Since its launch in 2012, the Kimco Entrepreneurs Year Start (KEYS) program has provided program participants with one year of free rent in a Kimco shopping center, plus educational resources and assistance with business planning, site selection, permitting, and more. Kimco KEYS gives a jump start to entrepreneurs seeking to open their first retail business, service operation, or restaurant.

LogoScott Leotti joined the program a year ago in hopes of turning his business dream into a reality. Now, Scott is the proud owner of a booming dessert restaurant—Snowopolis—located in Kimco’s Montebello Town Square in Montebello, California.

We sat down with Scott to learn more about Snowopolis’ unique desserts and his keys to success.

Could you tell us a little about Snowopolis and what inspired the concept and the name?

Scott Leotti: When I was in high school, I would always rent spots at soccer games and rent shave ice machines and sell the shave ice to everyone. I've always had a passion for shave ice and the tropical flavors. The name Snowopolis came to me randomly; I liked the Greek sound and images in my mind of a big snow city. I got inspired from a few other shave ice locations when visiting and saw great profit margins with little cost. One main thing that caught my attention was how the market for shave ice was not yet saturated—I thought it could be the next big thing for frozen desserts.

How did you get involved with Kimco’s KEYS program?

Leotti: While searching the Internet I came across the Kimco site and saw they had a KEYS program that would help new small businesses get started. The KEYS program really helps a small business with limited capital become successful when in most situations they wouldn’t have that chance.

How did the KEYS program help you turn your business vision into a reality?

Leotti: Kimco KEYS helped me get in the process of saving capital by not having to pay rent monthly for a year to make sure my business would succeed—which indeed it did. Without Kimco, I would not have my successful business up and running and serving thousands of customers weekly to satisfy their dessert cravings. Kimco worked with me closely during the process and was always there. Thank you Kimco.

As owner, what steps did you take during the process to ensure that Snowopolis would be successful after the program? Any key lessons you learned along the way?

Leotti: I have learned many things along the way. One of the main things I have learned is how to deal with getting the correct health and city permits, which took months to do with running into errors and needing to improve those errors in order to open. Many challenges come with opening a food establishment and it gets very stressful at times. Another was the marketing aspect, as I have learned over the months who my target customers are and exactly how to reach them. In the early stages of opening, I had noticed that wasted capital on advertisements wouldn’t be the best fit for my business with the budget I'm working with. Knowing this would definitely help if I were to open a new location, as I would avoid some of the mistakes I have made along the way, which would then save money.

Delicious flavors made fresh daily: Snowopolis has over 120 ShaveIce flavors!

What makes Snowopolis unique from other dessert places?

Leotti: Snowopolis is unique because we concentrate on two main items: our ShaveIce and TableSide S'mores. We have more than 120 ShaveIce flavors—most shave ice locations only have around 40-50 flavors. Our TableSide S’mores is unique just in itself. You can roast your marshmallows tableside via personal mini fire pits. There are no other businesses period that sell tableside S’mores like Snowopolis does. That brings customers in from a wider-mile radius as well.

How do you promote your store and products? Do you use social media?

Leotti: We promote our products via social networks every day along with paying celebrities to endorse our items. We have 10K Facebook fans and 16K Instagram followers, along with Twitter followers and Pinterest followers. We run Facebook ads daily for different products and watch the CTR (click through rate) to monitor the effectiveness of ads. I do tests daily on different ads and run with certain ones. I believe in a variety of marketing for social media which is why we use the most popular media outlets. We let our customers check in on their Facebook account for 10 percent off their order and offer other great deals to get the word spread virally.

Does Snowopolis hold any special events or promotions?

Leotti: We pride ourselves on our niche marketing, special events, and promotions. We host Snow Tuesdays every Tuesday for $1 ShaveIce and we have over 1,000 people show up every week. Also, we do a different celebrity photoshoot for our customers free of charge once a month with a different hot celebrity that’s big in the area to keep our place the new hip trendy location to be at. We aim for celebrities from small reality shows with a large social network following to show up for a customer selfie photo shoot professionally done by my photographers behind a backdrop with our logos and social network handles. Brittanya Razavi from the VH1 reality show Rock of Love and Don Benjamin from Cycle 20 of America’s Next Top Model both have been a part of our selfie photo shoots. After the event, customers can then find their photo with the celebrities on our website, where we gather their cell numbers, emails, and social info for later marketing.

Of course, we also have other marketing promos that I am not at liberty to discuss as they are our own special secrets. We get over 200 new Instagram and Facebook followers per day.

Any plans to expand Snowopolis in the future?

Leotti: Yes, there are definite plans to expand Snowopolis in the very near future. I have been looking around at other locations. With a second location it will be easier and less costly to open due to understanding any mistakes I made in the beginning process of my first location.

What advice do you have for other aspiring business owners?

Leotti: My advice would be not to get discouraged if something fails or goes wrong and to stay positive—keep on working to make the business better and get those customers in those doors. At times if you do feel discouraged for certain reasons, don't let it bring you down or distract you from looking at the bigger picture. There will be times when you have a slow week or two and you get discouraged, but just remember it takes time to build a business with small capital. You will learn from your mistakes to make better decisions in the long run. The biggest risk is not taking any a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks. Remember that!

This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.

  • CATEGORY: Storefront
  • DATE: Wednesday, January 7, 2015