Prank Your Customers & Increase Loyalty – Austin Food Marketing Recap
Rahul Kahol, Owner of Shaved Ice Island shares strategies for standing out.
Road Warrior Creative hosts a monthly meetup in Austin for food brands, called Austin Food Marketing. We’ve been running the meetup for about a year, and this year one of my resolutions (New Year’s and all!) was to post recap posts after every event so that people who miss the events can still get the benefit of learning from our amazing speakers. Welcome to my first Austin Food Marketing recap post!
First, some background about the meetup:
About Austin Food Marketing
Austin Food Marketing is an inclusive group of food product companies, retailers, and restauranteurs coming together to support and nurture the entrepreneurial food community in Austin, Texas. Our meetups allow food business owners, executives, and employees – from startups and small businesses to large enterprises – to network with one another, while learning about and discussing marketing best practices.
The goal of this community is to accelerate growth of Austin-area food businesses and to nurture a culture of shared ideas, collaboration, and mentorship within the Austin food product community.
Austin Food Marketing attendees vary from owners and founders of smaller food product businesses, food trucks, and restaurants, to C.E.O.s, and sales and marketing professionals from some of Austin’s biggest brands. Attendance at events varies by topic, but can be as high as 30-40 attendees. Past speakers include Chris Lowrey of Austin Eastciders, Kara Marshall of Amy’s Ice Cream, Steve Weiss of MNI Target Media, and Lydia Oxley of Imperfect Foods, among others.
How to Get Involved
Austin Food Marketing meets once per month, September-June, typically on the first Tuesday of the month at 6:30pm at the Capital Factory, 701 Brazos St Suite 150/1600 in downtown Austin. All meetups are free and open to the public.
To see the schedule of upcoming meetups, visit AustinFoodMarketing.com, which redirects to our Meetup page, and join the group! If you’re interested in speaking or otherwise helping to grow food CPG marketing knowledge in Austin, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Month’s Speaker: Rahul Kahol, Owner of Shaved Ice Island
Rahul Kahol leads the highest customer-rated frozen dessert company in Austin: Shaved Ice Island. He is also the founder of ShavedIceTV, a new YouTube comedy channel that pranks customers and documents popular Austin events. You might have seen their crew this year doing interviews at ACL or on 6th Street.
With nearly 400 reviews across different platforms, Shaved Ice Island proudly maintains a near 5-star average. In this presentation, Rahul spoke about his proven techniques for supercharging customer loyalty and rapidly increasing repeat sales.
Rahul’s Top Tips for Building Customer Loyalty
Rahul started the presentation by sharing the story of how he started his food truck in 2014 from a single truck (run only by him) that “floated around” Austin, and grew it into a business with a fixed location outside Westgate Lanes bowling alley, two additional catering trucks for everything from small birthday parties to large corporate events, and 20 employees. Shaved Ice Island’s sales have grown 20-50% each year and the business has nearly 400 reviews across the web.
How has Shaved Ice Island kept growing despite the food-truck saturated Austin market?
1. Consistently Innovate and Look for Creative Ways to Standout
Rahul is consistently developing new and interesting product flavors, from new twists on classic flavors to gourmet shaved ice. Some of Shaved Ice Island’s specialty flavors include Mango Lassi (shaved ice with mango fruit and vanilla ice cream), Moscow Mule (lime juice and fresh-cut ginger root) and the Notorious POG (Hawaiian juice-based shaved ice made with passion fruit, guava, and orange).
They offer delicious and interesting tea/coffee based gourmet flavors, including Thai Iced Tea, Jasmine Green Tea, and a Creamy Cold Brew made in partnership with Austin-based cold brew company, Chameleon Cold Brew. Making shaved ice with products from other local companies is a great way to draw in customers from that brand’s followers. Another great way to pull people in is to create flavors that speak to local tastebuds. Shaved Ice Island’s Hispanic style shaved ice raspas, like Cucumber Lime, Mangonada, Picadilly, Tamarindo, and Arroz Con Leche, are popular and truly play to Austin’s love of Mexican food!
Making the experience fun
In addition to crafting unique flavors, Shaved Ice Island stands out from other food trucks by striving to make the buying experience fun. They sometimes wear costumes, often have goofy polls up for customers to participate in, and even offer free shaved ice for dogs!
A recent effort to connect with customers online has been their creation of a YouTube Comedy Channel, ShavedIceTV, where Rahul documents Austin events in humorous ways and creates gameshow style videos with customers at their Westgate Food Truck. Here is a fun example of a video where Rahul was pretending to be a drug dealer or creepy person but really handing out coupons for free shaved ice.
