In today’s podcast, I talk to Rich Trotter, a U.S. Army veteran-turned-entrepreneur who has led Rosati Ice for over 25 years. We talk about the catastrophic consequences caused by the pandemic shutdowns and how his employees pulled together to keep the company afloat. By having such loyal and dedicated employees, Rich has been able to continue his legacy and stay true to his value of “Mission First, People Always.”
After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point and serving five years as an artillery officer, Rich eventually joined his dad's soft pretzel business. When the company was sold, Rich bought Rosati Ice – the "best Italian ice company" – in 1997 and adjusted the business model.
Instead of making the highest profits of the year just during the three or four months of summer, he focused on selling to K-12 schools to give him steady profits throughout the year. That model worked fabulously – making up 70% of the company's sales – until schools were suddenly shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, it dropped our revenue by more than 50%,” he said. “On paper, the company became bankrupt very quickly.”
Support from his friends, family, and peer group kept him going during tough times. But it was his dedicated employees who saved the business. In December 2020, after asking the bank not to foreclose on the company, he laid off the entire staff, including himself. Half of the employees arrived the next day knowing they wouldn't be paid.
"They knew that if they stayed away, the business would certainly not stay in business. And they did whatever they needed to to help keep us afloat,” he said. “And to them, I'll be forever indebted.”
He also is forever grateful to his wife of 41 years, Debbie, who provided a respite at home from the grueling days at work.
"The support and space she gave me were off the charts," he said. "It allowed me to catch my breath when I did come home. She allowed me to stay completely focused on the business. And when it came to the family, all she wanted me to do was enjoy it, my kids and grandkids."
Now that schools are back in session, Rosati Ice still has a big hole to climb, but sales are inching toward pre-pandemic levels.
Rich is entirely hands-on, tracking the business' cash daily and constantly traveling to reconnect with customers he hasn’t seen in a few years due to the pandemic.
Listen to Rich’s fascinating and inspiring story here.