Smiling is the most valuable skill you can have as a Temporary Tour Host at the B&J ice cream factory in Waterbury, Vermont. "You have to be happy no matter what," says Jillian Geider, now in her third summer as a host at the factory.
As the photographer at the Kmart quick-photo department always says, "Just smile and be natural." That's what you need to be able to do in order to deal with large groups of kids who keep pestering you and asking, "When do we get to taste the ice cream?", choir groups who perform outside your door for a free tour, and hordes of vacationers who couldn't give a damn about your memorized speech on how ice cream is made. They just want Chunky Monkey. If you're still smiling after all of that, then apply for this job. (You should probably also get help for your inappropriate smiling problem)
So why are we featuring such a hellish customer service job? (We may get suckered by Ben & Jerry's socially responsible shtick, but we're not that naive.) The answer: three pints a day, free. Any Ben & Jerry's flavor you want, every single day. Our guess is that you won't be able to eat it all by yourself...but then again, 55% of Americans are overweight.
Let's forget about the ice cream for a moment (only for a moment). You also get to meet people from all around the world and work in a vacationesque atmosphere (we suspect lots of drinking). Then there's the line you could use at the party:
"I'm a tour host at the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory."
Like we said, remember, three pints a day.
The job starts with a three-day orientation during which hosts meet Ben and Jerry and various other officials, do team-bonding exercises, and learn about the company. Hosts are also given a script of the 30-minute tour that they must memorize; later on, they can get a little creative with it.
The rigors of the job, which starts between eight and nine in the morning and lasts about seven hours a day? "Sometimes, the movie projector doesn't work right, and then we have to wing it," says Geider. Also, "it's pretty draining being in front of people all day."
Hosts have conducted famous people on the tours, such as the Director of the FBI, Julia Roberts, and Bill Murray. But to offset that, you'll have to deal with B&J "fanatics," as Geider calls them: People who get married at the factory, people who drive ten hours just to take a tour, and random people who know more about the company than the hosts do. One guy could recite, from memory, every ice cream flavor B&J has ever put out. "Lots of random funny things like that happen," says Geider.
Aside from conducting tours, hosts also scoop samples for guests, clean public areas, and help out with activities such as photography, temporary tattoo booths, and "Bengo," a game not unlike Bingo, that visitors can play.
Most of the hosts are students at the colleges in Vermont. (Meaning it's a bit of a party scene; "I've made tons of friends here," Geider says.) And let's face it, for $8 an hour, if you're from out of town, you're not going to be able to afford moving to Vermont without another source of income, i.e. your understanding parents or a charitable grandmother.
The positions last for three to four months, at the end of which you get reviewed and then they'll probably ask you to come back for another season.
If you're interested in going career, this is probably the easiest way to get your foot in Ben & Jerry's door. According to Team Leader Joe Dombek, you can go on to become a permanent tour host. Past temporary hosts have also moved into public relations, marketing, and sales. But a word to the wise: Ben & Jerry's isn't as crunchy or avowedly social responsible as it once was.
The Times, They are A-Changin'
Ben & Jerry's was founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 1978 in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont. Much has been made of their philanthropic mission, which attempts to promote community-building along with business profits and states that the company continues to give 7.5 percent of its pre-tax earnings to projects dealing with children and families, disenfranchised groups, and the environment.
Recently, the company has faced a tightening of its philanthropic and corporate belts, as sales in 1996-7 were down and morale was battered. With the arrival of a new CEO, former Fortune 500 executive Perry Odak, in January 1997, the company has redefined its priorities.
A wage scale used to limit top salaries to seven times the lowest pay, but the company abandoned that practice and now operates on a "compressed salary ratio." That means top officials are given the low-end of a competitive salary, and entry-level permanent workers are given the high end of nationally-compared wages after one year of work. There's no longer a numerical salary ratio between highest- and lowest-paid employees, and the company has become extremely hush-hush about giving out salary information. Ben & Jerry's would not tell the MoJo Wire what the salary of an entry-level worker is after a year's worth of work.
If you send in a resume now, you can be considered for the six to eight positions available for the fall season, from August to November. If you'd like to work next summer, applications aren't due until April 1999. You have to be at least 16. To be considered, you must fill out an application. Call (802) 244-5641 or write to Ben & Jerry's, PO Box 240, Waterbury, VT 05676. Or visit their Web site.