Business Spotlight: Ice King Indiana

Entrepreneurship has been described as a great equalizer, creating opportunities for a wide range of people from a variety of communities. As part of our Entrepreneurship for All initiative, we asked three small business owners to share their stories of starting a business in rural communities.

One of those owners was Preston Kaehr, owner of Ice King Indiana, in Bluffton. Rhonda Ladig, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the NIIC, sat down with Kaehr for a quick Q & A.

RL: How did you become a business owner?

PK: It started at my bank. Right next to First Bank of Berne, in Bluffton, there was this huge machine. And I was like, “What in the world is this thing?” It was a water and ice machine. And I thought, “That is the dumbest idea I’ve ever seen. No one is ever going to do that.” And I just kept driving past it every time I went to the bank, and I thought, “You know? Maybe this guy’s onto something.”

And so I was inspired by another entrepreneur. My hometown is Ossian. Having lived there for 20 years, I knew how terrible the water was. We’re just getting started, but I really think that there’s going to be an opportunity to help make the earth’s most abundant resource fresh, pure, and affordable for people.

Our kiosks provide purified water, as well as ice that comes bagged directly. And it’s contactless, so it’s very clean and safe to the consumer, but it’s also very fresh and pure, because it’s made each day, right there in our machine.

RL: One of the things that you wanted was to build some passive income, right?

PK: Yes, I wanted to build a business that doesn’t require human capital. I ran a nursing home for six years, and I did that right during the midst of COVID. I learned very quickly the importance of human capital, but I also found very quickly the lack of supply of human capital. That was a motivator to me. I was like, “You know, if I’m going to do this, and find some different things to do, maybe we can find something that’s a little more automated, that doesn’t have as much human capital involved.”

RL: What do you think is different for your business, running it in this smaller community, versus how you would see running it in a more urban community, such as Fort Wayne?

PK: I found it much easier to be able to get the resources and help that I need from other businesses on a quicker basis. They’re more available.

When I was setting up our first ice machine and water machine, I needed a plumber and electrician. The guy that I used for my plumbing, he didn’t even bill me, because he just thought, “This is such a cool idea, man.” And so I think that local connection was really helpful to be able to get their time and attention in a smaller city like that.

RL: What are the challenges for growing your business in your local community?

PK: The machines that I get are from Georgia, and there’s no physical onsite support except me. I’m the guy that must fix it. So having the ability to find people that have skills, that I can teach, that’s going to be huge for my business as I expand. Because I guarantee you, I can’t maintain multiple machines on my own as we grow.

Infrastructure’s going to be important for our business as well, because all of our kiosks communicate through cellular. I think having internet and reliable cellular infrastructure is definitely important.

RL: If you had a magic wand for solving one problem for your business, what would it be?

PK: It’s going to be funding, number one. Having a connecting point for startups is going to be huge for someone like myself. I understand how the whole credit process works, but it’s difficult until you have some track record in history. There’s got to be something in between some of the predatory areas for capital funding, or your traditional banking institution.

The other thing that will affect my growth is the availability of qualified people that can help with installation, and contract work, and things like that. I did everything on my first machine that we put up in Ossian. I dug the trench, I buried the water lines, I did the electrical. I’m okay with it, because now I know how to do it, and I know how to teach someone else how to do it. But I think for the long-term, that’s not a sustainable model.

RL: Thank you for all your information and insights. It’s helpful to hear the real stories of what entrepreneurs go through, and what they need.


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