WHO: Brent Murray, owner of Dairyhaus
1. Q: Tell about your background story & your success
A: I grew up working in my family's homemade ice cream business early in high school. My mom Annie, my sister Kelly, and I loved working as a family while making and scooping ice cream. I graduated high school and got an English degree from NIU, while exploring a career in retail in my 20's. In 2008, I came back to Rockton and absolutely loved being back in the community. I relished the ice cream making process and the purity of serving something I made directly to our customers. My mom and I worked side-by-side for a few years as I learned how she ran the business, and as time went on I used what I learned in retail to tweak things here and there. A big turning point in the business was when I decided to move into wholesale with Woodman's and some other grocery stores. I recall some of our first deliveries when Jason, the frozen foods manager, paged "Dairyhaus ice cream has arrived, pick it up in the ice cream section" and I couldn't even stock the shelf, rather I was just handing the product right to people waiting with their cart. Since then, wholesaling at Woodman's Rockford and Beloit, Sugar Britches in Rockton, Main Street Meats in Roscoe, and Van Laar's in Edgebrook has become a significant part of our business.
2. Q: What’s the biggest factor that has helped you be successful?
A: I think two phrases have stuck with me and guided me over the years. The first is "smiles, not frowns." I can look at that phrase and it helps me guide business decisions. Does a particular choice I make put a smile on my customer's/employee's/community's face, or does it cause a frown? Sometimes it means the decision isn't the right one financially, like giving away a free cone because one ended up on the sidewalk, but it's the right decision because it puts a smile on that customer's face. "There is no not," is my other mantra that comes out when times are tough. When I'm at the end of a 16 hour shift and I just don't want to make another bucket of Salty Caramel Cashew, "there is no not" making it. It's the phrase that has helped me push through boundaries personally and professionally and kept me on my grind.
3. Q: What are your success habits?
A: I think my biggest success habit is embracing change. To the chagrin of my wife Meredith and my staff, I love change. I love change just for the sake of change. That doesn't mean that I'm going to change our recipe for vanilla (which has been around 36 years), but I am certainly going to experiment with it to make sure it's the best it can be. I like to question why things are a particular way and if I can make it better, I'm going to do so.
4. Q: What mistakes have you made along the way?
A: HA! Concession stand! Five or six years ago, the Village of Rockton opened athletic fields on Old River Road and wanted someone to run the concession stand. I enthusiastically volunteered without really doing much research, I mean, how hard could it be? Fast forward a month and I was waking up before 6am to prep breakfast for pee wee football, only to open the Dairyhaus at noon and work through closing until 11pm. My passion for the concession stand waned and I was stretching my young team too thin, trying to teach them the Dairyhaus and a concession stand as their first job. I learned so much about time management, organization, and most of all, following my passion with the business rather than chasing a quick buck.
5. Q: What was the hardest decision you ever had to make?
A: I'm in the middle of it right now! The Dairyhaus has a problem that most businesses dream about: we can't keep up with demand. Whether it's within our shop or at retail with our wholesale clients, we can't keep up. Our shop is so tiny and due to the process, we can only make so much ice cream each day. That leaves me saying "no" to a lot of opportunities and sometimes disappointing (a frown) our customers or wholesale clients. For the last couple years, we've been planning an expansion, but it's so scary! I want to ensure that any growth is done correctly, with reverence to the business's past, and no change to how our product is made. It is a big leap and the choices weigh on me daily.
6. Q: If you could start all over again, what would you do differently?
A: I would tell myself to stay humble when I came back to the shop in my late 20's. I had a successful career in electronics retail and I had a pretty big ego as a result. When I saw a process that needed to be tweaked, I pushed for change when Mom and the staff weren't ready for it. It strained the personal relationship I had with my mom, caused the staff undue stress as they didn't know which "boss" to take direction from, and ultimately made it more difficult for Mom to teach and me to learn. Fortunately, she is awesome and our relationship is as close as it has ever been. I frequently consult her on new ideas and she's definitely my biggest supporter.
7. Q: What’s one change I should make right now to help me get closer to my success?
A: I don't know that I'm very qualified to answer this question as I only have my own education, experiences, successes, and failures to color my answer. I'll rely on a quote from others and modify it a bit: "Work smart, not hard" is nonsense. Work smart AND work hard. Some of the most rewarding experiences, and much of what has made the Dairyhaus successful over the years is the hard work and determination myself and our team have put in over the years. Hopefully those hard fought hours are guided with an intelligent plan, but without that grit, grind, and "there is no not" attitude, I don't believe we would have triumphed day after day, season after season. Not to mention the awesome feeling when you push through a boundary you previously thought impossible. I find a lot of pride in a hard day of work.
8. Q: What aspect of Rockford helped you to succeed?
A: The community! Oh my. Not only has the community been fantastic supporters of the Dairyhaus, but some of our biggest successes are due to teaming up with another local business that makes something amazingly unique that we simply must turn it into an ice cream. Our first foray into teaming up with another business was our Main Street Maple Bacon ice cream, made with the tastiest bacon you'll ever fry from Main Street Meats in Roscoe. By teaming up with a local business and utilizing their ingredient, we create something special that can only be had in the Stateline. All of our coffee ice creams are made with Rockford Roasting Company Coffee. We make Sugar Britches Butter Brickle with their out-of-this-world toffee. Seasonally, we make Edward's Caramel Apple and Edward's Apple Cobber with the best apples in the world!
9. Q: What is your favorite thing about Rockford?
10. Q: What is the best advice you can give?
A: Cut everyone, including yourself, some slack. We're all trying our best, and if we're not, there's probably a good reason for it. Support each other with smiles, not frowns.