HOW A CENTURY-OLD COMPANY HAS EMBRACED AND THRIVED IN THE MODERN, MOBILE FRANCHISING CONCEPT
ONE HUNDRED YEAR HISTORY
When my grandfather Dominic Francesco Repicci emigrated in 1911 from Messina, Italy to settle in southern Philadelphia, he must have been amazed by the Market Street Subway-Elevated, which had just opened in 1905 – 1908 to provide the city’s first rapid transit line (2015, Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia).
In fact, most Philadelphians were still adjusting to the new electric trolley which replaced horse-drawn street cars in 1897 (I still remember placing coins on the trolley tracks in front of my grandparent’s row house on South 11th Street as a child). Along with his heritage, Dominic brought with him to the New World his family’s Old World recipe for Italian Ice.
At first, Dominic shared our family’s delicious traditional treat with friends and neighbors in South Philadelphia, but it wasn’t long before he found himself busily working to meet an overwhelming demand for the Italian dessert. And that was the birth of Repicci’s Italian Ice and Gelato, our century-old company that has embraced and thrived in the 21st century’s mobile franchising concept with 48 current franchisees.
MEET FRANK REPICI
My name is Frank Repici. You may notice I’m missing a “c” in my last name. My grandfather later decided to drop that consonant after immigrating to the United States to sound more American. But one thing he never changed was his time-tested recipe for his specialty desserts.
My father enlisted during World War II and was stationed at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. Afterwards, he settled in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is where I was raised. But four states and more than 700 miles couldn’t keep my father from visiting his hometown of Philadelphia, taking me with him to visit my grandfather at least every other year. That’s how I fell in love with Italian ice, and decided to bring the product back home with me to Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1998.
I assumed the role of CEO and decided to open a manufacturing plant, which initially supplied concessions for the Chattanooga parks, recreation facilities and surrounding distributors who requested to join the excitement generated by this product, which was new to the South. But the popularity of Repicci’s Italian Ice has continued to grow rapidly throughout the Southeast and across the United States.
FROM TENTS AND TRAILERS TO TRUCKS
In 2005, FDR Enterprises Inc. launched Repicci’s Franchise Group, LLC, sellingevent- based franchises, our first venture into the modern franchise area of mobile franchising. Early trailblazers got their start using seasonal tents at spring and summertime events. But I wanted to find a way to make Repicci’s a full-time and year-round revenue opportunity for our franchisees. In 2010, we decided to add mobile trailers to our franchising model, making it easier and more efficient for franchisees to attend events located further apart. This expanded their territory sizes and increased their revenue potential, but the value of mobile vehicles became apparent.
OUR NEW FOOD TRUCK MODEL
In 2012, we built out our first “Mobile Ice Cream Shop” food truck for my territory in Birmingham, Alabama. As the franchisor, I wanted to put my 30-plus years in sales and marketing to work by testing this new concept on my own business to prove its effectiveness and viability before introducing it to other franchisees. It has been an enormous success, with business growing exponentially over the last two years. In fact, the challenge now is a handling all the opportunities that are coming our way.
Among all the typical venues such as fairs, festival and sporting events, we now have the ability to do short-term events such as corporate catering, wedding receptions, birthday parties and more. We serve as a vendor at all types of events, most recently for the Steel City Jazz Festival, the Hangout Music Festival to the SEC Baseball Tournament at the Hoover Met as well as being a fixture at Barber Motor Sports for events like the Indy Car Race of Alabama.
Our food truck enables us to set up outside businesses that invite us to offer refreshments to their employees during the workday or become part of the “going-out” scene by frequenting popular downtown corners.
EFFICIENCY IS KEY
Especially at events, efficiency with POS is key, because it reduces the “waiting in line time” for customers. In early 2015, my business partner and fellow Repicci’s franchisee, Cam Crawford, my franchising sales consultant, John Fogleman and I agreed to incorporate Mercedes Sprinter food trucks to our franchise model. We wanted a quality food truck to match the quality of the Repicci’s products. The Sprinter is fully self-contained, equipped with a washing station and cold plate freezer system which maintains proper sub-zero temperatures for storing Italian Ice and gelato inside the food truck, so our products are ready-to-serve, just like a mobile ice cream shop, but with healthier and higher quality products than most.
By choosing a food truck with a floor-plan designed to accommodate up to three employees comfortably, selling and service efficiency is increased dramatically. One of our favorite features is the state-of-theart POS with video display at all work stations, which means no yelling orders back and forth. There will be three active Repicci’s trucks by the middle of July.
ENGAGING WITH CUSTOMERS IS ESSENTIAL
While our goal is minimizing the customer’s line time, we decided to turn it into a part of the Repicci’s experience and an opportunity to engage with them. Our new food trucks will have a 46- inch, state-of-the-art, flat screen display where franchisees will have streaming information from our Facebook and Twitter accounts, encouraging the use of hashtags.
In addition, we have contracted with Avid Mobile, a SMS-marketing service that allows customers to text keywords to short codes displayed on the video monitors to receive coupons, location alerts and more. This also creates a database of customers to whom franchisees can send alerts throughout the year. With the help of flash drives, the franchisee can even create custom color menu templates to display for each event they attend.
While the amount of possible selling venues seems endless during the spring and summer, it is challenging to maintain volumes during the colder months. As a franchisor, we are working to meet these challenges by expanding our menu of Real Italian products to include hot beverages and an authentic, hot Italian Sandwich, (details about which are being withheld until introduction). Hot chocolate and freshly-brewed Italian coffee are already on the menu in some Repicci’s locations, and other products are in the developmental stage.
4TH OF JULY WITH REPICCI’S
We also strive to promote products and flavors seasonally and have two special combinations we are offering this summer. Our most popular combination of Italian ice is the “All American,” which has a generous scoop of Blue Raspberry, Cherry and Lemon. One of the most popular gelati combinations is our Caramel Apple, a delightful combination of Sea Salt Caramel Gelato & Green Apple Italian Ice – Magnifico!
And you can bet we will celebrate Independence Day of our great nation with pride. My Repicci’s of Birmingham has five 4th of July events scheduled, and our franchisees nationwide have a total of more than 50 events on the books.
THE FUTURE OF FOOD TRUCK FRANCHISING
We will continue to discover new challenges to overcome as we continue unrolling (pun intended) our food truck model. Just as Dominic Francesco Repicci learned to adapt to a new continent with all the changes of the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the 20th century, Repicci’s is adapting to a new marketing structure based on wheels.
Our company has embraced food truck incorporation as the latest evolution, allowing Repicci’s to take our time-tested products to customers wherever they are. To ensure that we continue to keep our finger on the pulse of the food truck scene, Frank is an officer and on the board of the Greater Birmingham Street Food Coalition.