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The history of business is the history of epiphanies. Sometimes the fog clears up, and the right path is seen. This certainly happened—with respect to pricing—for Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Before they sold the business in 2000, to Unilever, the British-Dutch food company, they wrote an essay in 1997, titled “Bagels, Ice Cream, or … Pizza?” in which they explain their “famous pricing epiphany”:
Each year we would break even and say we needed only to do a little more business to make a profit. Then the next year we’d do a lot more business and still only break even. One day we were talking to Ben’s dad, who was an accountant. He said, “Since you’re gonna make such a high-quality product instead of pumping it full of air, why don’t you raise your prices?”
At the time we were charging 52 cents a cone. Coming out of the ’60s, our reason for going into business was that ours was going to be “ice cream for the people.”
Ben said, “But Dad, the reason we’re not making money is because we’re not doing the job right. We’re overscooping. We’re wasting ice cream. Our labor costs are too high—we’re not doing a good job of scheduling our employees. We’re not running our business efficiently. Why should the customer have to pay for our mistakes? That’s why everything costs twice as much as it should.”
And Mr. Cohen said, “You guys have to understand—that’s human. That’s as good as people do. You can’t price for doing everything exactly right. Raise your prices.”
Eventually we said, either we’re going to raise our prices or we’re going to go out of business. And then where will the people’s ice cream be? They’ll have to get their ice cream from somebody else. So we raised the prices.
(Quoted in The Book of Entrepreneurs’ Wisdom, edited by Peter Krass, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1999, pp. 462–463.)