“Success comes when other people love what you do.” – Claudia Schneider
Claudia Schneider, owner of Hawaiian-shaved-ice-business Lani Ice, is a recent graduate of San Diego State University, completing her undergraduate degree in 2.5 years. Since 2016, she has been smoothly running the business alongside her father and younger brother, expanding the menu to now include açaí bowls, smoothies, and poke bowls. Channeling her passion for art, Claudia has also diversified revenue for Lani Ice through t-shirt designs and paintwork on the business’ shack and tour bus. The Penn Innovators in Business team believes she has incredible charisma and a clear vision which we can all learn from.
What inspired you to start Lani Ice?
“My dad has always been an entrepreneur, and I’ve seen him start five businesses in my childhood. We have an abandoned house down the street, and when I was 13 I wanted to turn it into an ice cream shop. But, the guy who owned the place used it for storage and the idea went away. When I was 15, [my family] went on vacation to Hawaii and had shaved ice.
Then, the idea came back around starting an ice cream business. We thought people would love this. My dad jumped on board too because he wanted to show my brother and I how to start a business. This was in March 2015. For the rest of the year into 2016, the project was in the talks, and then in the fall we started really moving. I took on everything to do with the logo, the menu, the recipes, the design of the building, the design of the t-shirts–everything creative. My brother built the shack; it’s 10 by 10, completely solar powered with all of the water tanks in the back. It’s so self sustaining; we could put it anywhere and it would run the same as long as there’s sunlight.”
How did you get the word out?
“My brother and I were in high school at the time, and started making flyers and posters before our grand opening in May 2016. I started designing T-shirts and selling them during lunch in the cafeteria. Support from other students worked out really well because they would go home and tell their parents and siblings about it. I think word of mouth was our main tactic in getting the word out before we opened. I realized it didn’t work to focus on social media or the website before the business opened, especially when there’s no business to show, no menu, no reviews.”
Has COVID-19 affected running the business?
“Because we operate on solar energy, we usually start selling the first weekend in May. This year we didn’t open because 1) the weather was too chilly 2) COVID-19, but once we did open, I was terrified. We started online ordering and I set up a texting system that made sure the shaved ice wouldn’t melt before customers came to pick it up. When we moved into the yellow phase and nicer weather, things normalized and customers moved away from online ordering to in-person. We installed a plexiglass to protect us from any face-to-face contact.
The one bummer is not being able to use our food truck for graduation parties, birthday parties, music festivals, and farmer’s markets. We recently broke even on the price that was used to cover the cost and I was super excited for this summer to market and schedule event bookings. Because of COVID-19, parties were cancelled and we decided to cancel our insurance on the bus this year.”
How did you define success when you started the business? Has that changed?
“It hasn’t changed much. For me, it’s being happy, doing something you love, and success comes when other people love what you do. When I was younger, I would have just said pursuing something you love. I was into art, wanted to paint all day, and didn’t want to work in an office. Now, success feels more fulfilling when I read Lani Ice’s Facebook reviews, Yelp reviews, and see that people love our service. It’s the best thing you can hear as a business owner.”
What skills coalesced between Lani Ice and being a college student?
“My takeaway from going to university was that I was reinforcing the textbook version of what I learned from operating Lani Ice. My marketing class essentially placed a vocab word on my own real-life examples. Specific classes like Franchising and Social Entrepreneurship allowed me to come up with ideas of how I could grow Lani if I wanted to and was very helpful to learn in school before trying out blindly.
School also helped me with time management. Adding college courses throughout summer last year was a huge time commitment. I would wake up at 6:00 AM to take Microsoft classes, then run Lani, not stepping a foot into the house until 11:00 PM.”
What is one life lesson that you have learned from Lani Ice?
“Work hard, put in the hours that it takes and more. I dedicate more than 50 hours a week to the business, but the first year was nonstop. When I was at home, I was researching for Lani Ice. When I was at Lani Ice, I was improving it. There’s always work to be done to improve your business; you don’t just let go after the initial phase. Every time an improvement is made, people notice, and you and your business grow.”
Why Lani Ice and not another job?
“We always thought of Lani Ice as the perfect business model for a teacher, for example, who has a job during the school year but is free during the summer to earn extra income. Lani Ice was how my brother and I paid for college. In the beginning, we put our life savings and our dad helped us grow the business. It’s not sustainable as someone’s sole income, but it may be possible if we had five Lani Ice locations and made it into a franchise. Right now, I’m planning to move back to California and would like to take an apprenticeship as a tattoo artist and eventually start a tattoo shop of my own.”
Advice to youth interested in starting a business?
“Before you do anything, make sure it’s the right market. Look at the area and demographics, and make sure that it works. For instance, Lani Ice is absolutely perfect for this location because we have nearby developments being built and many families with young children live here. I don’t think we would do as well in a college town where there’s less families.
Government permits are also another consideration. It took Lani Ice months to get permits. People often overlook that when starting a business because you tend to focus on the fun components, but it’s equally as important to pay attention to logistics since they will help execute your exciting ideas into action.”