If you happen to be in Scottsdale, AZ, this craving can be answered at My Popcorn Kitchen, a small business that specializes in gourmet, and totally inventive, popcorn creations.
Beer Cheddar, Spicy Buffalo Wing, Toffee Almond, Cheesecake, Grape, Confetti… the list of wild flavors goes on and on.
Opened by Kim Brush in 2012, My Popcorn Kitchen combines a number of tactics to get her tasty treats into the public eye.
Beginning with a physical store and ecommerce site, Kim shares with us her experiences of taking one the most niche products out there – gourmet popcorn – and bringing it to a mass audience, one kernel at a time.
Creating a Popcorn Destination
As a first-time small business owner, Kim did a fair amount of research before settling on popcorn.
“We looked at several franchising options, but none felt right. A friend introduced us to a gourmet popcorn store in Texas, we talked with the owner, and decided to open our own.”
From there it became a balancing act of operating a self-sufficient storefront and creating an online presence for her niche products.
“After careful study and researching other similar operations, we learned the business was driven by several factors: foot traffic, online sales and distribution, holiday or seasonal, business gifts and corporate events, commercial and private specialty events, resorts and hospitals,” Kim said.
“We decided our primary targets would be business/corporate and specialty events, internet sales, and impulse purchasing.”
Kim opted for a strip center location for her physical store, which she felt would provide easier access to her core customers. Because gourmet popcorn is more of a destination product, she said, reliance on foot traffic wasn’t a huge issue for her.
Once the storefront was set up, a plan for growth was laid out.
“Getting the store established and self-sufficient was the first task; marketing and sales growth come next which is where we are now. Currently we have our website, social media and SEO.”
Popcorn That’s Only a Click Away
Branching out to ecommerce has proven to be very successful for My Popcorn Kitchen, and Kim describes it as a continual process.
“It took far longer than we wanted to launch our website (it launched almost a full year after we opened) because we wanted to fully investigate the ability to offer all our flavors in the tins, which we learned was a problem when we were originally set to launch the website 6 months earlier.”
The longer wait may have been worth it, however, as the website not only works the way she wants it to but continues to grow their business.
“Ecommerce is an essential part of our business. Our target percentage of business from our website is 25%, but we’re not there yet.”
But, as Kim describes, one of the biggest hurdles to ecommerce is getting customers on her site.
“The challenge to online sales is getting people to the site. Currently, most of our consumer awareness is limited to in-store customers and gift recipients; what I call first and second generation traffic.
“What we need now is to increase consumer awareness of both our concept and our store and grow our top-line sales. SEO is essential in getting a website on page one of search engines.”
As with most businesses, the initial growth was spurred by word-of-mouth reviews and referrals. However as sales have grown, Kim has recognized the need to incorporate new tactics for finding customers.
“We’ve done remarkably well and thus far our entire business has really been organic, walk-in/word of mouth. We now need to take it to the next level and create additional awareness and demand.”
Flavors You Never Would’ve Imagined
According to Kim, inspiration for new popcorn comes from many sources.
“Customers, grocery store shopping, things popping into my head, the upcoming holiday, available ingredients.
“For instance, for Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be great to make a chocolate popcorn version of Red Velvet Cake.”
And while she can make a few flavors herself, Kim hired a chef to handle the popping and more advanced fruit flavors.
“In the beginning, I was making the cheeses and chocolates. I trained several of our staff members to make these flavors so they can be made on demand.
Inventory control is one of the benefits of making everything in-house. We don’t make more at any given time than we need.”
Aside from the ever-present need to grow one’s business, Kim hopes to continue to grow her social media presence, and improve her online sales.
Although niche products can seem like a harder business proposition at the outset, it can actually be to your advantage to sell unique items. After all, you’re able to define your own rules, goals, and means to success.
You may not be ready to create a popcorn empire like Kim’s, but it’s helpful to know that with enough determination, any small business idea is more than possible!
How would you sell niche products? Share your thoughts!