Meet Blair of Rain or Shine Ice Cream
Blair Casey is the co-founder and owner of Rain or Shine Ice Cream. Together with his wife Josie, they’re spreading happiness and smiles in Vancouver neighbourhoods with their awesome treats. They’re also building an extremely successful business by putting people first, plain and simple. We chatted with Blair (and his adorable two-year-old daughter) to hear about how they’ve focused on planning, authenticity and company culture to achieve exceptional growth.
So you started up only five years ago and now you have three locations in Kitsilano, Cambie Village and UBC. That seems like remarkable growth.
It has been quite a ride so far! We also have a food truck that’s usually down at English Bay in the summer, which is loads of fun. We started with 15 ice cream flavours and have now made over 300 different flavours, each month we have 5 new seasonal flavours. We also have an awesome team – a core group of 10 to 15 people and then a larger seasonal team that goes up to about 80 staff members in the summer.
And this is your first business venture?
Yes. I worked in finance and my wife was a teacher! We felt we had complementary skill sets and we loved the idea of being able to make people happy with awesome ice cream made out of high quality ingredients. We were also very excited about having a positive role in our community. And we were prepared to roll up our sleeves and create something new from scratch.
What should every new business owner do when he or she is starting out?
Definitely do your research and write a detailed business plan. Establish relationships with key suppliers and professionals well ahead of time and ask tons of questions! Don’t be afraid to ask because there will be lots of things you don’t know and it’s better to figure those things out early. We took several seminars through Small Business BC to meet professionals and run ideas past them. Some of the issues they raised were things we would never have thought of, and it meant we were prepared before the doors opened.
And also try and be emotionally prepared for how much time and energy it will take. When you’re starting out you might have to be more committed than you think. Just be ready for that and don’t let it get you down. For us, we barely saw our friends and family those first two summers unless they came in the shop. But it’s all worth it in the end.
One last thing comes to mind. From a financial perspective, the longer you can keep your day job before the business gets going the better. For quite awhile we both worked our regular jobs and then worked on Rain or Shine on evenings and weekends. It meant a lot of hard work but it was a huge benefit because it really helped reduce our financial stress as a family and gave us more business runway.
One of the things Rain and Shine is known for (besides great ice cream) is the work your organization does to help build stronger communities, including many charitable projects to help local kids and the environment. The foundation of that must be the company culture you’ve shaped. Can you tell us how you did it?
Well, we did a lot of thinking at the beginning about our values and our vision for the kind of company we wanted to have. Things like encouraging creativity and fun, being collaborative and trustworthy, and being a good member of the community – those were some of the founding principles, I guess you could say. But being authentic was at the heart of everything. And we’ve just continued living and working that way on a daily basis, so now it’s really part of the whole organization.
How do you make that happen on a day-to-day basis?
Well, one thing is we try to lead by example. For instance, we knew we were going to make mistakes while we were starting out … and we were open to learning and growing from those mistakes instead of dwelling on them. We encourage our team to take the same approach. We emphasize teamwork and empower the team as much as we can, and in fact most of the best new ice cream ideas come from them!
We try to maintain a strong, positive presence in every location. For that first year especially, we were totally hands-on. We did all the scooping ourselves and really got to know our customers, our employees and our suppliers by having just normal, real conversations as we all worked together. Happy customers, happy staff, happier communities. It’s awesome when see our employees doing the same kind of thing now within that framework.
Great leadership! Thanks for taking the time to talk today.