Member Spotlight: Piccadilly Whip

Piccadilly Whip

Boasting an expansive fleet of fourteen vehicles, Piccadilly Whip have long been established as a premier ice cream business in the UK.

Based in Essex, the business has a history of serving up much-loved ice cream across the nation for over 6 decades. Its humble beginnings trace back to 1963, when the business was started with one ice-cream van bought for a mere £30. John’s nan who is Spanish helped to paint, clean and renovate the van until it was roadworthy to enable his uncles, Eddie and Billy, to earn a living, selling ice-cream from it.

The following year, a second van was bought and the Piccadilly Bar company was established and it wasn’t until later with the purchasing of soft vans that the outfit became Piccadilly Whip, so as to incorporate whipped ice cream. Having been members of MOCA before it became NCASS, we are proud to have supported Piccadilly Whip on their journey for so many years.

Business owner John Bonar was born into the business, grew up in ice cream – which is surely every child’s dream – working for the family, until he inherited the business to spearhead and run himself and he continues to put smiles on faces with ice cream today.

In his own words, he ‘used to work for my uncle on an ice cream van when I was a kid on the weekends and summer holidays. So that gave me a taste of it and I liked earning money. But my friends were out getting up to no good and I didn’t want to feel like that. I just wanted to go work and make a living for myself, so that’s what I did.’

Hard work is a key pillar of making any business work, particularly in hospitality. A forthright work ethic had been impressed on John from these formative experiences, and has benefitted the business as Piccadilly Whip has grown into the prominent fixture it is today.

Running and managing a fleet of their size isn’t always easy, as John states: ‘Some seasons are better than others. There are lots of variables to contend with, like what staff you have – some people stay with us year in year out, some only work for the summer season. It can be hard when you’ve got really good staff that you’d like to stay but maybe they want to go on and do something different on their own – that’s just life, you have to accept that and keep moving forward.’

Staff are the heartbeat of the business, and you can’t operate effectively or deliver the experience the business strives to offer without adequate staffing. John highlights this issue as one of the biggest challenges that comes with managing the operation: ‘When staff don’t turn up that can present a real challenge – say you’ve got a big show on in the morning and then all of a sudden someone’s not there, you’ve got to try and make do with that. When you’re a small business, everybody counts. With one cog out of the engine, it just doesn’t run right.’

Long days are synonymous with working in hospitality, and that is no exception with the Piccadilly Whip operation – when asked to illustrate how a typical day can take shape for the business, John revealed, ‘we’re based in Essex, if for example we’ve got a job in Manchester, we’ll get up at 4 in the morning so we can be in a position to be up and trading all day, and typically won’t get home until 11 or 12 in the evening. That sort of day is quite often the case in the summer.’

To achieve the level of success that you need in order to keep the business viable, you need to capitalise on trade and opportunities however they present themselves. There is an inherent sacrifice underpinning work commitments, which for John usually translates to working at weekends: ‘People like to have their weekends off, whereas for us we have to work a lot of them.’ Simply put, ‘you’ve got to make hay while the sun shines’ and typically the target market of customers for ice cream are going to want to enjoy an ice cream at the weekend.

On those long summer days, John says that people might be surprised to learn that ‘it’s not cool inside the ice cream van at all – especially on a hot day!’ At least John and his team are in the right place to enjoy the nation’s favourite summer day refreshment in this circumstance. And to be in a position to share a cone of joy with anyone is a lovely thing, even more so when you can do that with your family.

For John, one of the most rewarding aspects of running his own business is being ‘able to employ your own family, to be able to bring your kids in to the business. It’s important to show them the work ethic. To be able to offer that opportunity is great, it puts a smile on their faces and is important to show them a positive work ethic.’ Family is at the core of Piccadilly Whip’s history, just as is an unfaltering work ethic: ‘My children work with us, their partners work with us and our grandchildren are always pestering me to start working with us (they are not quite big enough to work with us yet).’

John goes on further to elaborate that ‘I like to think the harder you work, the better the rewards are and I like to instil that within the family as well.’ Presenting the business positively is a key priority, and efforts are made to ensure the vans are always spotless, so they appear professional and clean whenever a Piccadilly Whip vehicle is spotted. It is important to make a positive first impression, and having a spotless vehicle turn up and delivering great customer service goes a long way towards this.

Ice creams are a cone of nostalgia, a symbol of carefree summer days covering great grass distances, smiling as you enjoy the cool refreshment. They have the potential to light up everyone’s day, no matter how old or young, and it is a lovely experience to be able to supply for this business who are effectively dealing in the industry of smiles. John and his team are still enthusiastic about what they do and recognise the privilege they are able to bring all across the UK, making the British summer what it is.

While unsurprisingly the summer months can be a very busy period for the team, how does the business cope with cold winters when by and large demand for a cold scoop or two is down? Typically for Piccadilly Whip, they’ve ‘got the permanent pitch at the Tower of London where we sell coffee and ice cream. We also do the Christmas markets. From the middle of November through January, we’re hammer and tongues at it like we are in the summer at the Christmas market.’

Finally, after Christmas as the changing winds of a new year begin to blow, it is time for a well-deserved break: ‘So then it stops in January and then we have a bit of a break to go on holiday. We’ve just come back from holiday now, and we’re getting in gear, starting to get the vans tinkering out and we’re starting to go out slowly at different places that we work and it’s not great trade at the moment but it gets the vans out there, and gets the cogs turning.’

John’s drive has seen Piccadilly Whip go from strength to strength and establishes it as the well-respected and profitable business it is today. When asked what success looks like to him, John immediately mentions family. ‘To be able to help your own. In my mum’s later years I was having to look after her a lot, I got her a mobile home, a chalet so she could spend time with and watch the grandkids grow up before she passed away. Without money of course you can’t do things like that.’

As we inch ever closer to warmer skies and living less under the constant threat of rain, it won’t be too long until you may see a Piccadilly Whip van in action yourself, and be able to enjoy a cool cone of the finest dairy.

You can find out more about Piccadilly Whip here and follow their journey here.

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Note: The NCASS office will be close from 2PM on Friday 14th June for staff training.