From Gooey Designs to GUI, IT Helps Ice Cream Chain Deliver

With 1,200 stores in 47 states, the Cold Stone Creamery chain is growing quickly with its do-it-yourself ice cream concoctions. But the acting CIO is trying to whip those do-it-yourself treats into a corporate CRM sundae. (

The managers at one of the nations fastest-growing ice cream chains pride themselves on customers who know exactly what they want sweet-wise when given the tools to make it.

The 1,200-store chain opened its first franchise store 10 years ago and has been gaining momentum ever since.

It plans to open 400 stores this year alone, and expects revenues to hit $425 million, said acting CIO Sally Bell. Most of those franchise openings have come about in the last four years.

But the chains approach focuses on selling a series of dishes and taste combinations recommended by the store—combos that change frequently.

Customers can also create their own combinations. For Bell, though, its discomforting how little the chain and, for that matter, individual stores, know about customer preferences.

The chain knows how many gallons of ice cream it uses a day, but not how they are delivered—in what flavor combinations and with what toppings.

Knowing which combinations its customers prefer would obviously help the company plan supplies, menus and individualized marketing programs.

But the company only started using POS systems three years ago, and doesnt have access to as much data as it could wish, Bell said.

Those initial POS units, from Panasonic, were never intended to deliver sophisticated CRM data.

"When we programmed the POS, we didnt go into the details of the type of [ice cream] creation. We are just saying it is a creation," Bell said, specifying that the system does record the items size, listed as "like it [small]", "love it [medium]" and "gotta have it [large]."

The current POS will also note the number of mix-ins and toppings which, like the size, can directly impact the price, making the POS have to ask that.

"We are limited in the knowledge of what is being ordered by whom," she said.

So Bell has ordered three related IT priorities for the chain: major POS upgrades; a new CRM package; and Cold Stone gift cards (and potentially, loyalty cards).

Envision a crowded summer Saturday night, with the line of ice cream aficionados overflowing from the store.

What if customers could wave a loyalty card as they get in line, alerting the staff that there are 26 known strawberry-ice-cream-lovers in line, so somebody had better bring a new container of strawberry out from the back.

Better to know that now than when the customers get to the front of the line.

Or perhaps regional e-mail alerts could be dispatched when certain flavors need to be pushed. A database of customers that understands their flavor and topping preferences could make those e-mail alerts much more effective.

The premium ice cream scoop shop chain is becoming an icily competitive space, with Cold Stone mixing and topping along with Dairy Queen, Marble Slab, Maggie Moo, Haagen Dazs, Ben & Jerrys and Baskin Robbins.

/zimages/1/28571.gifThe CIOs role today is more of persuasion than dictation. Nowhere is that more true than at $5 billion Emcor. To read more, click here.

Those chains have also moved very far away from the romanticized nostalgic mom-and-pop ice cream parlors of the Norman Rockwell mode.

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