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Salt Lake City – Self-proclaimed “school of hard knocks” graduates and brothers Carl and Gordon Rupp have spent years working in the shaved ice industry, where their unique inventions—and lots of trial and error—have changed the snow cone business around the world.
The Rupps, who co-own Salt Lake city-based Snowie Shaved Ice, have been influencers in the shaved ice industry for 35 years. They started Snowie Shaved Ice 16 years ago, and since then have sold thousands of their products, from kiosks to ice shavers, to people who want to own their own businesses.
The Rupps said it’s hard to know how many Snowie “owners” there are, or those who have purchased Snowie carts, kiosks and buildings, because the business doesn’t charge a franchise fee or annual royalties.
“People buy the products from us and they go out and do their own business,” said Aaron Rupp, marketing director for Snowie Shaved Ice and Carl and Gordon’s brother. “They can take it and set it up and then run it when and where they want. They can start off with spending less than $1,000 to the extreme of $75,000, which is a Snowie Bus.”
However, like a franchise, the business does provide webinars that instruct people on how to run their business, Aaron said.
“We also hold an annual training that people can come out here to attend,” he said. “We have everyone from 12-year-old kids who have their parents help them to families trying to figure out what their college kids can do to pay for school to retired people running these businesses.”
Snowie supplies owners across the United States and in 40 other countries, including Israel, Nigeria and Poland. Aaron said 90 percent of people who buy a $30,000 building from Snowie are able to pay it off after their first summer in business.
“To run a business is not all fun and games—it’s work,” Carl said. “When I started shaved ice, there was [so much potential.] I felt how Henry Ford probably felt about automobiles. What was out there was rough and dirty, but it has evolved, just like the automobile has.”
It took the brothers 15 years to finish building their block ice shaver, which can hold a 10-plus pound block of ice and shave 12 8-ounce servings of ice a minute, because they wanted to perfect it. The shaver’s unique cheese grater-like blade, instead of the traditional knife-like blades, was an aspect that took a lot of trial and error. But because the Rupps took their time, they now have a machine that’s not only extremely safe, but is also extremely fast. “The machine we started first is the one that took us the longest to invent, but we just do it until we get it right,” Carl said.
Gordon said over the years, “shaved ice truly has evolved and if you’re not evolving, you’ll fall behind. We’re constantly reinventing the wheel.”
Just this year, the Rupps invented a satellite cart, which is a small cart with wheels that has a small ice shaver and a flavor station attached, where customers can choose their own mix and amount of flavors.
“Everything we build fills a little niche,” Gordon said. “Instead of someone having a stand and buying a separate flavor station, we decided to merge it all into one, so it’s very affordable to get started and it lets you set up in places that normally you couldn’t, like a small corner in the Energy Solutions arena, for example.”
Snowie has also come out with a new line of natural snow cone flavors. “Everything about them is natural, like the color is made from red beet instead of Red 40,” Carl said.
Not only are Snowie’s syrup flavors made in house, but the ice shavers, carts and kiosks are as well.
“We make all of our parts,” Carl said. “The top, the attic, the roof, the counter, the aluminum floor.”
“We literally manufacture everything,” Aaron said. “We’re almost like a handful of businesses in one, because we’re printing [our own banners and labels], we’re welding, and we’re doing fiberglass work. We even make our own [wheel] axles.”
All of Snowie’s carts and buildings also have built-in water systems so health departments can quickly sign off on the business, Aaron said.
“Everything is pre-done for [our owners],” he said. “When we first started coming out with stands, we made everything so it can be sprayed down inside and out. Health departments love that.”
Snowie makes four shavers, from a home counter-top size up to a block ice shaver. Snowie has sold 27,000 units of just the home ice shaver. It has been available on Costco.com and should be in brick and mortar stores by next year, Gordon said.
Overall, the Rupp brothers have loved their careers in the shaved ice industry, mainly because Snowie continues to grow each year, and more and more people are able to own their own Snowie carts for their own businesses.
“That’s really what we’re about, is just helping people,” Aaron said. “We can help them to start getting their feet wet. The drive behind it is exciting.”