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Ample Hills: The Cream of the Crop?

A charming ice cream shop in Brooklyn turned national sensation, and quickly found itself at a precarious crossroads.

Did they ride the wave of their surging popularity and rapidly scale? Or tread a more cautious path, potentially missing their opportunity to become the next Ben & Jerry’s?


Can you guess which strategy Ample Hills chose and find out whether they succeeded or melted down in this month’s Strategy Standoff?

Background: Ice cream maker gets a big opportunity.


Born out of a passion for authentic, handcrafted ice cream, the husband-and-wife duo Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna set out on a mission in 2011 to bring back the genuine, old-world ice cream parlour experience.


They prioritised quality over all else, dedicating themselves to creating every batch from scratch and coupling unconventional, handcrafted flavours with compelling storytelling.


Before long, their small neighbourhood ice cream shop was bustling with locals and tourists alike, all keen to taste their creative flavours - Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, anyone?


And then came their big break.


Oprah Winfrey is renowned for her Midas touch when it comes to promoting brands. Her "Favourite Things" lists have propelled products and businesses into success many times before.


And once Ample Hills' ice cream was endorsed by her, they gained a nationwide following almost overnight.


Ample Hills was also on Disney CEO Bob Iger’s radar.


Soon, he tasked Ample Hills with creating 'Dark Side' and 'Light Side' flavours, themed around Disney’s iconic Star Wars franchise - a match that perfectly combined the creativity and fan engagement of both companies.


Even more significant was the proposal to establish an Ample Hills Creamery outpost at Disney World - one of the most visited theme parks globally.


The Strategic Challenge.


This was an unprecedented opportunity for the small, boutique creamery to expand its footprint and brand visibility enormously.


Yet, rapid growth often incites strategic dilemmas. As Brian and Jackie navigated their success, they found themselves standing at a critical junction.


How would they grow Ample Hills to capitalise on their newfound fame, without sacrificing the brand values that got them to this prestigious position?

The Strategy Standoff

Strategy A: The Tortoise

Ample Hills could grow gradually. They could cut ties with Oprah and Disney and focus on their current stores, slowly open new ones as they grow.


This would allow them to maintain quality control, carefully choose new locations, and grow their brand organically.


Financial risks would be lower, but they would miss out on fully capitalising on the momentum generated by the once in a lifetime Oprah endorsement and the Disney partnership.

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Strategy B: The Hare

Ample Hills could fully leverage the Oprah/Disney connections and rapidly expand to meet demand.

This would mean opening many new stores, hiring more staff, and opening a new store in Disney World.


They would take on substantial financial risk, however, they would maximise the growth opportunity from the famous endorsements.


The PR momentum alone could skyrocket them to becoming the next Ben & Jerry’s.


So, Which Did They Choose?

Cast your vote to find out!

Better luck next time, Strategy B was chosen!

Good Job, Strategy B was chosen!

But did it work out for Ample Hills...

Expert Facilitator Commentary By Matt

Matt Braithwaite-Young

Managing Partner

t +61 2 9002 3100

Taking on Strategy B, Ample Hills was determined to make the most out of the momentum generated by Oprah's endorsement and the Disney partnership. Their aggressive growth strategy involved significant investments, notably a $6 million factory in high-cost Red Hook, Brooklyn, designed to boost production while showing their commitment to community.


Within just four years, Ample Hills expanded to a total of 14 locations. From their native New York to Los Angeles, following through on their Disney World deal. The company hoped this rapid, high-stakes growth would transform them into the next big player in the ice cream industry.

However, this rapid expansion came with substantial financial strain. The costs involved in opening the factory and new stores, along with escalating operational expenses, pushed the company's finances to their limit.


In March 2020, Ample Hills filed for bankruptcy. The growth strategy they had adopted had overextended the company, leading to its financial downfall. Their vision of becoming the next Ben & Jerry’s was left unfulfilled, swallowed by a sea of debt and operational challenges.


Ample Hills' story teaches a valuable lesson to businesses at similar crossroads. It emphasises the importance of planning your strategy. Every strategic decision should be carefully analysed by as many people involved in the business as possible, to identify the best option to meet your business goals sustainably.


Strategy facilitation can help businesses navigate these complex decisions, helping you unlock the right strategy with industry-tested methodologies.


Your strategic visions deserve the commitment of your entire team. With Turning Leaf, you’ll create plans that not only get done, but drive transformative change within your business.


When you're ready to take your strategy to the next level, feel free to give me a call on my personal mobile at 0410 598 538.

For more information on this case, read this article from The New York Times.

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