Squeak Soda Shop: Dad-preneur ~ Colorado Springs child photographer

Last weekend, Matt and I were out on date night and stumbled upon the coolest soda shop in Colorado!  It's called Squeak and when you go there, you get to choose your own flavor of soda that they mix right in front of you.  Matt chose mango and I got cupcake. Yep, that's right, I said cupcake. You can order cupcake soda there.  I also got a blackberry chocolate ice cream which was DIVINE!  You can make your own soda floats (kinda like a root beer float) and while you're there, you can play Wii or board games.  We are going to take our kids there tomorrow after a little chore bribery (mwa-ha-ha). We chatted with the owner, Joey, for a while when we were there and I asked if I could interview him on my blog.  We also have plans to collaborate together for a fun upcoming event so be on the lookout for details on that.

Squeak_4color_Fizzy_Hi

What is the name of your business?

Squeak Soda Shop

How did you come up with that name?

I wanted to create a place where we could all feel like a kid again.  And, I wanted a name that was short, memorable, and symbolized childhood.  Squeak comes from the sound that a rubber ducky makes in the bathtub -- certainly an iconic childhood moment.

How long have you been doing this?

We openened on July 8, 2009.  But, I've been working on creating the store full time since August of 2008.

Please explain a little bit about your product/business and how you developed the concept behind it:

I wish I had a short, pithy answer to this, but I don't.  So, here's the long version of what my key inspirations were.

Squeak is an entirely new concept that is not a copy of another store.  The goal was to create a new retail concept that leveraged several trends (both existing and emerging ones).  About 2 years ago, I quit my job as a Senior Marketing Manager at the William Wrigley Jr. Company (the gum company), moved the family from Chicago to Colorado Springs, and began working on starting up Squeak.  I enjoyed the work (I got my MBA from Georgetown University and spent the next 10+ years in the industry at companies like Procter & Gamble, Gerber, and Wrigley), but didn't want to live my life with regrets and wake up one day wishing I had just taken the chance to start my own business.  I've always been an entrepreneur at heart and often "waxed poetically" about the virtues of entrepreneurship.  I guess, I just finally decided to put my money where my mouth was.

There were four primary influences that led to the creation of Squeak.  They were:

1.  The Pop Shoppe: Back in the 70's there were hundreds of Pop Shoppe stores around the US and Canada.  They sold nearly 30 flavors of soda pop in returnable bottles at their own stores.  You'd go in, pick out a crate of whichever soda flavors you wanted, and return the empties when done and were ready for more.  They went out of business in the 80s and were re-opened in 2004 but they did not re-open the independent stores or the returnable bottles.  Today, they sell premium, bottled sodas.  They have pretty good distribution in Canada, but are still very small in the US.  And, today they only have 10 of the original flavors.

2.  The old-fashioned soda shop: In the first half of the 1900s there were thousands of Soda Fountains around the country.  Total industry sales were around a billion dollars.  Most of these stores were housed within Drug Stores.  Few people know this, but the Soda Shop was an American creation.  The hardware was invented in Europe, but the creation of a store where communities would gather, friends would meet and neighbors would share news over a fizzy soda was truly an American phenomenon.  Sadly, these stores died as cheap, bottled sodas made with inexpensive ingredients began to explode across the nation (and the world).  Another factor leading to their demise was the rise of the auto and the advent of big-box retailers.  Together, these factors led to the erosion of small town, corner stores where communities used to gather around the soda fountain.

3.  Starbucks: We all know and either love or hate (or both) Starbucks.  They are an amazing company who has revolutionized the way we think about coffee.  They took a commodity and made it into a premium, daily indulgence that the whole world enjoys.  Starbucks bills itself as the world's "3rd Place".  In many ways, they have filled the void left by the demise of the soda fountain.

4.  Jones Soda: Premium sodas with clever labels designed by customers.  Premium, bottled sodas are making a big comeback.  Jones does an excellent job of engaging their customers and was one of the first truly premium sodas in the nation.  There is even a growing segment that buys Coke that's made in Mexico.  They like it better because it's made with real cane sugar (like Squeak's sodas) and is in glass bottles.  Sam's Club even carries this product now.

Here's how these businesses influenced the creation of Squeak:

1.  The Pop Shoppe -- Variety is the spice of life: As a consumer, I missed the Pop Shoppe.  I missed the joy of its variety.  Plus, I appreciated its simple business model.  They had one product -- Sodas.  Squeak offers 68 flavors of soda.  While we sell other products too, we are careful not to stray too far from our core.  We are a Soda Shop first and foremost.  In early 2010, Squeak will begin bottling our soda flavors in bottles for people to purchase and enjoy a bit of Squeak anywhere.  No longer will Squeak's premium, hand-made sodas be available only in our store.  Initially distribution will remain exclusive to Squeak.

