Saturday, April 14, 2012

a look back...

Once again, it's been awhile since I last wrote, but such is life when you're busy running an empire :o). I will do my best to summarize all that's transpired over the last (almost) year. A daunting task, but at least it will be cathartic for me.

As promised, here is recap from my trip last summer. I went to California and had an amazing time visiting frozen yogurt stores. I went to probably twenty frozen yogurt places. Each time I went to a store, I brought along my family members. I taught them the finer aspects of frozen yogurt as we sniffed and tasted as though we were wine tasting. We probably looked ridiculous. Most of the stores were similar in concept to the self-serve model and most of them had yogurt made with syrups and other artificial ingredients. After being spoiled for months with Ono Yo, these places left much to be desired. Funky after tastes, icy consistencies, lack of fresh toppings... I may sound like a yogurt snob, but I've certainly become one since opening my own business where we use real fruit and creamy Greek yogurt. One thing the trip did tell me: California could use some Ono Yo! Not all places were bad, of course. I found places that used real fruit and got some great ideas for our business. It was also helpful meeting other fellow frozen yogurt shop owners. All-in-all it was an eventful trip and was worth every spoonful!

We survived the summer last year! We got through the slump and made it to see another year of business. School started up again, Kahuku was a "bustling" country town again, and we were glad to see everyone! Things were moving along as we approached our year anniversary, and then the unthinkable happened. We really didn't think we could get any lower in sales than last summer. And then we did. By a lot. It was right as we hit our one-year anniversary. The bills piled up once again, we had unexpected emergency expenses once again, and once again we buckled up for another business and marital challenge.

Then the unthinkable happened again. This is going to sound ridiculous, but it's really what happened. We randomly said one day in late December, "Why don't we turn the truck around to face the road?" So one night after we closed, Alex turned it around and our sales made a huge jump the next day. Seriously. We turned the truck at the end of December and January's sales were almost 50% higher than December's! That's one benefit we didn't even think of with having a business in a truck. We're not limited to one fixed location. We're not stuck in the dead end of the mall. We can move our "window" to get more exposure.

So why didn't we think of this earlier? No doubt we had wanted to do it for awhile, but we were bound to what the land owners had asked us to do. In case you haven't been there before, our location is in a grass field (so country, right?). The owners were planning to have multiple food trucks lining the fence area of the field so we had to adhere to that. Well, months went by, food trucks came and went, and we were still there alone in the field. We decided that it was probably safe to assume that we were going to be the lone rangers and went for the turn-around. Suddenly our whole world opened up (or at least our business did). We've been enjoying our new vantage-point and so have our customers!

There's been advertisements in tourist magazines, commercials (on OC-16 soon!), new professional menu & price signs, photo shoots, and tons of Facebook posts. The marketing has been in full-swing. I really never thought I'd be a business owner because for as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. Today I am a teacher and now I'm also a business owner. I majored in Communication in college and then went on to get my teaching credential in secondary English and Masters in Education. Like I said, I never thought I'd be a business owner, but it seems that the universe knew I would be one day since I didn't major in English, but rather studied media and communication. This background has proven valuable as I've struggled to enter the world of marketing and business.

So where do we go from here? Only time and sales will tell. Things have been going really well and we're still getting amazing feedback. We're planning some exciting new additions to the truck, which will be developing over the rest of this year, and eventually we hope to expand to store locations around the islands. We're not sure if we'll make the jump across the pond to the mainland, but we're open to it. So stay tuned for more from Ono Yo and Starting Up Married!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

making it all work

It's been awhile since I last wrote. I just kept putting it off. It was almost as if simply writing down all that's going on would make me dizzy because I would actually have to see the vast list of juggling acts I'm currently performing. Owning a business, being a teacher, a wife, daughter, and person at the same time can be a overwhelming. It is difficult to balance and juggle my different identities. All I can say is that it's a good thing I haven't added "mother" to that list yet.

During the school year, a typical school day involved teaching a few class periods and then going to the truck during my prep period (it's conveniently across the street from the school I teach at). I would often end up helping Alex with the opening procedures, running to the bank, or serving customers. Then I'd head back to school to teach some more. Towards the end of the school year, I had to deal with my lack of balance and not go to the truck until after school. I really missed my yogurt snack break between classes, but to keep my sanity, I had to have dedicated times for teaching and business. There were still times I had to deal with a business crisis during my prep periods by making phone calls or emailing, but I worked hard to keep the boundaries set.

It's summer now and I'm able to focus completely on the business, but things on the business end have never been crazier! Since we opened in November last year, sales increased every month. Some months we jumped 14%! We thought, being a frozen yogurt place, that summer would be another big boost. We weren't expecting the huge drop in sales that we experienced. We had weeks of rain and lost much of our student income because school was out. Having never really spent much time in Kahuku when I'm not teaching, I didn't know that Kahuku is essentially a ghost town during the summer except for the tourists coming out for shrimp. Most of our adult regulars are still coming, but many students don't have a way to get out here unless they come with their parents. We have seen a jump in the number of tourists coming everyday, which has kept us afloat, but we certainly didn't expect such a drop in total revenue.

