GFF Business Mentor Beth Pridday in a Story of Entrepreneurs and Ice Cream
They say money won't buy happiness, but Detroit Lakes-based serial entrepreneur Beth Pridday purchased hers on Craigslist.
It was six years ago now, and Pridday had been diagnosed with breast cancer. With a somber smile she jokes that she had "nothing but time" between rounds of chemotherapy and recovery. One day, flitting through online for-sale posts, something uncommon caught her eye.
"I feel like I want to buy an ice cream truck," she yelled to her husband. When the natural response came back "Why?" she said she felt it could make her happy.
Pridday had a history of successful startups but admits she knew nothing about selling ice cream. Her husband suggested reaching out to the truck's owner, maybe meeting to learn more. She told him the message was already sent.
The weather was poor that day, cold and rainy, as Pridday saw the vehicle for the first time. Through the dismal drip-drop she test drove around town for nearly an hour, and the experience was striking. Everywhere this little ice cream truck went, people would smile and wave, as if suddenly oblivious to the weather and worries.
"It was the happiest 45 minutes during a really not-great time in my life," she recalls.
The purchase happened that same week, and Pridday would spend the next several years marketing her "happiest truck in town," increasing the company's profits many times over and hiring on three additional employees to handle sales seven days a week. Her truck was at every local event, she leveraged her network of professional contacts, and she sold her community creamy, sugary happiness. Social media engagement for "The Ice Cream Truck" shot up twenty-fold, and Pridday went so far as to create an online tracking system for customers to follow the vehicle's daily path in real time.
Then, last winter, she decided to sell the company (one of three she owned with her husband) in an effort to slow down and find balance in life – which she describes as a mixture of coffee and golf.
The sale closed in March of this year.
"I felt good about it," she says. "I knew I was giving somebody a viable business and that my time was done."
She has spent the months since traveling extensively. The secrets to a good business, she explains, are knowing when to buy as well as when to move on.
Teaching and Doing
Pridday is the daughter of two teachers and chose an undergraduate degree in journalism in the late '80s, ultimately finding newspaper work paid too little to survive on. Instead, she went back to graduate school for a master's degree in advertising and public relations from the University of South Dakota – later landing a teaching job with Minot State University. She knew teaching alone wasn't enough to keep current in her profession, and so began a decades-long habit of working within the industries she taught.
"I love teaching, however, I feel like in those degrees you have to be somebody that practices – otherwise you're not relevant," she explains.
In 2009, Pridday, by then an established resident of Detroit Lakes with a few businesses and big corporate gigs under her belt, was hired by the M State college system. She expected to teach as an adjunct professor while managing her own consulting firm, a joint international business in the oil industry with her husband, and a handful of other business and philanthropic pursuits. The college, instead, made her the executive director of a new Business and Entrepreneurial Services program.
Through M State, Pridday taught and coached aspiring entrepreneurs. She developed an incubator program with 54 office spaces in Detroit Lakes, Perham, New York Mills, and Frazee. The program provided turn-key work spaces for budding businesses. Offices, furniture, technology, and support counselors were all part of the package at a cost well below sticker price. Young companies were tended and matured until they were ready for market and a new batch began the cycle again.
"I loved that," Pridday reflects. "That was like living and breathing what you talk about every day."
She says that even now, a decade later, some of those businesses survive and thrive, and she feels a special satisfaction for playing her part.
Fast forward to 2020, and Greater Fergus Falls (GFF) was launching a new entrepreneur training program to help startup businesses get off the ground. Pridday's reputation had traveled across county borders, and she accepted the invitation to serve as one of the nascent program's founding mentors. Pridday has worked with GFF ever since and aided in the launch of several new Fergus Falls businesses.
She says the pandemic has had an unexpected impact on entrepreneurship.
"I think people realized they have more risk tolerance. Life isn't as stable as you think it needs to be."
It's not universal, of course, and many have been glad to return to corporate employment. Others—and especially women, Pridday says—have seen launching a business or consultancy as a way to take back control of their lives, find their own worth, and afford a more flexible schedule for family.
Through the Greater Fergus Falls Entrepreneur Initiative, Pridday meets with everyday people with big ideas. She counsels on the difference between a business and a hobby (a business covers all of your life expenses, a hobby pays for occasional extras), pricing your product to make a living, and marketing your way to a household name. She offers realistic and actionable feedback and says she remains impressed by the diverse ways clients are building successful businesses in untraditional fields.
Some clients meet in person during meetings scheduled at regular intervals. Others meet over the phone or via Zoom, calling from their day-job lunch break or from their cars between errands – "typical entrepreneurship," she jokes. She loves the chaos and challenge inherent in starting a new business and loves watching an idea grow into a profitable company that can change lives and communities.
Through Greater Fergus Falls, Pridday is continuing her legacy of doing what she loves by helping others to do what they love.
- R.C. Drews for Greater Fergus Falls
Interested in learning more about GFF's Entrepreneur Initiative? Click here to learn how you could be the area's next startup success story through this all-expenses-paid, one-on-one expert training program.