Greig Perantinos recognized people’s insatiable summer appetite for ice cream and the shortcomings of local ice cream vendors in his area, so he pounced on the opportunity to fill the gap in the market.
Perantinos, a fourth-year student at the University of Western Ontario‘s Richard Ivey School of Business, wasted no time turning his business ideas into reality. Before he was 20, he opened his first Cool Moose Creamery store in Tottenham, Ont. Since then he has expanded his business to neighbouring Alliston and will be opening a new store this year in Cookstown.
Each store has generated considerable buzz among local residents, while excellent service and community involvement keep customers coming back. Perantinos has proven that small towns are no match for his big ideas
Q. As a student with little professional experience, how did you negotiate and convince investors, suppliers, etc., to do business with you?
A. I really had to do a good job communicating my vision …, how I was going to do it, and really prove to them that I was going to be successful. Otherwise they didn’t want to have anything to do with me.
That was one of my biggest challenges; landlords, insurance brokers, suppliers, all these different people who are critical to the business. It was hard to get them on board with me because I wasn’t even 19 when I started approaching them. They thought I was crazy opening up a retail store. It was unheard of to them, but I was able to talk to them about my business plan, I told them what I wanted to do and why it was going to be successful and they bought into it. Fortunately the company went really well right from day one.
Q. How have you tweaked your business plan and strategy to meet changing demands throughout the summer and in each city?
A. My business is constantly evolving. I started out just with ice cream. I had an opportunity to buy a frozen yogurt machine which is a very expensive machine (up to $7000 new). I didn’t even know what frozen yogurt was, but I decided to take a risk and try it out and it turned out to be very successful, so that changed my business dramatically right away within the first month.
Q. You currently attend Western’s Richard Ivey School of Business. Have you received any advice or mentorship from faculty there?
A. Tons. The professors there are great. They take time to sit down with me and talk about my business and they’re happy to help and share tons of advice of different parts of the business on everything from operations to accounting. Also, my friends there in my class, they’re always happy to brainstorm ideas and think of things and a lot of them have come up to check us out.
I’m the only one operating with a retail store, but a few of them are working for themselves in different types of businesses like landscaping, roofing, painting. They’re pretty interested in what I’m doing. The business school education and operating the stores really complement each other; the practical experience of running a business with the more theoretical side of doing cases.
Q. What has been your strategy for recruiting employees and managing them?
A. I just try to get people who I can trust and who are going to be outgoing and enthusiastic with customers. Those two things are the most important things to me. They’ve really bought into the whole concept of a fun ice cream parlor.
It’s a fun place to work because everyone’s happy when they buy ice cream, so they really enjoy it. I don’t want them to feel like this is just another summer job where they’re winding down the hours until the day is over. I want them to look forward to working.
As an example, sometimes a girl who works for me will come in for a ice cream and it’ll start to get busy and I won’t even ask her but she’ll behind the counter scooping before I even know it. That’s how much fun they have there. I’ve been lucky to have motivated people that really do a good job.
Q. How have the lessons you have learned from business school compared with your real-life experiences as a small business owner?
A. At Ivey it’s all case studies, which I really love. It’s a very practical education. When you’re doing a case study often there will be an experience from the ice cream parlour that I can contribute to the class and say this is how it really works. It’s easy in a case study to say ‘just do this, do that.’ In reality, it’s a lot of steps to get to it. There are a lot of different processes from government approval and other things that take time that’s not always evident enough in case studies. So that puts it into perspective from that way.
Q. Is Cool Moose Creamery strictly a summer business for you while in university, or something you want to work on growing full-time after graduation?
A. I’m really debating right now and have been for a long time, especially the last eight or nine months; trying to decide whether I’m going to do this after university or not. I’ve always wanted to work for myself and have entrepreneurial-ness in my blood. I would like to be an entrepreneur my whole life, it’s just a matter of whether I want to work for a couple of years in a big company and gain some corporate experience or go right into it right away after school. Honestly, it’s about which learning experience will be more valuable for the rest of my career; having a corporate job for a couple years and then going into it and then going into an entrepreneurial venture, or right off the bat?