If you're a Philadelphia firefighter who wants a secondary income, how do you come up with a solid idea? Bob Tumolo, 49, president of Rita's Water Ice Franchise Corp., took a shower.
It was while in the shower at the gym that Tumolo overheard a conversation between two men discussing business, money and fat-free, cholesterol-free desserts called water ice. That meeting resulted in the opening of the first Rita's Water Ice in May 1984, in a suburb of Philadelphia. The first store did so well that it grew to four and began franchising in 1989. Now Tumulo has the nation's largest Italian ice chain. Not bad for a company with start-up costs of only $20,000. With current sales figures of $38 million and 2,500 employees in 209 stores, Rita's Water Ice Franchise Corp. is booming.
With Rita's operating in nine states, Tumolo takes a careful approach to growth. "In 1996, we were gearing up for a progressive growth strategy and it never materialized. So what we've done now is taken a step back," he says. "Our goal is to be a strong regional company rather than a national one, to be strong from DC to Boston."
Rita's trademark: including natural ingredients in their 19 flavors of water ice and five flavors of cream ice, adding chunks of fruit to the desserts and ensuring freshness by throwing out any unused product. Tumolo's life is very different from his days of fighting fires . . . or is it? Of the time after he started the business but before he quit firefighting, Tumolo remembers, "My mom manned the store while I was at my fire-fighter job. I was working right around 100 hours a week. Now, I work closer to 99." Spoken like a true entrepreneur.
Rita's Water Ice Franchise Corp., (800) 677-RITA, www.ritasice.com.