There are so many incredible small businesses out there and we’re always looking to showcase their stories. Jen Smith, our resident email blogger, took some time to catch up with one of them.
When nurse Katy’s husband gifted her a clapped out, old ice cream van for Christmas, little did she know she was about to start Pinks Vintage Ice Creams – a successful wedding ice cream van business, which her daughter Georgia would later join.
Whilst it’s been 15 years since that life-changing Christmas, Katy still vividly remembers the first thing that crossed her mind when she saw the van.
“Well, to be honest, I was furious. We all thought he’d gone a bit mad. I was just thinking to myself ‘what am I going to do with it?’ “
“It was a real heap… but then Kevin explained that he thought it’d be the perfect project and business for me and that it meant I didn’t have to go back to my nursing job.”
“I loved my nursing job but was tired of it after 20 years and a career break looking after my son. I started to warm up to the idea.”
Hitting the streets and doing the rounds
After renovating the van, and naming it her after her Mum, Patsy, Katy started a local round in West Sussex and quickly became known as Mrs. Whippy amongst the locals. But Katy found the first few years difficult, coming up against a lot of territorial competitors.
“It wasn’t easy at the start.”
“I wasn’t particularly welcomed by other van drivers and got a lot of hassle from a couple near my patch in particular.”
“It almost made me throw in the towel but the responsibility to look out for the children who bought ice cream from me kept me going. Especially when school kids opened up to me about struggling or being bullied – I was a friendly accepting face at the end of a tough day.”
Out of the frustrations, Katy embarked on a mission to revolutionise the industry.
“There was a lot of stigma around ice cream vans and servers and I wanted to change all of that. For one, my van had to be utterly spotless (blame it on years as a nurse!).”
“Plus, I love spreading a bit of happiness, even if it’s one ice cream at a time.”
From ice cream round to wedding business
And, while the business began with a simple ice cream round in the streets of Bognor Regis, a conversation with a regular customer opened up a whole new opportunity for the business that Katy had yet to consider.
“I had my round and was also doing local events, school fairs, and fetes. I was meeting a lot of people and had my regulars.”
“One of whom asked if I’d bring my van to her wedding and serve ice cream to her guests. I couldn’t turn that one down. From there, word got out and we started picking up more and more wedding bookings, and Pinks Vintage Ice Cream was born.”
Becoming a family business
Katy had been running the business for almost ten years and knew it was time to expand, bringing on more staff and expanding the fleet of vans.
At the time, Katy’s daughter, Georgia, was in her second year of uni studying radio production, but little did she know her daughter wanted to be a part of the business.
“We thought she was happy. But when she came home that summer she shared that she was homesick and missed us and that she wanted to join the business instead of finishing her course.”
“We’ve always been close and Georgia knew this was the right decision. So it was wonderful to have her join me on the rounds and learn the trade.”
“She’s an integral part of the business and we’re so lucky that we get on and have a lot of fun together!”
15 years of fun and hard work…
After Georgia joined the business, they added another van to the fleet, Terrence, (named after Katy’s dad) and a vintage Pashley ice cream tricycle called Rosey (named by their social media fans when they introduced it to the fleet).
With the two vans and tricycles, Katy and Georgia have established themselves as the go-to ice cream van for weddings, parties, and events across the South.
“We’ve been so lucky to be a part of so many people’s special days – whether it’s their wedding, christening, birthday or graduation.”
“We meet so many amazing people – including a few celebs like Kate Winslet and Keith Richards. I also don’t complain when I have a team of Rugby players to serve!”
As well as the joy of the job, being named Mobiler of The Year by the Ice Cream Alliance in 2015 was a real honour for Katy.
“I’m very proud that Georgia is following in my footsteps having been nominated last year and being a judge at this year’s event.”