Welcome to the Small-Business Soap series, in which we follow a start-up in real time. Getting a small business off the ground can have as many twists and turns as a daytime drama. But unlike television plots, these stories can inspire and educate entrepreneurs -- be sure to tune in every week to find out how.

After Kim Ima's Treats Truck kicked into gear, it generated an immediate stir that was no doubt quite intoxicating for any fledgling business.

An elated Ima explained that she had to use a different phone line for business because her primary phone was ringing off the hook with media inquiries and excited potential customers. But just like you only get one wedding day, you can only cut the grand opening ribbon once. Now, as Ima sells her treats through summer and into fall, she has to make sure her mobile-food business doesn't go stale.

Two effective ways to assess your company's freshness level is to simply ask customers what they think, or to put yourself in the perspective of a new customer and look at your business objectively, advises the National Federation of Independent Business. Another tool to keep customers interested is to tell an ongoing story (much like this series).

So far, Ima has had success selling a few T-shirts and giving out different samples every week, and she's working on creating goody bags of assorted products that will introduce customers to several different new offerings.

Magazines have been featuring the Treats Truck as a brand-new business and there are still some that have yet to do their introductory articles, but Ima knows she can't ride on the kickoff media wave forever. Running her truck on compressed natural gas and Ima's status as a female entrepreneur, however, have helped keep the business in the spotlight longer, thanks to both the green and women-in-business angles.

Customer Care

To keep people and publications interested, Ima is also considering fun promotions like a "cute card" that customers can punch every time they purchase a treat, and be rewarded with a free cookie after 10 punches. "You have to keep introducing new things," she says. In addition, a mailing list keeps both fans and press updated.

For the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, Ima crafted sugar dot cookies, with red, white and blue sprinkles. "I'm already thinking about the fall," Ima continues, when she plans on back-to-school specials and seasonal flavors like apple pie.

Of course, community events and promotions always grab media and consumer attention.

Ima's truck doesn't yet have a theme song, so she's thinking about a contest where customers can submit songs of their own. After all, they'll be the ones listening to it wherever the truck is parked.

"You have to have a balance of doing fresh stuff but with the aim of making it good for the customers," she says. "The good part is those two needs both feed the business."



Ima is also looking into partnering up with other likeminded businesses and taking on larger orders by 2008. Tune in next week to find out how her customers are responding to all the attention.

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