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Ice Cream Slingers Turn a Good Product Into a Great Customer Experience

by Jeanne Bliss  |  
May 14, 2013

Amy’s Ice Creams in Austin, Texas, is beloved for two things: the ice cream and the floor show. 

Ice cream scoops are thrown from one worker to another and caught in cups balanced on their chins... while standing on one foot... hopping. You’ll see ice cream slingers sliding across the counters on their knees and bellies. It’s a carnival ride in there.

Finding people who are fearless and creative enough to come up with stunts like flinging scooped ice cream across a room just can’t happen in the normal interview process. How exactly do you ask, “Are you a little bit nuts?” You can’t. So, at Amy’s, applicants receive a white paper bag that must be brought back within a week turned into a creation that tells Amy’s about who they are.

Without the Right People, This Is Just Great Ice Cream

By using a plain white paper bag as its job application, Amy’s management gets to know the creative soul lurking within the teen candidate standing before them. That idea began with an applicant who was given the bag instead of the boilerplate job application because Amy’s had run out of the forms. The applicant floated the bag back into the store with helium balloons; inside the bag were items about her life. She got the job. Now that is how Amy’s fills their shops with people who make getting an ice cream feel like going to the circus.

Revel in “Being Real”

Amy’s exceeds $6 million in gross annual sales and one million ice cream servings. The Amy’s Ice Creams Web site says, “Amy’s looks at ‘going out for ice cream’ as a total sensory experience that can revitalize a less-than stellar day.” Part of the joy of going to their ice cream shops is wondering what kind of floor show you’ll be greeted with. Getting the right people to work at Amy’s has spurred their growth from a single location in 1984 to over 15 stores 26 years later. In 1984, Amy’s served 125,000 servings of ice cream. Now, they sell well over one million a year, with gross annual sales exceeding $7 million.

Like many beloved companies, Amy’s Ice Creams doesn’t advertise. Word of mouth builds the business, and they redirect marketing money to community development, which fuels more word of mouth. Amy’s represents the power of the small-business owner and how service and exceptional experiences can build their business. Amy’s Ice Creams prospers because it revels in being real. In being their kooky, nutty selves. That people love. This translates even to the Amy’s Web site, where the front page welcomes you with “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first!” Sound advice.

So, what can marketers learn from Amy's?

What's your white paper bag

Get real in how you hire and bring people into your company.

  • First, define the core values of people you want to fill your company.

  • Next, determine the personality of your company. Are you serious and deliberate? Are you whimsical?  Have you thought about it?

Examine your current hiring process.

  • Are you deliberate about selecting people who will deliver your dis­tinct personality to customers?

  • How would your customers say you are doing?

  • Do customers rave about how unique you are today?

  • Do your decisions for selecting people earn you “be­loved” status today?

  • Are you selecting “memory makers” or filling slots?

Decide to be real.

What’s YOUR version of a white paper bag to select people who will become your company to your customers?

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Jeanne Bliss began her career at Lands’ End where she reported to founder Gary Comer and the company’s executive committee, ensuring that in the formative years of the organization, the company stayed focused on its core principles of customer and employee focus. She was the first leader of the Lands’ End Customer Experience. In addition to Lands’ End, she has served Allstate, Microsoft, Coldwell Banker Corporation and Mazda Corporations as its executive leading customer focus and customer experience. Jeanne has helped achieve 95% retention rates across 50,000 person organizations, harnessing businesses to work across their silos to deliver a united and deliberate experience customers (and employees) want to repeat. Jeanne now runs CustomerBliss (, an international consulting business where she coaches executive leadership teams and customer leadership executives on how to put customer profitability at the center of their business, by getting past lip service; to operationally relevant, operationally executable plans and processes. Her clients include Johnson & Johnson, TD Ameritrade, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospitals, Bombardier Aircraft and many others. Her two best-selling books are Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action and I Love You More than My Dog: Five Decisions that Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad. Her blog is She is Co-founder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association.

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  • by Sarah Ward Tue May 14, 2013 via blog

    I love hearing about companies who create an experience for the customer and quickly headed to their website. Talk about disappointing. It doesn't emulate the fun experience created in store at all. Firstly, I couldn't find anything on the home page about the ice-cream throwing to know they do anything different to any other ice-cream shop. This would be an ideal place to add a video. I had to head to youtube to find them...and they're brilliant! Secondly, they could make so much more of the above the fold space, where all I could see was some site navigation and a large image. Even worse, when I clicked on the image, it took me to a page error message - criminal! It's so important for companies to make sure the online customer experience and their brand is reflected across all channels.

  • by Tobias Schremmer Tue May 14, 2013 via blog

    Dang, that dead link on their home page image IS a bummer, Sarah.

    I live in Austin and am *not* a big ice cream eater (which would surprise many who've met me), but I absolutely love this local chain. It's on our "you must see this" list for visitors to Austin. I found Jeanne's article really interesting because Amy's DOESN'T do any marketing... yet it still makes sense to talk about them on MProfs. And while they could probably improve their web site, one could argue they have done very well without putting that much energy/$ into it. Their word of mouth in the cities they serve really does it all.

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