The husband-and-wife team of Anthony and June-Ann Henry has copped the coveted TT Manufacturers Association (TTMA) manufacturer of the year award for their A and J Homemade Ice Cream brand, which has amassed an impressive reputation since its debut four years ago. The awards ceremony took place on October 8, at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain.
While the accolade represents a major milestone, the road to success has not been an easy one, as the couple had to nurture not only their business but also their one-year-old daughter, while dealing with the harsh realities of bottom lines, meeting customer demands and finding value for money with equipment and space.
June-Ann told Business Day they are satisfied with A and J's development as a business, from its humble beginnings at a parking lot just outside the couple's Caroni Savannah Road home, to a store of its own with over 55 flavours. She said the award was testament to their hard work and dedication.
"There were challenges. At the time Anthony had his job as a sales rep and I was a stay-at-home mom, so during the day I would have my daughter with me out there in the car park selling ice cream. So it was difficult being out there in the hot sun with a one-year-old.
"Finding time to get the ingredients was also difficult for us. While he (Anthony) was on the road he would try to find ingredients and packaging while also juggling his work hours."
Even with these challenges, she said she and her husband were determined to make their business a success and knew personal sacrifice and money management were critical in taking A and J to the next level.
"The money we made, we always tried to re-invest it and let our enterprise grow. For us money was always a challenge because as fast as we make it, we put it back into the business, so although the business was growing, we would have needed it for different things."
While largely self-taught, Henry said they received some training in fiscal management and entrepreneurship from the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute's (Cariri) Business Hatchery initiative, a six-month programme which seeks to test the market viability of the products, services or technology solutions of businesses.
Asked about his memories during their early days as entrepreneurs, Anthony said he distinctly remembered making only $75 in their first day of sales, a far cry from the profitable brand they have created.
The key to A and J's growing popularity, he said, is the availability of unique flavours and combinations that customers will seldom find elsewhere.
"We carry a lot of unique flavours, alongside some seasonal flavours, and we always try to be as innovative as possible, so our innovative thinking with the flavours has captured our own niche market, separating ourselves from the rest."
Asked what advice they had to offer other entrepreneurs, the couple said consistency and hard work were key to success in any business and urged potential entrepreneurs to take risks and make sacrifices.
"No time is a good time for opening a business. Take the chance and put yourself out there. Whatever the reason, you need to find a way to make it work," June-Ann said.