Carmen Esposito is the President of La Vita Dolce & Nucci’s Italian Ice and Gelato. Having started his business out of a truck more than 35 years ago, he is now the largest manufacturer of Italian ice in the Philadelphia area. Carmen’s story and his overall philosophy about what it takes to make it as a successful entrepreneur continue to inspire others every day. He recently took time to talk with us about all of that and more here at BusinessOpportunity.com’s Entrepreneur Exchange:
First, tell us a little bit about how you started out, your background…
When I graduated college, I had a young family to support. I needed to come up with a way to feed my family for at least that first summer. I decided to buy an old mail truck, an old ice machine and start a mobile Italian ice business. Of course, in order to sell the ices I needed to do some remodeling of the truck, and I painted it bright yellow to catch everyone’s attention. I remember clearly that the first summer on the truck was a scorcher; that was definitely good for business. People were lined up in the streets most of the summer enjoying my new product. At the end of the summer I not only had enough money to support my family, I also earned enough to make a down payment on a little house. After several years on the truck I rented a retail store front, bought a couple of new Italian ice machines, and I was off to the races.
Let me backtrack for a second…How did I learn to make my award-winning product? Easy! Trial and error ― with lots of errors. Being persistent and having my family as a motivation, I soon became voted the “Best of Philly” for Italian ices and continued to receive many other accolades.
Soon I had three serving windows with lines of people; the machinery could hardly keep up with the demand. This translated into big profits. I gained my edge on the competition by being very detail-oriented with my products and service. My motto became “If we don’t please you tell us, if we do, tell a friend.” In a few years I grew my humble beginnings in a little yellow truck to being the largest manufacturer of Italian Ice in the Philadelphia area.
How does someone know if they have what it takes to own their own business? Tell us a bit of how you made the decision to try and why?
Someone once told me that it was OK for him to start his own business because he had an escape route in case it didn’t work. My advice to him would be – “Forget about it. You already have the mindset that it’s not going to work.” Anyone starting their own business needs to do their homework. Once you have all the information you need and you think it’s a worthwhile plan, you need to start with total and complete commitment. You need to be willing to commit your time, effort and finances to get started and keep it going. Excellent work ethic is required.
I was totally committed to making my business successful, no matter what happened. There were equipment failures, truck failures, product disasters, electric outages and the usual “Murphy’s Law” situations. Early in my endeavors I realized that “Persistence Beats Resistance” and that I would never give up. I dealt with each issue as it arose and moved forward with even greater resolve.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing business owners today and why?
In this day and age I don’t think you should do what everyone else is doing. Try to be unique and find a need that is not being filled in your area. Whittle yourself your own niche.
What is the strongest single piece of advice you have for someone starting out in business?
When McDonald’s opened in the early 50s, they had a burger, coke and fries as their complete menu. The menu today has greatly changed, with many new additions that meet the needs and trends of the times. In your business you need to be willing to make changes. You need to meet the needs of your customers by developing new products, services and trends. Keep your eye on the competition, and remember that the best customers are the ones you already have.
What would you say is the one thing that new business owners overlook when they’re just starting out?
New business owners often don’t realize the hard work and time commitment that go into starting and maintaining a business. Going into business may mean that your social life slows down a bit or you can’t watch all your favorite TV shows. Your business needs YOU! Business is somewhat like the takeoff of a large airplane, the hardest part is getting it off the ground. Once you’re up and flying, the critical part is over and the flight is easier. You’ve got to be willing to give it the thrust it needs and the time commitment it takes for the duration of the flight.
What is your favorite motto when it comes to business?
When it comes to business or life in general, I firmly believe that “Persistence Beats Resistance.” You’re definitely going to be faced with obstacles. I like to consider them challenges instead of problems. Create or revise strategies, solutions, plans of action or whatever it takes to meet the challenge head-on. Quitting is not an option. Think through the issue, get sound advice and keep going.
More about Carmen: Having been an entrepreneur since 1971, Carmen Esposito is a living example of how hard work, persistence and a commitment to customer service, quality and excellence in business can really pay off. Today his company is the largest manufacturer of Italian ice in the Philadelphia area, and his products have won numerous “Best of” and other awards. As the President of La Vita Dolce & Nucci’s Italian Ice and Gelato, one of Carmen’s primary goals is to help other entrepreneurs who have what it takes to make it get on the fast track to success and achieve their dreams.