers or employees?

Britton: One thing I enjoy is knowing what my customers are going to order. Because I’m a neighborhood stand, I get a lot of repeat customers. It’s fun to have a customer ask me, “What is it that I order all the time?” They get a kick out of the fact that I can remember their order and they can’t.

Another thing that I find interesting is the amount of people who will come and just order a plain cup of ice (no flavor). They just like the ice that our machine produces. I have a boy who’s about 4 years old that comes by with his grandma just about every day. He likes to get a cup of plain ice with a blue straw. A lot of times I’ll see him coming across the parking lot and I’ll have it ready, sitting under the counter, waiting for him. He gets a thrill when I pull it out and hand it over to him.

I also had a customer come through, order a cup of shaved ice, taste it, and ask: “Are your flavors from that company in North Carolina?” I was blown away. I told them yes, it was from and they said they could tell just by the taste! Apparently they used to own or work at a stand where they used the same flavors. It just goes to show you that people can taste the difference between cheaply made syrups and the quality syrups made by

What’s your favorite shaved ice flavor?

Britton: My favorite is called a “Salty Dog.” Some people may make it in different ways, but I make it with strawberry syrup, real lemon juice, and margarita salt.

Thanks for taking the time to talk about your stand with us Britton. We really appreciate your insight! Everyone here at admires your dedication to your customers and the hard work you put in to your business. We wish you the best with your education, flying, and your shaved ice business!

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