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Thirty-One-Derful Ideas From Baskin-Robbins' Incredible Story

One of my passions is corporate storytelling. Long before we had our own business story to tell, I loved reading and learning about how  others created business empires out of nothing. Building a company has all of the elements of a good drama: creativity, struggle, gains, losses, intrigue, drama, fear - you name it! I've eaten up the stories behind Ben & Jerry's, Domino's Pizza, Subway, Krispy Kreme Donuts, and Mrs. Fields, just to name a few. In fact, if it weren't for the inspiring beginnings of such legendary predecessors, South 'n France might have never made it off the ground. (Read how Pascal and I used their stories to recruit help for our first chocolate festival.)

In my public speaking engagements, I regularly make reference to lessons I've learned from Mary Kay Cosmetics, Life is Good, Nike, Kinko's, Spanx, and the founder of Wuvits, Kim Levine (author of Mommy Millionaire, one of the best business books I've ever read).  Irvine Robbins, one of the founders of Baskin-Robbins recently died at the age of 90. I was fortunate enough to come across his obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

What a gift to read about Mr. Robbins' life and how he and his brother-in-law (Baskin), turned two ice cream stores into a legendary ice cream empire. I try to find inspiration in everything, and this incredible article written by Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, Valerie J. Nelson gave me at least 31-derful great ideas on running a thriving business, living your dream, and believing that anything is possible, then doing it! Here are 13 (that's an inverted 31) highlights from Nelson's article::

  1. "Robbins displayed a keen sense of fun and a flair for marketing that helped turn some of their frozen treats into cultural touchstones." (I hope we can do the same!)
  2. "When the Dodgers came to Los Angeles in 1958, they were greeted with Baseball Nut, complete with raspberries for the umpires. Lunar Cheesecake was launched the day after man landed on the moon in 1969."  (Brilliant marketing idea-capitalize on social phenomena and current trends).
  3. "At the height of Beatlemania in 1964, a reporter asked Robbins what flavor would salute the Fab Four; Baskin-Robbins had yet to invent one, but Robbins replied, 'uh, Beatle Nut, of course,' and had it in stores in five days."  (I've been known to think on my feet and execute later...that's how we started South 'n France!)
  4. "He delighted in inventing new flavors and naming them, including Plum Nuts (plums, vanilla and walnuts), and ChaChaCha (cherry chocolate chip)"  (Love that he had creative fun with flavors!)
  5. "By the time he retired in 1978, the company was selling some 20 million gallons of ice cream a year in more than 2,000 stores around the world." (Now there's something to aspire to!)
  6. "The son of a dairyman, Robbins grew up scooping cones in his family's Tacoma, Wash., ice cream store for customers who always seemed to be having a good time. He recalled that he often 'finished a day's work happy' and wanted that same feeling when he started his own business." (Isn't that what it should always be about?)
  7. "After getting out of the Army in 1945, he soon opened the Snowbird Ice Cream store in Glendale. Cashing in an insurance policy that his father had given him for his bar mitzvah, he came up with $6,000 to start the business."  (You gotta take risks...)
  8. "There was really no such thing anyplace as a pure ice cream store," Robbins told The Times in 1985. "I just had the crazy idea that somebody ought to open a store that sold...nothing but ice cream, and could do it in an outstanding way."
  9. "In 1953, they renamed the company Baskin-Robbins, deciding the order of their names with a coin toss." (What a fun piece of trivia; could you imagine if it had been Robbins-Baskin? Sounds so strange, doesn't it?)
  10. "The '31 flavors' concept was introduced that same year to bring attention to a deep menu that featured a flavor for every day of the month." (A great unique selling proposition that made them famous...and very rich!)
  11. "At a factory in Burbank, they made hundreds of new ice creams a year but only eight or nine of those would make it to market. Among the flavors that never left the laboratory: Ketchup, Lox and Bagels, and Grape Britain." (And you thought Ben & Jerry were the first to do this...)
  12. "Robbins...marveled at how often customers pitched him ideas for new flavors. 'I've even had people stop me in my car, which has the license plate '31 BR,' on the freeway,' Robbins told Investor's Business Daily in 1999. 'I guess some people think it's legal to stop on a California freeway if you're doing it for ice cream.'" (Customers have great ideas - seek their advice and listen to it!)
  13. "His family often filled the role of ice cream taste-testers around the dinner table at their Encino home with its backyard pool shaped like an ice cream cone. He named his boat the 32nd Flavor...After retiring, he moved to a Rancho Mirage home equipped with a six-flavor ice-cream counter and was known to start the day with a bowl of cereal topped with a scoop of banana ice cream." (Talk about living your dream! Thanks, Mr. Robbins, for leading such an inspiring life!)
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