January 2, 2024
WomensNet is pleased to announce the recipient of its 2023 annual $25,000 Year-End Amber Grant.
Take a few minutes to be inspired by her interview with Jama Hernandez about her business growth this year and her plans for the year-end grant.
Hi, my name is Jama with the Women’s Net Advisory Board, and I am so excited to introduce you to our 2023 Amber Grant winners. Today we have with us Nikita, with ZZ’s Ice Cream Cups, and she is our $25,000 Amber Grant winner. Let’s jump right in, Nikita. Tell us a little bit about how things have gone since your $10,000 win and your $25,000 win. And maybe just give us a little bit about your business just so you can refresh our minds.
Thank you so much for having me. My name is Nikita Seal. I’m a serial entrepreneur, a mother of two 8-year-old twins. I own ZZ’s Ice Cream Puffs, which is a local fun, hip food trailer here in the DFW where we serve our magical treats, which are a warm glowing glazed donut stuffed with ice cream and cereal topping. So when you bite into it, it’s hot, it’s cold, it’s crunchy, it’s just, it’s perfection. So we’ve been in business about four years serving our local community.
I’m so excited about the Amber Grant. So our $10,000 grant that we won went to a vehicle because I have a food trailer, not a food truck. I always say food truck, but it’s a food trailer, you actually have to pull it with your personal vehicle. So my personal vehicle that I was pulling the food trailer with was showing its age and breaking down. So I was able to get another vehicle. That keeps us running! And for the $25,000 grant- I’m so excited. We plan on developing an app so that our customers always know where we are. And think like Starbucks- you know, the fun points, the cool promotions. We plan on doing that a lot more- marketing and then hiring more staff.
That is so awesome and so much fun. And we love your flavor combinations!
So you used the $10,000 grant to really propel your business forward and to reach people that maybe were a little more difficult to reach. So many of our applicants from the food-based industry talk about some challenges in getting their names out there, letting other people know what they’re doing, and what makes their products so unique. You have clearly been successful in doing this. Canyou please share a little bit with our network what strategies you’ve used to help others know about what you’re doing in your business?
So I do several things. Networking is not my favorite because I can be a little shy. But going to Chamber of Commerce meetings, signing up for event planner associations and becoming a part of those ecosystems. Something that I really, really love doing is we have these little cute holographic stickers. So instead of my business card, I hand those stickers out because most people are just gonna trash those business cards. So you hand someone a sticker, now they’re gonna put those on their mugs, they’re gonna put it on their laptop, their car, they’re gonna probably give it it to a friend or something like that. And then that makes them, look this up on Instagram later, or LinkedIn, or whatever. So now they’re more plugged in. So that’s one of the fun ways.
Other things that we’re doing. I get calls from different schools to sponsor- some of those I do say yes to. And so they’ll put our logo on the school banners, and then they have this thing called geofencing. So when people come to the game, something pops up like, Hey, get 25% off at ZZ’s ice cream puffs, or sign up for ZZ’s newsletter, or something like that. So that’s some of the ways that we’re getting our name out there. And then of course, word of mouth, great customer service goes a long way. So when you have great customer service, people are gonna talk about it.
Absolutely. I love the sticker idea. I use ’em on my water bottles when I get chips on the outside or stains I can’t get out! So that’s perfect! And if you go to the ZZ’s Instagram page, I will tell you, you’ll want some!
I’m glad you say that because there’s something else we do. And it’s so crazy because when I first started ZZ’s, I knew that it was unique, but it’s like now that I’m in it, I’m like, wow. The possibilities truly are endless because all the different ice cream flavors and the different companies that we work with. Think (for example) the Elvis Presley puff, think blue, blue raspberry puff. The possibilities really are endless! So whenever we do weddings or birthday parties or corporate catering, we do a custom puff specific to that event….And they love it. We actually have a WomensNet puff that’s coming out soon. I sent the list in so you guys are gonna create your own puff. So I’m super excited about this. We are! So that’s definitely another way to get people talking and wanting to book you again. ’cause I’m like, oh, we want our own puff!
Yeah, we’re all pretty excited to help select the flavor!. Can you please tell us a little bit, how do you manage the human resource side of your business? Because you’re also involved in the development of your product and, your head is there, but then you’ve got all these other human resource things that you’re being pulled into. So how do you manage that?
HR is definitely not my strong suit, but it’s important because you can’t grow a company alone. So some of the ways that we find staff are of course word of mouth from our existing staff members- it started out as like my family and friends. So they would recommend people to me. So that was a great start.
Customer service is super, super, super, super important to me. So I need people that are at least cultural. Right now I am part of a program that’s called Junior Achievement. So Junior Achievement is basically like young entrepreneurs. So you go into schools and they teach them how to run (for example) a subway…, everything they would need to do to like run a successful company. So I volunteer at those. They have JA BizTown, basically like a little tiny town where all these kids go and learn these things. I also use that as the opportunity to let them know like, hey, look at this fun environment. This is a TikTok generation, right? Everybody wants to dance on TikTok and you know, our food is already TikTok worthy. So for them to kind of see visually what the culture of the company is like, it makes it fun. It makes them wanna work at the company.
We also have a Puffatier program. Puffatier is what we call our staff members. It’s a two month summer program where they come in, they get to work hands-on with me. We preferably like to bring on people that have goals of being a future entrepreneur. They sign up for this program, it’s like a paid internship. They get hands-on experience working with me. They get coaching on customer service. They get to explore all over DMW because our food truck is always everywhere. They get to learn inventory, accounting, HR, negotiation skills. This is a perfect way for me to see hands-on who can make it in this industry. And it’s great for me because I love nurturing future entrepreneurs.
And then posting online, letting everybody know that we are looking for staff. And so that helps. But our coaching program is the best way for us to bring staff in and with the volunteer opportunity.
I love it! So Nikita had an interview with the local news channel eight in her city. And when I was watching that interview, I loved it that one of your Puffatiers said, I like it because she allows me to give suggestions on flavors and combinations. That’s so great that they’re a part of, and involved in the process. Respected and listened to. And that’s so important for our young ones. That’s awesome.
That’s, really important for me, for them to feel like this is not just my company. Like we are building this together ’cause I can’t do this alone! And they come up with the best puff ideas. We do something annually called a Puff-Puff Off, and they get to come up with the craziest options and we record it and we have judges kind of like something you would see on Netflix. And it is, it is just, oh my God, it’s so much fun!
So there you have it our 2023 $25,000 winners! Congratulations, we can’t wait to see what 2024 brings for you. Please keep us updated!