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How GO! Ice Cream started

Rob was working at The University of Michigan as a videographer – he had been a filmmaker for several years – when he started making ice cream on the side. “I started making so much ice cream, and I got so excited about the science behind how you make ice cream really great.” 

The ice cream started to fill up his freezer at home. “My wife Lara asked, ‘What are you going to do with all of this ice cream?’” 

He decided to take it to work, storing it in the freezer in his office. As word got out about the ice cream, and as more people tried it, “Meetings began being re-scheduled to my office’s conference room, so people could eat my ice cream.” 

Then, people started hiring him to make his specialty ice cream for their events and meetings, weddings, and birthdays. “That’s when I looked into what it would take to run a business.” 

Combining two passions – cycling and making cold treats

“I loved biking and I loved making ice cream. What if I could combine the two?”

Rob found an old industrial bicycle that had been used at an automotive plant near South Lyon. “A foreman would run this up and down the line to carry tools. I took it and refurbished it to make it an ice cream tricycle.” He added a cooler on the back of the bike, where the tricycle once held a container for tools.

From there, Rob started selling his ice cream at the local farmers market on Saturdays. He also began renting out kitchen space. He continued doing this for about three years. 

“Every year the business grew and grew, and I learned a little more.” 

The story behind the name

Rob brainstormed a number of names for his business and ran each one by his wife. (Handlebar Ice Cream was one contender). “I decided on Go Ice Cream because I had discovered that my love and passion for ice cream had changed my life in a positive way and I wanted the name of the business to encourage others to follow what they loved as well.” His relationships grew stronger as he pursued this passion. “My relationship to myself was so much deeper,” he added, as he recognized he was following his heart “and making risky choices” relating to this pursuit.

The importance of being downtown Ypsilanti

Rob began looking for manufacturing space for his business, with downtown Ypsilanti his top choice. “It was important to me to have it in downtown Ypsilanti.” He wanted to share what he was making – from-scratch, made-with-love ice cream – with his community and to make sure that “everyone could have a sense of ownership over it.”

The place he found was boarded up and had once housed offices. A door opened up to an alley. After finding it, he started dreaming about how he could transform it into a place that would not only house his ice cream-making operation, but also allow for an ice cream shop open to the public.

“I looked at it and I thought it was perfect.” All the while, he continued working his day job at U-M. He recalls being in Monday morning meetings, after a late Sunday night of ice cream-making, wishing he could focus on that endeavor full time. 

He decided to rent the building and go for it. The owner of the building is a client of Rehmann; he would later turn Rob on to meeting with Rehmann and eventually partnering with us.

“He is a trusted friend, and I thought, ‘If he uses them and he’s where I want to be [financially speaking/success-wise], I thought I should it give it shot.’” 

Getting started

To be able to rent the space and start his business, Rob needed money – he decided to do some crowdfunding. He and his wife also put in their own money. They got started with help from:

  • 297 donors who gave a total of $30,525  
  • Credit: “We did the riskiest possible thing and put things on a credit card.”
  • Family loans in addition to their own personal contributions 
  • Credit line of $20,000 from their credit union

To give the donors a reason to donate to their start-up ice cream operation – and also to determine the exact demand for their style of ice cream and unique space – Rob and Lara offered free ice cream to donors each week.

“I didn’t want to open a place and answer a need that wasn’t a need. Whenever someone donated that week, they got access to an ice cream event in the alley that Friday.” 

The idea of having an ice cream shop in an alley did mean Rob and Lara endured hearing from some naysayers. Some said people wouldn’t come to an alley for ice cream.

“ But I thought we could make something really cool in the alley and I wanted to test the vision. It ended up being great. People loved it. They were some of the best nights of my life. It was even greater than I thought it would be. ”

Ice cream in the alley

For their Friday evening ice cream events: “It had been an empty alley. It didn’t get used. The wind would blow through it. It was about taking a broom to it, sweeping it out. We put chairs out and handed out ice cream.”

“I would see families who went out to dinner, and they stopped by – the alley would be full of 40 to 50 people, and everyone would be sitting around eating ice cream. Ice cream has this way of building community like nothing else I have ever done.” He compares it some to filmmaking: “It gives people an emotional experience.” 

As people tried his ice cream, they had incredible responses. People would start smiling, start laughing, start crying. It’s amazing what ice cream can do. He once had a woman say, “You just took me back to my grandmother’s garden when I was a little girl.”

The Rehmann experience

Rob knew he needed help making his vision truly come to life and be a success. “When you are starting a business, your vision for it and passion for it is strong. A lot of the time, I see small business owners say they are capable of a lot of things, which they are, and they want to do it all themselves. But I have enjoyed my business and my business has thrived so much more by finding folks to help me whose passions are equal to mine.” 

