Entrepreneur in Action: Alex Rein of Kelvin Natural Slush Co.

First of all, apologies for a complete lack of posts over the summer. I was busy working in the Equity Research arm of Credit Suisse in New York City. While there, I had the pleasure of meeting Alex Rein, founder of Kelvin Natural Slush Co. What follows is an interview with Alex and more information on his slushie truck in NYC:

1. What inspired the idea for Kelvin Slush? 

I’ve always liked the slushes that were offered at convenience stores, but you get to a certain point in your life and they just seem to be too sweet and sugary, and they just have an adolescent quality about them so you stop drinking them.  I still really liked slushes, so I wanted to offer a more grown up version. 

2. What made you take the leap into entrepreneurship? If this is not your first entrepreneurial venture, what has your background been so far? Additionally, was there a key-turning point that made you decide to go after the Kelvin Slush idea and turn it into reality? 

This is my first entrepreneurial venture after working as an attorney for three years at a large corporate law firm. The idea behind Kelvin Natural Slush Co. was something I had been kicking around for several years prior to taking the leap and I really liked the concept and thought that if it were done properly it had a good chance of being successful.  It was not a business that had been tried before, but it seemed as though there would be a sizeable market of people like me who grew up drinking slushes but stopped when they hit adulthood.  I decided to go for it because my legal practice was slowing down with the downturn in the economy and I thought it would be a good opportunity to try something new.  

3. What was the hardest part of the start-up process for Kelvin Slush? 

The hardest part was that this was not only my first entrepreneurial venture but I had next to no background in food service, so I had to deal with all of the traditional first time start-up challenge as well as learn a whole new industry. 

4. How much does a big blue food truck cost nowadays? 

Everything about the Kelvin Natural Slush Co. truck was built custom, and the slush machines we have are top of the line, so it was not an inexpensive proposition.  The price of a food truck can vary dramatically depending on what  equipment is needed for what type of product.  I have read in the news that a new Mister Softee trucks can cost around $115,000.

 5. Have there been any key individuals/advisers/mentors who have  helped you along the way? 

Early on I met with an advisor at the Small Business Development Center at Baruch College named Ulas Neftci who was extremely helpful in shaping the idea and developing it into a business.  On a less formal basis, my friends and family have been very helpful and supportive throughout this process. 

 6. Why pick a truck as your main method of distribution? 

I initially thought that this would be a brick and mortar operation with a fairly small footprint, but the thought of the expense of opening up a storefront for a wholly untested concept was very scary.  The more I thought about it, the more a truck seemed to make sense.  Trucks are very popular right now, they allow a lot of flexibility, and while it was not cheap to open the truck, compared to a store it was. 

7. Since slushies are very summer-friendly, what will you do in the winter/fall? 

As this is the first winter/fall we will be in operation, I am not entirely sure.  We are going to stay open for as long as people continue to buy slushes, but we will see when that ends up being, right now I think through October at least.  I thought about trying to head south for the winter, but for this year I’m not sure that we will be able to pull it off logistically as we have been so focused on getting the operation up and running that there really has not been time to think about it seriously.  For this year we are probably going to shut down for part of the winter and focus on building the business for next spring.

 8. What are your plans for expansion? 

Again, so much of the focus right now has been on the operational side of the business. I think that once the weather cools down we will be able to spend some time thinking about expansion.  Obviously we would love to expand, but whether that means more trucks or small storefronts I am not sure, we just need to make sure that it is done in a way that makes financial sense. 

 9. How do you manage inventory with a new food venture, and know how  much of each ingredient to buy, when demand is uncertain and products can spoil? 

Inventory management has definitely been one of the operational things we have been learning on the fly.  We use a point-of-sale system in the truck to track sales on a daily and hourly basis (as well as to tell us which of our flavors are the most popular, etc.).  A truck only has so much inventory that you can carry on a given day so we started out pretty conservatively with how much inventory we would bring into the truck each day because we didn’t want to have a lot of waste.  We have been very fortunate that the reception to our product has been much greater than we could have hoped and so we have consistently had to increase the amount of inventory we carry because we were selling out of a lot of things.  This is obviously a good problem to have but we have had to be creative to figure out where to carry everything in the truck!   

10. Any key pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

Be flexible, because no matter how much you plan, things you do not anticipate come up and things go wrong and you will have to adjust.  Don’t be dismissive of naysayers, even if you think that their criticisms are completely unfounded, for two reasons: one, explaining to others why they are wrong about your idea is useful in developing your concept, and two, sometimes you get so enamored with your idea as a whole or an aspect of it that you may fail to see an obvious flaw.  

11. What are the 3 most influential books you have ever read?