2.  The old Soda Fountains -- The original "3rd Place" needs to be re-invented: I think it's sad that America no longer has many neighborhood soda shops.  They served as a connection point for neighborhoods and families.  But I also think that the stale, nostalgic, 50's styled, soda fountains out there today lack the ability to connect with today's generation.  To put it bluntly, they're old and somewhat stale.  And, they mostly serve Coca Cola or Pepsi products with other syrups to create a few rough approximations of old fashioned sodas.  Basically, these stores provided more inspiration about what I didn't want to do than what I did.  I wanted to re-invent the old soda fountains in a way that I call:  Retro-Forward.  The aim for Squeak was to create a place that offered a "wink and a nod" to the past, but fully embraced the present and was even a leader in our march toward the future.  Our imaginitive decor and innovative soda-creation process(we're in the process of patenting this process) are two examples of our future-leading efforts.

3.  Starbucks -- do to soda what Starbucks did to coffee: I'd like Squeak to do to soda what Starbucks did to coffee.  1. De-commoditize it.  Like cheap coffee, cheap, mass-produced sodas are everywhere.  But, I believe there is a place in the market for high-quality, hand-crafted, custom-made sodas.  2.  Create a fun version of the coffee shop.  I like Starbucks.  But I sometimes think Starbucks (and coffee shops in general) are a bit serious, and even a tad pretentious.  Squeak is designed to be a fun alternative to these places.  It's kind of like a Starbucks for kids and the kids inside us all.  Squeak is a new, happy, and imaginative kind of "3rd place".

4.  Jones Soda -- Fresh, premium and custom-made: Squeak's bottled sodas are similar to Jones (except we'll have over 60 flavors).  But, I think Jones has succumbed to the pressures to grow demanded by investors.  For example, they now sell sodas in aluminum cans.  Soda in glass bottles (or made fresh) simply tastes better.  I think it's sad that they've sold out to the "can".  Our sodas are fresher, made by hand (and not in a giant factory), and, in the store, are made custom for each customer.  We've taken their custom labels all the way to the soda.  And we're working hard to engage our customers too.  For example, if a Squeak customer finishes our "Tour of Fizz" and tries 60 soda flavors, they get to design a soda flavor that we'll sell in the store -- with their name on it.

I you're like me, and see a trend emerging where consumers are beginning to desire modern-day versions of higher-quality products from an age where value meant more than just "cheap", ... then I think you'll be able to see where I'm going with Squeak.  Many people today long for the quality and "goodness" of the past (at least as much of it is perceived).  But, they really don't want to go and live in Mayberry or join the Cleavers.  They want the heart, soul, and quality of the past.  But, they want the energy, innovation, and ease of the future.  My goal in creating Squeak is to create a retail concept and product line that fits nicely within this intersection of ideals.  Sodas are our core, but Squeak's heart is about "fizzy living".  Which is exactly what it sounds like -- a life that's fun, bubbly and soul-ticklingly good!

18 pouring soda2

What makes your product/business so unique?

See above

Do you have a store-front/ website?

The store is located at:  812 Village Center Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80919.  Our website is: www.squeaksodashop.com it was designed by an incredibly generous customer for free (thanks, Tim Christian!).   We also have a facebook page.

What is the hardest part or have been some of your struggles starting your own business?

Boy, where to begin?....You know the old phrase "walk a mile in my shoes...", well, it applies to entrepreneurship too.  I thought I knew what running a business was like since, I'd been responsible for 1/2 a Billion $ businesses as a brand manager before.  But, I quickly discovered that I knew what it was like to "manage" a business, not own it.  And, there is a very, very profound difference.  Hardest part?  It never ever, ever, leaves you.  I am literally working on my business 24/7.  I frequently have to force myself to disengage and think about other things.  Fortunately, I have an amazing wife and 3 beautiful girls to keep me grounded.  Without my wife's emotional and intellectual support, I could not have created Squeak.  Ironically, this support is also one of the hardest parts of being an entrepreneur.  The fear of "losing it all" and letting my family down is very real (and also ever-present).

Another more mundane difficulty:  Just starting the business.  Everything about Squeak is custom-made.  This means that I had to create nearly every element of Squeak.  Many times, I can really see the value of just buying a franchise.  They have a proven concept, training, steady suppliers, marketing plans, etc.  A franchise would definitely take a LOT of the risk out of things.

Of note:  While I bemoan the difficulty of starting something from scratch, perhaps the greatest joy of this whole gig is seeing folks enjoy something that I created with my own mind, hands, sweat and tears.

10 inside squeak

How do you balance your business and your family?

Balance?  Um...I don't think I really have a lot of balance right now.  But I'm trying.  I eat breakfast with my family every morning but almost never have dinner with them.  I have the ability to flex my schedule to get to the important things (like science fair, birthday parties, etc.).  And, again, my wife often saves the day by covering for me at the store of helping out with something when I need to be somewhere else.

What are some of your short and long term goals with your business?

Short term:  Double our daily sales by tweaking the business operations, product offerings, and marketing plan (we have not yet done any advertising).  I have elected to let the business grow organically in the beginning.  Our growth is much slower because of no advertising, but, I believe, we also are developing deeper, more meaningful connections with our customers this way.

Long term:  I want to have 20 Squeak stores accross the nation within the next 10 years.  Then, I'll either sell the business or turn over daily management to someone else and start something else.

*BONUS* If one of your readers comes in, let's their inner child out to play, and says "gobbledeegook", then we'll give them a free mini ice cream cone with their purchase.  :)

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Thanks Joey!  Check it out for a fun place to take your kids (or even for date night)!