Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Milky Way: a lesson in marketing

March 16, 7:30 pm. Photo courtesy June Seaman
Regina's Milky Way Ice Cream Store opened for its 62nd season on Thursday March 15.  There was a line up from the time it opened and there will be a line up until it closes on the long weekend in mid-October.  I have been there twice already.  There were a dozen people in line at the two windows both times; as each would get their order and move away, others would come to take their place. In summer, when the weather is hot there will be three windows operating and people lined up down the block.

Inside there will be an unknown (to me) number of people rotating in an orderly fashion, appearing at the window, taking the order and cash, moving away to fill the order, while another person moves to the window to take the next order. The person who took your order will eventually appear and thrust ice cream out the window so you better remember what you ordered. This goes on all day.  Not sure what the hours are but they get fairly long in summer.

Many is the highschool and university student who found summer employment at Milky Way.  Their ice cream scooping arm would be fairly powerful by the time they left,too.

The choices are enough to make every one happy but add minutes to the decision process.  At least three dozen hard ice cream, two dozen milkshake flavours, two dozen sundae flavours, plus the usual banana splits and other fancy stuff. Soft ice cream in at least chocolate and vanilla with half a dozen dips and another half dozen coatings. You know, sprinkle dinkles and such like.

They also sell hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and pizza but I never met anyone who actually ordered them.  Well, OK, I ordered a hamburger years back just to see.  It was a good hamburger, fresh off the grill but who goes to Milky Way for a hamburger?

What is their secret?  Anyone familiar with the ice cream business will tell you there is nothing extra special about the ice cream or the menu.  There are other ice cream stores in town where you don't stand in line and have a place to sit down, including the DQ. Of course, Milky Way is on social media these days but I doubt it has changed much other than that is how you reach the young people.

So why the love-affair line-ups? I would say four things contribute to their popularity.

  1. Location: Milky Way is on a main drag, and easy to get to. Plus next door is a strip mall with parking, there is street parking on both sides and a side street plus a bank parking lot in evenings and weekends. Constant turn over means there is always a place to park.
  2. Seasonality: Open only for seven months, Milky Way closes leaving people wishing they were still open a little longer.  Fans can hardly wait for spring to come and stand in line in the freezing cold to get the first ice cream cone. 
  3. Tradition: Sixty-two years is a long time. Milky Way has been there forever and grandparents are taking their grandchildren for a treat. How many ice cream stores make the front page of the daily paper when they open in the spring, complete with picture? It has happened more than once.
  4. Line-Ups: Crowds of people attract more people because "it must be good ice cream, if people are lined up".  No one minds the line.  Your neighbours and friends might be there and if not make new friends. 
The bottom line is, regardless of what reason tells you to be true, Milky Way ice cream just tastes better than anywhere else.

10 comments:

  1. Well, that decides it, if I am ever in Regina, no matter what the weather or the time of day, I will join the line up for an ice cream treat at The Milky Way. In fact, that might be reason enough to visit Regina!

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    1. For sure. I'll buy. We have lots of good art galleries too, that you might show in.

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  2. Mmmm, now I want Milky Way ice cream! I think you're right in your analysis of their popularity; and now that everything is available in pre-packaged, pre-polished, chain-store uniformity, maybe uniqueness is helping the Milky Way, too. People like to feel as though they're supporting Mom and Pop instead of yet another faceless corporation.

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    1. Some truth to that but there is another locally owned coffee shop and ice cream parlour across town with 42 varieties of soft ice cream that likely does good business but I haven't been there and it is open year round.

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  3. I love places like this! And only Canadians would eat ice cream outdoors in winter.

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    1. And do it standing outside in a snow storm. I have seen it.

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  4. I'm with Debra on this..love it.and the minute it gets cold I run and buy ice cream.

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    1. Ice cream is good any time. And cold in Texas is what? 39F

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  5. We drove through Regina many years ago, but didn't see this place, or at least I don't remember it. If we go there again, I'm going to have to check it out!

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    1. Do that. Last night we drove by about 8:30. It was -20 with a wind and there were two couples standing at the windows waiting for their order.

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