What An Ice Surprise!
Everyone knows when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. But Eric Wright, vice president of Kona Ice in Kansas City, would rather make a big cup of cold, delicious Kona Pink Lemon Sour shaved ice.
And then turn around and give some of the proceeds from selling it to charity.
For more than a decade, Wright was a sales representative and national sales trainer for a leading pharmaceutical company. Work was steady, expense accounts were hefty and travel time was frequent. Life was good, until the economy turned into a big, fat lemon. Wright’s job was effectively eliminated and he was faced with a monumental decision.
“I knew I had to make a change,” says Wright. “I knew I had enough experience in my field that I could probably have found another job and been comfortable, or I could challenge myself. I decided I wanted a challenge.”
Through a chance Internet job search, Wright stumbled across a new company making its way into the Kansas City market. Kona Ice, a Kentucky-based company that has mobile shaved ice trucks, needed someone to help with the development and expansion of its brand. Though it wasn’t a sure thing, Wright did the only thing he knew how to do: dive into the opportunity, head first.
“It certainly wasn’t pharmaceuticals,” says Wright. “My wife thought I’d lost my mind going from a company car to driving a crazy colored ice truck. But this company turned out to be all about what I love most. People. I get to meet great people all day, every day.”
Since Wright started with Kona Ice, the company has grown from 20 ice trucks nationally to eclipsing 300. It’s an accomplishment that Wright can be truly proud of, and more importantly, that he can share with his family.
“I work long, hard hours for this,” Wright says. “But even with all that work, I see my family more than I did before. We even have the Avery Delight and the Quintin Mix shaved ice flavors named after my kids. They take pride and ownership in this.
My wife helps with payroll and human resources. It is truly a family effort.”
One aspect of the business Eric never anticipated was the street cred he’d pick up along the way.
“We take the trucks to schools and churches often, so kids instantly recognize me,” Wright laughs. “In fact, in my neighborhood, I’m a rock star. I hear kids say, ‘That’s the Kona Man!’ There’s nothing that beats that feeling.”
But with that recognition comes responsibility, and Wright more than does his part to share his success with the community that supports his business. Through the Kona Ice fundraising initiative, Kona has given back $52,000 in the Kansas City area in the last three years. Rick Dryden, special events coordinator for the City of Olathe, has seen Wright’s Kona donations go to a great cause—the Olathe Special Olympics.
“Eric is one of the most community- and civic-minded individuals I have ever met,” says Dryden. “He is truly a philanthropist, and I can’t say enough about him as a person and a businessman.”
Though owning a shaved ice business may not have been on Wright’s bucket list, the venture has turned out to be a sweet life twist that has made him one truly happy man.
“I love knowing that I started with something small and have grown it into this great brand that people get excited about,” says Wright. “People see our trucks pull up to their school or church, and they know they can trust the person behind the wheel. They’re excited to see me, and I feel exactly the same way about them.”
For information, visit kona-ice.com.
Fun Facts About Kona Ice
Kona Ice is more than just a delish cool-down during the heat of the summer—Eric Wright partners his product with the community, too.
• Kona Ice is truly a do-it-yourself experience—you can choose from more than 30 flavors.
• Several of the Kona Ice truck drivers and employees in the Kansas City market are firemen, including the operations manager.
• Kona Ice trucks can be found at tons of area hot spots, including Crown Center, Worlds of Fun, Starlight and Schlitterbahn.
• Kona Ice has donated more than $3 million to organizations nationally—and the number keeps on rising!