Equi’s ice cream has become renowned for its quality and presentation. The man behind it, delivers the same message. Grown into the family business, and 25 tasty years later, it can be said that David Equi, now the Director of Equi and Sons Ltd certainly knows a scoop or two about ice cream.
We go into the manager’s office and for the third time I am offered a cup of tea. The interview has not even begun yet, but his personality is as big as his scoops. The word family gets thrown around, but the truth is that for the past 18 years, he has been the only member that is actively involved in the business. But it doesn’t matter to him though, because it becomes apparent that his staff are his unofficial family.
“It’s all about the staff its not about me”. He says as he relaxes back into his chair.
“I employ 180 staff, I do all the rotas, which I’ve done in here for 25 years. You wouldn’t be anything without your staff, and they could also be the ruin of you, if you don’t look after them. But if you have decent people helping you run it then it’s fine. I used to be run around doing everything, I would be here every morning, and every night, because that was the old Italian way. There always had to be a member of the family on the shop floor, but it came to a point where I was the only member of the family here and you can’t do everything. So my big thing was that I don’t want to run it as a family, I wanted to run it as a business.” He remarks.
David tells me about growing up with the business, explaining that he worked behind the counter every Sunday. In those days, it was tradition for him and his siblings.
“Bizarre as it sounds,” David exclaims, “I was working behind the counter at 8 years old. I can remember selling cigarettes to people, which at the time was only 26 ½ pence.”
For 90 years, Equi’s has been trading in South Lanarkshire and now to the rest of Scotland. Times have certainly changed, along with the currency, and Britain has faced difficult times. Yet Equi’s acceptance to adapt to customer needs has meant that they have survived some of the worst.
“I remember when I bought our first delivery van for the wholesale ice cream and it was a great feeling,” David smiles. “But, it’s not like I lead an extravagant lifestyle. Well, I did have an Audi 08 for a year,” he says with a smirk. “I’m not a flashy person, because it’s always a struggle to find money. I mean anyone I know that’s good at business, they are not in it for the money. It’s for the success of it, the representation, and sometimes you have to make choices.” He adds.
David looks at me with a serious look and says:“You’ve got to cut your cloth accordingly. When running a business, you have to play things really tight because it’s really hard to borrow or raise money. I remember loads of times in here, when we had no money at all.”
When David was a boy, money wasn’t the only thing that was beginning to change, ice cream had become trendy. David speaks of his father and his passion for making ice cream, explaining that as he was growing up, peoples attitudes were changing and they were more inclined to try new things. He suggested that people expected more than just flavour now. The presentation had became important too, and that is something Equi’s were able to adapt to very quickly.
David starts pouring himself a cup of tea, as he says: “It was always a big thing of his, to get famous. But my father was always set on the fact that nobody outside of Hamilton knew who we were. I then realised that every town in Scotland thinks they have the best ice cream, every person you meet are like ‘I’m away to get ice cream from so and so from down the road’, and they only know their local area. At least that’s how it used to be.”
But that is not the case any more as Equi’s supply a staggering 250 wholesale customers, including big brand supermarkets such as Asda. The business has gained more recognition through customer service and by adapting to change over the past few decades. And it is all because of David’s drive to be the very best. But he explains that he did not always want to work for the family business. David studied Business at Edinburgh University. Once he graduated, he discovered that there was no job’s out there for him.
In between sips he explains: “When I came back, I wasn’t planning on working for the family business. But because I couldn’t get a job when I graduated, I ended up working for my father. I could make all the ice cream anyway, and I could work in the office because I knew how to do payroll. But as it was very old fashioned in here, my father didn’t really want me in the business, he didn’t think I could do it, which just shows you. But he was just trying to push me. He’d tell me ‘you’ll be on crap wages, you’ll have to prove yourself’, even though I was a honours graduate from Edinburgh University. I was still, ‘the boy will do this, the boy will do that’, I used to hate it. But really it’s good, it keeps you grounded.”
David’s relationship with his father was his driving force to make the business a success. Subconsciously, he was following in his father’s footsteps, getting them known and building up the business. Not long after the pair went into partnership, his father took ill with leukemia and passed away.
“I was left with running the business on my own,” David says with a pondering look in his eye.
He quickly asserts himself and continues: “Which I had been kind of doing anyway when he was ill, but he was still quite old fashioned and he didn’t really want me to do much. By that point though, I had wanted to do a million things. So I started to expand the business and do different things.”
Going back to his father, he continues: “Before he was ill, I remember us going on a tour around all these ice cream parlours in Scotland. Ones that were well known, for instance Nardinis. I used to go there as a boy and be like no way this place is massive. I wanted to be like that. And now, I own half of Nardinis.”
“But my father wasn’t really into the business, whereas I was. He was really into his ice cream, yet he never entered a competition. So the first time he let me do it, we won a silver medal. After that he trusted me a bit more. What he didn’t realise was that I had been mucking about with his ice-cream for years, changing them all up. Of course, I had to do it gradually so he didn’t realise what I was doing.” He says with a mischievously grin, stirring his spoon into his second cup of tea.
Now, the walls of the ice cream parlour in Hamilton are filled with awards of all kinds. Including UK Champion of Champions, best flavour of ice cream at The Royal Highland Show, which he won five times in a row, and most recently ‘Best Ice Cream Parlour’ at the Scottish Italian Awards 2013. David explains excitedly that the latter is his favourite, for the recognition it brings to the business and his community.
With ice cream parlours in Cambuslang, Edinburgh, and Motherwell, and the possibility of a unit in Glasgow, the business is growing at a fast rate, but David promises it is all a gradual process. He explains with a serious face, that you must take risks to invest in the business.
“When my dad was here, people started to ask us about selling them ice-cream, and I thought ‘oh that would be good’, but he didn’t want to do it, he said you have to do it yourself. There was a guy helping me make the ice cream but he didn’t want anything to do with it. People were different back then, he would say oh ‘That’s not my job, that’s your job.’ So my dad was like, you need to do it in the evenings when the other guy isn’t on, and you have to deliver it in the back of your car, so I said fine, and I did it.”
Today, Equi’s have a number of delivery vans and a factory that produces over 300,000 litres of ice cream every year. Though the brand is known for its ice cream in Scotland, David’s heart has not left the community.
David looks around him and says:“I was born and raised in Hamilton, so it is important to respect the people you live around. I think a bit of ethos is giving back, and reconnecting with the community, I’ve done daft things for charity, I once had my back waxed for comic relief, that was embarrassing, but we raised two and a half grand, which was good.”
As the once full, pot of tea resides in David’s stomach, he explains that the job can get stressful, and a million things can go wrong at the same time. But he insists that it is made easier as all his employees work as part of a friendly team. 25 years later, David shows that he is still striving for Equi’s to be the very best. The man behind Equi’s ice cream sure knows how to deliver the scoop.