Molly Moon’s “ice cream mathematician” shares 5 ways your small business can benefit from data analysis tools


When Denise Brown first came in as the Controller for Seattle’s wildly popular Molly Moon’s ice cream—or as she better describes her role, the “ice cream mathematician”—everything was tracked on pencil and paper, from payroll and staffing, to inventory. Knowing how powerful data can be when it’s collected, organized, analyzed, and viewed in thoughtful ways, Brown set out to start doing just that using the available technology.

Brown wanted to gather and analyze data not only so she could better understand the business, but so that she could share that data with others in the company to see what insights they could glean from it. Since then, she has created a staffing tool that creates schedules in a snap—all based on past sales and attendance data. The shops also track which flavors sell best, as well as employee happiness. And having just opened a new shop in Seattle’s Columbia City, it’s clear that tracking data is good for business. Here are just five ways Denise is confident your small business can benefit from data analysis tools:

  1. “Your operational processes will be more efficient. I built a system of spreadsheets that allowed us to look at historical sales data, along with our payroll data from the past, and build a tool that led us to determine how we wanted to schedule our shops for the year ahead. It took a process that used to take weeks and made it something you could get a draft of in 20 minutes.
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  1. “Data helps you understand and cater to the preferences of your customers. 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, but it has come up time and time again. Those insights really help us because it let us know what makes our customers the most happy.”
  2. “You can track trends and respond quickly to changes. For example, Earl gray had always been our second most popular flavor and suddenly, it dropped to the bottom. A co-worker mentioned that she had been hearing on social media that there's been some changes in the flavoring, and it turns out there was a change to the tea leaves. So now I’m figuring out if we can switch back to what we were using before.”
  3. “Data allows you to identify and address inefficiencies or problems in your operations and strategy. For example, we track employee happiness, and it's really made us aware of areas that we didn't know that we needed to do some work.”
  4. “Gives you a better ability to predict the outcome of business decisions. Without data, all you're doing is making a guess or throwing a dart at the wall.”

Lastly, we asked Brown what advice she would give to small business owners or who don’t know where to start when it comes to collecting and analyzing their data. Here’s what she suggests:

“Focus on revenue first, then primary costs. Set up a system that allows you to track data at the highest level of detail that you would need or want to analyze. Then build tools that enable you to evaluate and compare data in a variety of ways—the more flexible your system, the more it will be relevant to different teams in your organization. And learn how to represent data visually so those who don’t usually work with numbers can easily understand your results.”

Brown stresses that data analysis and the information it provides are not to be underestimated.

“Without data, all you're doing is making a guess or throwing a dart at the wall. You want to be able to make decisions for your business, for the future of your business, for the success of your employees and the happiness of your customers.”

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