Cold Stone Creamery is a destination-driven, premium ice cream store. Unlike the traditional hard-packed and soft serve ice creams of our youth, this ice cream is made fresh every day with high-quality cream and sugar lending to a creamier texture and smoother taste. Chocolate, candy, nuts, fruit and even homemade cake batter are available to fold into the ice cream of your choice on a large marble counter – hence the “cold stone” portion of the name.
Based on the branding practices and lessons of Starbucks and other similar commodity-turned-premium brands, the company is making ice cream about an indulgent, in-store experience. On a weekend evening, you can find a greeter at the entrance and be entertained in line as crew members enthusiastically sing while you’re looking at the larger-than-life photographic images of “Ultimate Creations” (decadent mixtures of ice cream and mix-ins).
As a franchise system, the size of every store varies dramatically. After years of a red and white tiled, slightly collegiate look, the company has re-designed everything from the floor to the color of the ceiling to the brand’s visual identity under the guidance of Joe Kendra, chief brand officer, a veteran of Pizza Hut and Twentieth Century Fox. Walking into an old, un-retrofitted store is indeed like walking into an eighties’ time warp: no more memorable than the typical neighborhood ice cream or frozen yogurt shop.
The new look and feel of the interior is decidedly Starbucks with a more feminine spin. Retrofitted stores include slate floors, wood grain paneling, stylish café tables, sophisticated audio system and wine-colored walls with curvy, graphic accents. The uniform look and feel of the menus, signage and print collateral employs a clean, sophisticated serif font as opposed to the former whimsical, off-centered sans-serif typefaces – a look appropriate when the first store opened in 1988 in the college town of Tempe, Arizona, but clearly no longer fitting as store locations expand. (The company is still in the process of retrofitting existing stores to reflect the new look and feel of the brand.)
At a time when most food product companies and restaurants are riding the low-carb tsunami, it’s interesting to note that one of the fastest growing private companies is built around rich, creamy, calorie-laden ice cream. While family friendly, the company admits that its target audience is not ice cream’s traditional focus of kids, but rather 18 to 34 year old women.
Overall, the re-branded Cold Stone Creamery is very unlike the kid-focused “scoop shop” model Baskin-Robbins has employed since the 1970s, the nostalgic, middle-America feel of soft-serve giant Dairy Queen, or the New England, down-home family fun of Ben and Jerry’s stores. Like the Starbucks model, premium ice cream demands premium prices. Starting a shade below US$ 3.00, it too has its own version of small, medium and large, which in Cold Stone language translates to Like It, Love It, and Gotta Have It. New ice cream cakes, introduced in April, were developed with the Scottsdale Culinary Institute to produce highly palatable, specialty cakes.
Says Kevin Donnellan, senior public relations manager for Cold Stone Creamery, “We are a very indulgent brand: we are super premium ice cream. We like to think that when people are on the Atkin’s [Diet] or South Beach Diet, if they want to cheat, they’re going to go to Cold Stone Creamery because they want the best. We do offer low and no-fat options; we offer sorbet and yogurt. We also have low and no-fat mix-in options like fruits. But that’s not what drives our business. It’s really the ice cream lovers who want to take that ten-minute vacation and really indulge and enjoy themselves.”
According to Donnellan, the company in 1999 set a target goal of opening 1000 profitable stores by 2006; at that time they had 74. Eight hundred stores later, the brand has migrated across 44 American states, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam. The company says it is on-target to meet its 2006 goal. In 2003, it was ranked on the Inc. 500 list of Fastest Growing Private Companies and realized a 77 percent sales growth between 2002 and 2003.
Unlike Starbucks and Krispy Kreme, the company has no plans to create a grocery retail product line unless, as Donnellan puts it, consumer demand dictates otherwise.