Another factor we didn't consider that is unique to this part of the country: massive graduation parties. In Hawaii, and arguably mostly in Kahuku, graduation parties are huge. My graduation party consisted of my parents, grandparents, sister, and boyfriend. A graduation party here will have parents, aunties, uncles, cousins, siblings, grandparents from Samoa, friends, teachers, church members, your cousins' friends, neighbors, and anyone else who happens to be in the neighborhood. Graduation parties here can run in the thousands of dollars because you have to have enough food to feed your whole family of 200 people and their friends. This leaves the community without much money left for frozen yogurt.

To complicate matters, we've also had more business emergency expenses than ever. It's true that when it rains it pours. It's been raining literally and pouring figuratively. So, not only did we see a drop in sales revenue, but we also had more expenses that made that drop even more stressful. I've spent my summer balancing the books and trying to figure a way out of this mess. Thankfully July is looking a lot better.

Thus begins a new chapter in understanding our business and business ownership. It takes a full year to learn when your busy times are, when you'll see drops in sales, and for people to really know you're even there. We've been blessed for sure with amazing regulars (some come everyday and one family even has an "Ono Yo budget"), profits in the first year, great feedback, and my teaching job to get us through this rough patch. It's so incredible to look back and see how much we've learned and how far we've come in such a short period of time. We've had celebrity regulars, a Food Network interview for a show, and have done some charity events we were honored to be a part of. We're so excited to see where this business will take us and to begin a new chapter in our personal lives as we start our little family.

Next post: I went to California to visit family and try frozen yogurt stores over there. I'll tell you all about my trip and what I learned!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

started up married

We finally started! A little over a month ago, on November 11th, we officially sold our first cup of yogurt! I cannot even begin to explain the craziness that ensued those first few days, but I can certainly try....

The whole day and night before we opened we worked on getting everything ready. We had gone to Costco a couple days before and bought A TON of stuff thinking that we would be really busy. We also had no idea what to expect with how many customers we would have, how much product those customers would use, etc. There were so many unanswered questions. The night before we opened we had to get all the toppings together. I think we went to bed around 3 am. We were prepping strawberries, cutting pineapple, washing raspberries, chopping nuts, shaving chocolate, peeling kiwi, removing pomegranate seeds (which I got the juice of all over my white curtains), and making sauces. We planned way too many toppings and ended up using hardly any of them. It was definitely a learning experience to say the least. At least there's no more 3 am bedtimes!

The morning we opened was sheer madness. We still had to get the seating down to the location, which involved putting two large bright pink picnic tables on Alex's truck. We had our helper for the day, Jax, who lives upstairs, help out. One thing you should know, though, is that he's only in seventh grade and he's not big for his age. The poor little guy had to lift those tables onto the truck and back off them once we got there. I was in charge of packing the tubs full of toppings and our Greek yogurt to bring down to the truck. I was exhausted! I just kept wondering what I was thinking getting involved in this craziness when I was also teaching, working for the state on curriculum, and doing online teaching. We were running around trying to get everything ready on time. We had many of Alex's Brazilian friends helping us out. It was a little bit like a circus, but it was so great to see so many people helping us get started. The amount of support we had was amazing!

With all those things to do last minute, we opened late and missed some customers who had come right at eleven for the opening, but two of my students stayed until we actually opened (note photo). One of them even bought a shirt and wore it the next day at school (where he promptly got spaghetti sauce on it at lunch). The rest of the day went well, but it was definitely crazy! It was fun seeing people enjoy the yogurt we had worked so hard to create!

Since the opening we've made many changes. We streamlined our process, cut out some of the toppings, and simplified our opening and closing procedures. Most recently we moved to the other side of the field where we were located, added flower pots, and painted the hub caps, bumper, and fenders the Ono Yo pink. It really stands out now! We already had more tourists today by being closer to the shrimp truck they all go visit.

We've met some really nice people and have had an interesting experience so far. There's been a lot of great feedback on how delicious our yogurt is. Our yogurt really is unique and very different from other frozen yogurts out there. We use real strawberries in our strawberry yogurt, real mango, watermelon, honeydew melon, etc. Healthy, simple food is what I eat in my diet because I know how much better it makes me feel and I love knowing that I'm giving people the very best frozen yogurt product they can get because it is healthy and simple!

I'll continue to write as new things happen. It's all so exciting and there's always changes! Thank you to everyone for your support. We can't do it without you! Enjoy the photos!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

where there's a will, there's a way

Well, naturally we ran into more problems....

When opening a business in Hawaii, it's important to understand the concept of "Hawaiian Time." Hawaiian Time means that things will get done when they get done. It means, "Take it easy, brah!" and "Eh, try wait!" Moving at a snail's pace is something to honor and respect while trying to get things done in a New York minute, well, that's for New Yorkers. This is Hawaii. Surf, sun, and just general laziness (is it in the water?) take precedence. Making money, not so much.

