Creativity helped founder define, fill a marketplace need
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams serves up success by knowing what it does best and putting the right amount of energy into it.
“I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I learned early how it’s important to make something extraordinary while making it as easy as possible for people to buy and enjoy it,” owner Jeni Britton Bauer said. “People didn’t know they wanted spicy ice cream until we showed them. We had to create the market by showing people what we do.”
Britton Bauer began her adventures in retail ice cream manufacturing in 1996 with Scream, her first attempt at a stand in the North Market.
“When I had Scream, one of the big lessons I learned is that our ice creams were unusual, and at the time, easy to pass up, since there wasn’t the normal offerings like chocolate chip,” she said. “I had to learn to make our shop welcoming by giving away lots and lots of samples and not asking people to necessarily buy anything. They found that they were really having this crave-able experience.”
Lessons on how to make creative products and then market them to customers started early in life for Britton Bauer, she said.
“I think a lot of these seeds get planted when we’re children. One of my grandmothers was an artist; my other grandparents had a business they ran. They always encouraged my sister and me to find a need and fill it in the community,” she said. “Whatever that was — lawn mowing or, for us, we’d go to my grandmother’s and learn to knit flowers and things, and then we’d find people in the neighborhood to buy what we made.”
Britton Bauer attended The Ohio State University to study fine arts and art history before a job at a local French restaurant led her to experiment with making ice cream.
“I was working at La Chatelaine, learning so much from the French chefs there, and I started making pastry and such, and I thought it would be fun to take the French techniques but make very standard American treats,” Britton Bauer said. “But I didn’t really get far into it because I got stuck on experimenting with ice cream.
“I had some essential oils around because of my interest in experimenting with perfumes, and that was when I first decided to mix cayenne pepper and chocolate ice cream — and that’s how history was made.”
Working for the locally owned restaurant gave Britton Bauer an insight into how to be successful with her own small business. It now employs up to 300 people during the busy summer months, with 10 storefronts, almost 300 wholesale customers nationwide and her biggest business: online mail order sales.
“We built our business incredibly slowly,” she said. “It’s ramped up faster over the past two years, but we started in 2002, and Scream was open from 1996 to 2000.
“I believe you won’t fail if you make an exceptional product,” Britton Bauer said. “Start very slow and on a shoestring — don’t borrow a bunch of money right off the bat. Instead, spend time learning what it is that you’re here to do, and build the right team to do it.”
In 2010, Britton Bauer hired John Lowe as company CEO, something she said was a key to its continued success.
“One of the very important keys as an entrepreneur is to have a keen understanding of your strengths and the ability to put all of your energy in to that,” Britton Bauer said.
“Mine are having vision, doing design work and creating flavors and customer service, getting details right. But I’m not good at business development or doing things like getting Ugandan vanilla through customs — and John is great at that side of the business.
“So we’re a perfect team that way. We have the sort of A-Team between me, my husband, Charly, brother-in-law, Tom, and then John. We all have our strengths and work well together to shine.”