They also frequently do competitions where people can guess the number of items (like gummy worms) in a jar to win a prize such as free catering. This also is a way for Shaved Ice Island to grow its email list.
All of these are great ideas, but one of the most important things Rahul said in his presentation was this: “Implementation is key. We often think of or hear of a creative idea but we don’t do it. If you want to make your business stand out you have to make time to implement the cool idea.”Implementation is key. We often think of or hear of a creative idea but we don’t do it. If you want to make your business stand out you have to make time to implement the cool idea. – Rahul Kahol @ShavedIceIsland Click To Tweet
It’s so true. We often hear about interesting and creative ways that we could market our business or make it stand out to our customers, but then we get so busy in the day-to-day that we never actually act on those ideas. We certainly do it here at Road Warrior Creative and we’re marketing experts! It’s too easy to only spend time making sure our clients have an awesome marketing strategy and forget about ourselves, which is why what Rahul said really resonated with me. Luckily there is no time like the present and it’s never too late to start working on that creative customer engagement idea.
2. Connect Emotionally with Customers AND Employees
Rahul’s second tip for building customer loyalty was to be authentic and show customers that you really care. This is important not just for growing a loyal customer base, but also because if you don’t love your business why’re you in it? Life’s too short to work in a job you don’t love and it’s easy to lose business momentum if you aren’t passionate.
How to connect with customers
Shaved Ice Island does a lot to connect with their customers, but it starts with the obvious – just talking to them. They ask what customers want and they act on those requests. They also like to deliver “extreme customer service” – doing things like staying open even when there are crazy storms and Rahul gets drenched delivering shaved ice to customers.
This is a way to show customers how important they are to the business and get a laugh at the same time. Although, we really hope Rahul had extra clothes in the food truck after that delivery experience…
Why connecting with employees matters
Your employees will reflect your vibes onto the customers – if you don’t treat your employees well, they won’t treat customers well and that could result not just in a lost customer but a bad review that might keep other customers from trying your products. A good customer experience started with a good employee experience.
Shaved Ice Island works to keep work fun and exciting for their employees just as much as for their customers. They want them to enjoy coming to work and have just as much fun as Rahul is when he’s innovating fun(ny) ways to make the business stand out.
3. Ask for Reviews & Take Care of VIPs
Tip number three: once you have happy customers and employees and cool products that stand out, don’t be afraid to ask your customers for reviews! There are going to be some people who absolutely love you and they will 100% be willing to write you a great review. Superfans will evangelize your products and influence others to give them a try – all you have to do is ask.
How to Ask for Reviews
Here are some of the ways you can ask your customers for reviews:
- Post a sign on your food truck or in your office that includes logos of places where you want reviews.
- Have staff verbally ask for reviews at the time of purchase.
- Send emails to your email list requesting a review.
- Personally reach out to regular customers and ask for a review.
Turn Happy Customers into Superfans
Shaved Ice Island builds superfans out of happy customers by going above and beyond. When someone writes a positive review of their business on a platform where they are able to contact the reviewer privately (like Facebook or Yelp), Rahul messages that person, thanks them for the review, and sends them a coupon for free shaved ice.
Rahul also works to remember the faces of regular customers and if he sees them around town will give them a coupon for free shaved ice. Not only is it nice to get something for free, but can you imagine how nice it must feel to be recognized and thanked by a business owner who remembered you? This is a great way to turn a happy customer – or even a neutral customer – into a superfan.
Dive in Deeper
Watch the Video
We’re excited to be able to offer video recordings of Austin Food Marketing Meetup speakers as of this month’s meetup and are now live streaming during the event on Austin Tech Live’s YouTube channel. Want to see the full presentation in Rahul’s own words? Click play and watch the video below!
View Presentation Slides
Attend A Future Event
Like this presentation? We hope you’ll join us at a future Austin Food Marketing event. Here’s what’s coming up:
- Thursday, January 23, 2020 @ 5PM – Networking Happy Hour & Cocktails at Penny Lane Street Bar – drinks on us for the first 50 attendees!
- Tuesday, February 4, 2020 @ 6:30PM – The Soley Story: Starting, Marketing & Growing a Successful Niche Beverage Brand, Chris Hofbauer
- Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020 @ 6:30PM – How Research Can Help Your Food Marketing Strategy, Robert J. Lewis, Ph.D.