By Vicki Prichard
Back in 2007 when Kona Ice founder Tony Lamb held his first conference with his franchisees, he had a $250 marketing budget and about 70 people attend. It’s no stretch to say that Kona Ice has come a long way since that first convention.
This year marks ten years since Kona Ice, a mobile, Hawaiian-style shaved ice franchise based in Florence, rolled out its first truck. Since that time, the Kona Ice headquarters employs roughly 40 people, had nearly doubled the size of its building at a new location in Florence — from 15,000 to 27,000 square feet. With more than 800 trucks on the road, Lamb is not far from meeting his goal of having 1000 trucks.
Kona Ice has grown in its philanthropy too, providing $41 million to community schools and organizations, a central tenet of the company.
Last Friday, Lamb kicked off his Kona Ice conference at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in a room that stretches deep with tables to accommodate hundreds; polished, professional Kona Ice signage created by Kona’s in-house by graphic designers; and a video production crew ready to capture testimonials and presentations from the likes of keynote speaker, former NFL running back, Shaun Alexander, a fitting guest for the convention’s Going Pro theme.
”We’re putting in company-wide uniforms so everyone is on the same team,” says Lamb. “So, it’s ‘going pro,’ and I thought we need a pro athlete to talk, and who better than Shaun Alexander?
Alexander, who began his football career as the running back for the Boone County High School Rebels, and is a nine-year NFL veteran of the NFL who played with the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, was happy to be on home turf and speak to Lamb’s franchisees. He says when he was asked to speak at the conference he asked for some information about Kona Ice, and he liked what he saw.
“I was just so impressed with the family part of it,” says Alexander. “It’s a true legacy. It’s so much bigger than even your time here, it’s generational.”
“I’m going to talk about going pro and what it takes,” says Alexander. “Really, they’re doing something greater, they’re creating a legacy for their families. They’re actually doing something that their kids, and their kids’ kids could do if they want. I’m a big believer in letting people have choices and see all the options that come with life.”
For Lamb, a conference full of individuals who chose to tap into his dream, and are now fulfilling dreams of their own, is “humbling.”
“I get emotional,” says Lamb. “I stand up on stage and they all clap, and I’m like ‘Stop.” It’s so humbling that these people have locked on to a dream that I had and now their dreams are being played out. It’s the best.”
As testament to the satisfaction of Kona Ice’s franchisees, the Franchise Business Review, which rates thousands of franchise systems, rated Kona Ice number one in franchisee satisfaction in the country.
“That means everyone here is happy,” says Lamb.
The secret to keeping franchisees happy?
“Fixed royalty,” says Lamb. “They don’t pay me a percentage of what they do, they pay me $3,000 a year for the royalty. There was a guy up there on stage [at the conference] that has 11 trucks. He made $1.4 million and he paid me $33,000 in royalty.”
Lamb says consultants have suggested that now that he’s established the business he should look into changing that system.
“I said, ‘Why would I change anything? I’m happy. I’m blessed beyond belief.’”
In addition to the glowing acknowledgement from the Franchise Business Review, the conference was the 2017 Kona Ice Going Pro Conference was the venue to share other news, such as Kona Ice’s new FruitFirst flavors, which allows Kona Ice to be served in schools, meeting and exceeding all school nutrition standards, and the unveiling of the company’s new Kev 2.0 truck, an Eco-friendly vehicle capable of better serving the brand’s immense coast-to-coast following.
The conference is an informative and educational venue for franchisees.
“They’re going to learn from the best franchisees,and what they’re says,” says Lamb. “They’ll tell them, ‘Here’s what I do in schools,” “Here’s what I do in neighborhoods.” We’ve got marketing people and social media people to teach them how to do social media.”
The event includes accountants, financial planners and human resource specialists to impart their wisdom.
“We connect all of these people and bring them here to present,” says Lamb.
In addition to the franchisees, Lamb says roughly 20 are people who are looking into the business attend the event.
“Our people, most of our franchisees, are new to business. They’re not people who say, ‘Oh, I’ve to 22 businesses and I’m just going to factor that in,'” he says. “A lot of these people have just come out from behind the desk, never had a business before in their life, and they’re going to dream a little bit, and they’re going to have some fun.”
Lamb says he’s witnessed an “unbelievable” amount of success stories among his franchisees.
The philanthropic piece of Kona Ice is key to much of what franchisees are seeking, he says.
“Two years ago I got up on stage and asked people, ‘Why do you want to get into Kona Ice?” says Lamb. “Eighty-two percent of the people in the room were there because they wanted to make the communities better — they wanted to give back, to make communities better, to give back to children.”
Through Lamb’s Kona Kolleges, franchisees are trained throughout the year, and that includes a message about philanthropy.
“The last thing I say after they’ve had four days of training is, ‘Do this for me — find a secret charity, an orphanage, a camp, something — and give away Kona, not for the recognition, but it’s something that makes you a better person and helps your soul. And I promise you, you take care of your soul, and everything else will fall in place.’”