Cold Stone exec stays true to the brand in Japan
Consultants warned Cold Stone Creamery in 2004 that singing for happy customers just wouldn’t work in Japan. That didn’t sit well with Cold Stone executive Lee Knowlton, who spoke June 25 in Rick Baer’s global brand management class at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz.
He said Cold Stone’s brand strategy focuses on creating the ultimate ice cream experience for unapologetic ice cream lovers, and singing for tips is part of the company’s fun-loving personality. He refused to let go of the practice when the Scottsdale-based chain expanded to Tokyo — despite warnings from consultants that Japanese customers don’t tip.
“Stay true to your brand,” he told the students. “If it’s not going to be Cold Stone Creamery when you walk in, then what’s the point?”
Knowlton, the president of international for Kahala Corp, which Cold Stone is a part of, decided to replace the tip jars in Japan with donation jars for a Tokyo children’s hospital.
“It blew the Japanese customers away,” Knowlton said. “They were happy to donate, and our crew members were happy to sing.”
Since assuming responsibility for Cold Stone’s international development in January 2005, Lee has helped the company expand into many other markets, including Korea, Taiwan, China, United Arab Emeritus, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Projects under way include finalizing agreements in Mexico and conducting research in Canada, India, Australia and England.
In all of these regions, Lee said the company has spread its brand effectively without relying on huge advertising and marketing budgets. From the beginning, he said, the company has relied mainly on word-of-mouth advertising from happy customers.
“What others say about Cold Stone is more important than what we say about ourselves,” he said.
Lee joined Cold Stone in January 2003 and has held a number of positions, including overseeing all U.S. operations, area development, research and development and quality assurance for the chain that includes more than 1,380 stores worldwide.