Rita's Italian Ice, an expanding East Coast-based frozen ice treat chain, was born in the summer of 1984 in the Philadephia suburb of Bensalem. Expansion began in 1987, with the small chain being purchased by a private equity group in 2005. Under new leadership, quick growth followed and the chain doubled in size within a year. As a result of the usual growing pains, marketing and product displays in the stores and walk-ups were scattered among six or more suppliers with each furnishing menu systems of varying size and shapes to the new franchisees. Dated menu boards, confusing product displays, no target customer or age group being addressed, plus the issue of needing new artwork for the ice images and the demand for Limited Time Offer (LTO) products were all issues that pushed the new management team to look for a business partner who could help address their problems.
The corporate team from Rita's Italian Ice met the Howard Company at the 2007 National Restaurant Show in Chicago. In subsequent discussions we were asked to develop concepts for the different kinds of storefronts. Rita's needed their concepts to educate their guests about the ice treats they made, show their treats as freshly created product, be different from the competition, and be happy and fun! Long-range goals were for the menu boards to be flexible and easy to use for the franchisees, and to bring all the different boards into a few standard sizes and designs.
The Howard design team interviewed several Rita's corporate staff and select franchisee partners to learn what worked and didn't work in the treat stores. The immediate need was to support existing systems while developing the new menu boards. A database compiling menu board size and style from all existing stores was generated. A webstore with a direct link from their personal logins on their "CoolNet" website was created for franchise partners to easily order annual updates and products. Because the database had already identified their menu board needs, it was a fairly simple task to make the annual flavor and product update kits in custom sizes for each franchise partner.
The expansion plan was focused on creating a menu board for new walk-in stores in strip malls around the country, so developing a non-illuminated menu board featuring a prominant banner proclaming Rita's promise of "Ice made fresh daily", easily updated and interchangeable dimensional graphic product panels and easy to change flavor strips became the primary design emphasis. Keeping the Rita's trademark blue and red color scheme was also an important design need. The curved front layered look of the new panel menu board was a hit with both Rita's corporate and their franchise partners!
Not forgetting the walk-up stores, a similar panel board was designed to hang on the exterior of the store fronts, above the order windows where customers standing in line would have a clear view of the product line and flavors of the day. This system was also magnetic and easy to change. Inside, the Today's Ice Flavors board was accessible for sliding flavor strips out as needed.
As franchise partners became interested in selling Rita's Ices at sports venues and on food trucks, The Howard creative team designed and developed concepts to adapt to these new situations.