How business intelligence tools are helping a socially responsible ice cream company get the scoop on success


Molly Moon’s is more than just a popular ice cream company with eight shops in the Seattle area. It’s also a champion for social justice, a tireless fundraiser for local food banks and housing organizations, and a socially responsible employer that offers a living wage, paid family and sick leave, and free healthcare for workers and their children. In its quest to be “the raddest employer in the industry,” Molly Moon’s even started its own record label—Mooncrew Records—to release employees’ music on vinyl.

Denise Brown is the head of finance for Molly Moon’s and a self-described “ice cream mathematician and vanilla bean counter.” She’s a maestro of Excel, and her data management and analysis play a big role in making all this magic happen. Brown has built her own analytics platform to strategically organize the data that contributes to happy employees and a winning brand—the twin superpowers that enable Molly Moon’s to do so much good while making a profit, too.

Decisions informed by happiness

“Data pretty much plays a role in everything about the business at Molly Moon’s,” says Brown, “from what we want to bring in for seasonal flavors, to what we want to charge, to how many people staff on a given day.”

Molly Moon’s even tracks how happy employees are by sending out a monthly survey across the company that asks employees to rate their happiness on a scale of 1–10. Employees for small businesses often feel more appreciated, and 67% cite that appreciation as the biggest benefit of working for a small company Molly Moon’s regularly measures these happiness scores against each shop’s performance, tracking and cross-tabulating everything from sales and payroll costs to inventory and attendance.

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Brown created the database management system for tracking all this information, and she also built a tool that helped determine how best to schedule and staff shops for the year ahead. “Our business does so much better when we can make informed staffing decisions,” says Brown. “Having the right number of people behind the counter means we’re not spending more than we need to on payroll—and none of our employees are overworked or stressed, and our customers can always have a great experience.”

Following the data, scoop by scoop

Molly Moon’s hasn’t always used data to drive its inventory choices, and there was a time when the company didn’t even track sales by flavor. “All of it was tribal knowledge, or based on a guess,” says Brown, who began implementing spreadsheets and analysis to track which flavors were popular at which times of year, and then using business intelligence tools to inform Molly Moon’s flavors going forward. “What we care about is finding the ice cream that makes the most people the happiest.”

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The data is always right—and it can sometimes be surprising, too. “I would not have necessarily thought that putting chunks of things in your ice cream was the thing that would make something a great seller,” says Brown. “But it has come up time and time again. Those insights really help us, because it lets us know what makes our customers the most happy.”

The power of visualization

Brown uses data analysis tools to help create compelling visual representations of the data—often in straightforward formats like a bar graph or pie chart. “It’s really important to represent the data in a way that people can quickly grasp, digest, process what it means, and have that actually be very meaningful to them.”

The operations team collaborates with Brown in this process, helping her figure out how to show the data in the best way for different teams—whether that’s the shop, kitchen, or area managers.

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Brown also makes use of adaptable pivot tables, which allow you to build charts that you can update on the fly or as you change your data. “If someone’s not understanding the way you’ve presented data,” says Brown, “instead of having to go back to the drawing board, it’s just a couple of quick clicks and you’ve reformatted the entire presentation.”

The future is sweet

By keeping all of its data in a consolidated system and constantly analyzing and leveraging that for insights, Molly Moon’s has been able to run its business efficiently and profitably year after year—all while fulfilling its mission to give back to the community, treat its employees right, and advocate for positive change.

“It’s important for a business to collect and analyze their data, because it helps make informed business decisions. Without that information, you’re just guessing—and you don’t want to plan for the future of your business and your employees on a guess,” says Brown. “The best way a business can be successful is to look at the past and learn from it.”

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