He’s learned that passionate partners make the best partners, and Rehmann is one of those partners – his advisors clearly are fully invested and passionate about what they do to help businesses thrive, he says.

“ Surround yourself with truly great, truly passionate people who will help empower you to move your vision forward. That’s a lesson I have just learned in the past few years. ”

He previously worked with a local accountant, from a much smaller firm, but it ultimately wasn’t a good fit. He considered going with another smaller firm after that.

“That would have been tragic. It would have saved me $200 or $300 dollars a month, but the overall revenue I can generate and the savings I have been able to recognize [working with Rehmann] far outweighs what I have been able to save. It’s hard to get bigger if you’re operating with more small-time resources.”

The power of a high-quality partnership

“Rehmann, they were a little more out of my league – offering maybe more accounting than I needed, and more expensive that I thought I could afford – but this was the first relationship where I aimed high rather than aiming low and Rehmann has helped me up my game. Rehmann is still leagues above me,” he says with a laugh, “but I find as my business grows, I find more ways we can interact and Rehmann has the expertise to help me as I grow and my business blossoms.” 

“My advisors have a passion for the accounting and the numbers and business of things … it’s so powerful when you meet people who are just as passionate. It increases your ability to make an impact. I feel like even though Rehmann is a large company, and I am a person who employs seven people and makes ice cream, I feel like there’s a lot of similarities in what we do.” 

How his business has evolved – with Rehmann’s help

Coming off a not-so-great relationship with another accountant, Rob was apprehensive going into his first meeting with Rehmann advisors. “My first meeting with Brittany and Laura I burst into tears. I was so embarrassed and so overwhelmed by what our finances looked like. I needed drastic help immediately. And they were really understanding. It was more like a therapist office than an accounting office.” 

“I am self-taught. What that means is I have to be OK with failure and learning things from negative consequences. One of the lessons I had to learn when I went to Rehmann was asking for help.”

The business was $30,000 to $40,000 in debt – back taxes owed to the government – because taxes weren’t filed correctly the first couple of years. “I had no idea, and we were already at a point, we had just opened up – this was maybe two years in – and all of our debt from opening, we were still carrying that. The entire profit margin was going to pay off debt. We were never getting ahead, and we had no operating capital. I felt like a fool, and I felt terrified, and I thought they were going to look at me and think I was the worst business owner.”

“I wasn’t just looking to have someone come in and fix things.” Rob wanted to learn – “so I wasn’t always relying on someone to do these things.” His Rehmann advisors understood and started helping right away.

“ They were very reassuring about our chances for success. They saw me at my lowest in terms of my financial empowerment and they have helped me. ”

How we assisted:

  • Helped implement a different payroll system
  • Worked on integration of website and accounting 

Rehmann runs reports every week (Rob shares the P&L report with his staff, so they know how things are going each week). 

Benefits of having real-time data from his advisors:

“You can be so nimble with it. You can see every single thing you do has an impact on the bottom line every single week. I love being able to show the staff. They can actually see when our product costs are really high during any given month, and we can make adjustments. It’s empowering for them as well.” 

Pandemic changes

During the pandemic, Rob’s employees went on unemployment. Meanwhile, he sold pints of his ice cream – 400 – 600 pints each week – by himself, online and through the alley window of his business, social-distance style. He was able to pay off debt during this time and also start paying himself a salary for the first time. He also realized he could make some changes to become more efficient.

GO! Ice Cream initially served numerous flavors as well as malts, shakes, and banana splits. The store also hosted birthday parties and other gatherings on site. By scaling back the offerings and cutting back on the number of people he employed (he had 14 at one time), Rob was able to pay his team members a higher wage, which was very important to him. He also found a way, with Rehmann’s help, to be able to offer health insurance and pay 100% of it for his full-time employees. He also started paying his employees weekly rather than every other week.

“Rehmann helped me get onto Gusto, a payroll system. And Gusto helps provide the health insurance. Rehmann helped me understand the tax implications of offering health insurance to employees. At no point did my advisors say, ‘That is foolish.’ It’s highly unusual for a small food manufacturer of our size to do something like that [offer health insurance].” 

“ The pandemic has gutted so many places, but I was able to rely on Laura’s help 100% as I figured out all the different loans available, the grants that were available. ”

“She was always forwarding me information. We went into the pandemic still trying to get on the right foot financially and through the course of the pandemic I was able to pay down all of our debt and really reshape business and put it on the right footing. Certainly, having Rehmann in my corner during those times was a huge part of that.”