So we're waiting for the electrician who always seems to have something "come up" whenever we're scheduled to get our electricity hooked up. In the meantime, we're painting tables, getting shirts printed, setting up accounts with banks and vendors, deciding on our first month's flavors, and trying to carve out some peaceful time before the madness of seven day work weeks begins.

While we were driving to Costco to do yet more price research, I suddenly had a moment of realization. I realized that it's actually quite incredible that Alex and I started a really cool business on our own as young we are. Alex and I have been together for four years this month. Those four years have given us a lot of learning experiences in how to communicate, how to celebrate and compromise our differences, and how to be successful together. I guess I just had this moment where I thought, "I can't believe we pulled this off." It started from such a small idea, "What if we started our own frozen yogurt business?" It's grown into a real business with a logo, website, fans, and eager customers.

I've always been one to believe that anything is possible. If I dream something, I make it happen. It doesn't matter if I don't have the money, experience, or other means to get it. I organize myself and push through any obstacles that come. I learn and research. Even if we're not born into privilege and have things come easily to us, we can still create a beautiful and successful life for ourselves. Alex and I are young, have no money, and no experience in owning a business, but we put our talents together and created a business that we believe in, that we're proud of. We can't wait for opening day, which will happen as soon as Time can meet us somewhere in the middle of Hawaii and New York....

Monday, October 18, 2010

mad rush to the grand opening

We finally got a location! It's unbelievable that we spent about a year and a half planning, thinking, dreaming, working, and stressing, but now all of it is going to pay off! We'll be in the exact place we wanted to be with our truck right across the street from the school. The location will even have electricity so we don't have to worry about the generator (even though its little house is really adorable). All my students are excited and can't wait. They've been posting to my Facebook asking about Ono Yo. It's great to know that so many people are excited. It makes me believe we'll be successful and that all this work is going to bring good results!

We spent the day Sunday getting the seating for customers. Since we'll be outdoors, we bought umbrellas, picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, kids' chairs and tables, and a cute retro gliding bench. They're all in our logo colors and it's all super cute! Now we can visualize Ono Yo as an actual place of business and it seems more "real." So much of this so far has seemed like we're just "playing business" like one would "play house" as a child.

I really can't wait to see it all come together in the next week or two. We have to get ready for 7 day work weeks, and little time off. I'll be juggling four jobs, but, hey, who's counting? Owning our own business comes with sacrifices, but the pride we have in what we've created as partners and as a couple is huge! I'm sure we're in for more trials and learning experiences, but we've gone through so much already that we feel prepared to take on the challenges of business ownership.

Now we just have to put the seating together, test the machines again, buy the flavors, yogurt, and toppings, set up the electricity, get our shirts printed, meet with a CPA, sign our lease agreement, print the coupons, fix the water pump, sell the generator, and solve world hunger in the next week. I'm not worried....

I'll be posting again as soon as we have our opening day or if something else happens before then that's worth another post. Who knows what the mad rush to the grand opening will bring? Of course I'll post photos and hopefully a video of our grand opening day, too!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

more photos of sample day

first cup of yogurt

This last Sunday we made our first cup of yogurt! We called it our sample day and hoped it would be the day that led to us being able to officially start our business. Unfortunately it didn't quite work out as planned.

We're kind of getting used to the little problems, but it's no less disappointing. However, we're really learning how to find the positive in all situations. The positive here is that we made yogurt and had fun!

We spent the whole day cleaning the truck and fixing the muffler on the generator. The truck was sparkling! We planned to start around 4:00, but just as we were going to start, the generator decided to start acting up. It took four hours and thirteen guys to get it going again (check out the photos!)! I just kept thinking of the joke, "How many guys does it take to fix a generator?" Apparently, lucky number 13! All the girls were just standing around laughing as the guys scratched their heads.

We were finally ready to go! We mixed the yogurt and started serving. It was so exciting to finally see frozen yogurt come out of the machines. I was in charge of toppings while Alex swirled. We pumped out beautiful cups of yogurt topped with champagne grapes, fresh strawberries, chocolate chips, shredded coconut, and honey drizzle. Yum! Everyone said it was delicious and we breathed a sigh of relief.

Then the generator went out again. The light in the truck went black and I was left to finish topping the yogurt in the dark while Alex fixed it again. We got it going and kept dispensing. Then the side of the machine with the plain yogurt quit. We finished with the pomegranate flavor and transferred the plain to the other side. Then that side quit (are we not meant to serve plain yogurt?!). We had finally had enough and called it a night. We spent the next hour cleaning the huge mess.

Despite all the issues, it was a lot of fun and we are so excited that we were able to make frozen yogurt at last. We still have to work on dealing with the loud and fickle generator, broken machines, and getting a place to sell, but it will all come together. All the problems are just getting us closer to a smooth grand opening! We can't wait!