Maiden Lane, Albany, New York
A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café
opened on May 8, 2006 as an ice cream and gelato shop during the summer months with the additions of soups, breads, specialty coffees, teas, and hot chocolate during the winter months. They have expanded to create unique gelato cakes for birthdays and special occasions as well as provide gelato to several area upscale restaurants. A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café serves the downtown Albany market with a strong focus on customer service.
Fran & Kathy
Business partners, Kathleen Forbes & Frances Nolles, met while job sharing at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Before they retired from New York State, they had dreamed of opening up an ice cream/gelato shop.
Kathy and Fran did a tremendous amount of market research in order to complete their business plan. This research included taste tests at nearly every Tech Valley
business that carries gelato both wholesale and retail. In addition, they stood on the street corner where they intended to open up shop with a clicker counter to count the number of individuals who passed by the street each day. They also handed out surveys to take a poll to determine the interest level of such a shop in downtown Albany. Their market research proved positive. As a result, they forged ahead with the financial section of their business plan with great zeal. With assistance from a relative with an accounting background, the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce
loan department, the Downtown Albany BID office, and Chamber business consultants, they launched.
A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café was awarded a $1,000 grant award incentive donated by First Niagara Bank
as well as a one year Chamber membership awarded by the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce through the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program. They used their winnings to attend a training session on gelato-making. This particular gelato class allowed a rebate at the end to be used towards gelato-making equipment. Thus, with their creative thinking and business skills, the $1,000 grant award was effectively doubled!
A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café requested and secured a loan from the Capital District Community Loan Fund
for $115,000 for equipment and supplies, renovations and start-up expenses. They have also put in around $25,000 each towards the business. Their hours of operation are from 11AM to 5PM Monday through Friday with Saturday summer hours of 11am to 3pm and they will stay open for special events in downtown Albany on evenings and weekends depending on the scheduled event.
With all of the positive things that occurred to them during the early stages of their business, they have had some challenges. We recently spoke with Fran and Kathy to discuss the obstacles in owning their own business. Here is what they shared with us:
After all of the projections and prep work on financials, it cost us $600 to have the window taken out and put back in so we could get the display case into the cafe. The best part of the whole thing was our landlord, unbeknownst to us, had the same window replaced two days prior to the arrival of our case.
For wholesale, gelato is sometimes challenging. For instance, we have had an outstanding balance in excess of $400 for just one customer. Occasionally, we have multiple outstanding balances at one time. What we have done in some cases was to hold up any new deliveries until payments were received.
They present a big problem. Every day there is a new request for a donation or sponsorship. It is so hard to say no to them but a new business cannot keep giving away product or money. We try to accommodate as many as we can and probably do more than we should because of our nature but it costs us in the long run.
This is another obstacle. You don’t realize how much time a business takes to run. You basically have to give up most of your personal life. We never get to leave at the time we planned. I am sure this gets better as you are able to hire more staff to free up some personal time for yourself but we aren’t there yet.
This is one area that we did not expect to be so hard on us physically. In our case, this is hauling buckets, breaking down all the equipment, cleaning, sanitizing, lubricating them and then putting them back together. For some of the equipment, this happens every day. (Our fingernails are a mess because they are constantly in water and sanitizer which totally destroys them.) Again, at some point in time, we may be able to have more assistance.
Cash flow worries
This is a biggie for us and probably ranks very high on our list. Of course, it affects every one of the above frustrations and concerns. Having to constantly borrow money to add to the business because we don’t generate enough revenue to be self-sufficient as yet.
The economy has had a negative effect on us this year. If it weren’t not for our wholesale portion of the business, our sales would be down over $6,000. As it is, we still haven’t taken in as much money as last year.
Paperwork is overwhelming
There is so little time. For example, we have a couple of reports to file, one of which should bring us some refund money, but we haven’t had the time to get the paperwork completed and documents photocopied to reap the benefits.
Networking is difficult
Because of our time constraints, we can’t get to networking events. Networking is so important because it usually brings in more business but many events take place during our busiest hours that we miss out on so much.
Location, location, location
We thought we had picked the ideal spot but it turns out we didn’t. For a seasonal type business as ours, we need to do business seven days a week including evenings for the spring, summer and fall. However, our location doesn’t warrant being open evenings and weekends because there are very few people downtown during those times.
The Up Side
Sometimes we feel like all we do is whine about how tired we are and how the bad weather and economy are killing us. But the up side to all of this is……we had a dream, we worked endlessly to fulfill it and we are living it. And except for all of the frustrations and stumbling blocks, we are so proud when people smile and get that look on their face as they taste our gelato, compliment us on the decor, and are elated when they pick up their cakes.