Customer Spotlight: Just Poppin
Just Poppin could have only been a dream if the turn of the economy had not affected Jennie and Buck Smolow. In 2007 at the height of the financial meltdown, Buck’s financial company closed its doors. Sitting in his Florida home one day, Buck was figuring out what to do with his free time.
Buck long considered himself a foodie, and he really enjoyed popcorn. So he got to thinking—maybe he could work with something he loved eating. Being out of work, he found himself at home making popcorn and then thinking about types of popcorn. As Buck browsed online, he discovered something interesting—mushroom popcorn. But here’s what was even more interesting—the supplies only came in bulk.
With too many leftovers and too much to eat, Buck sold the popcorn he couldn’t eat. He continued selling popcorn, and just like that, Just Poppin, a vendor for gourmet popcorn, was born.
Jennie and Buck’s primary goal as small business owners is the survival and growth of their company. The key, Buck said, is really taking care of your customer as well as learning everything there is to know about popcorn and how it is made. And starting a business and keeping it going isn’t easy.
“It takes entrepreneurial spirit,” Buck said. “I don’t think it takes any particular education. It just takes guts, perseverance, and the right partners. This wouldn’t have gone anywhere without my wife. She is an amazing partner, and together we are like Batman and Robin.”
So in 2007, Buck and Jennie took to popcorn by buying gourmet flavors in bulk and then selling them online in smaller packages. By joining the popcorn industry, they were merging a food hobby of theirs into a business.
From here, popcorn became more than a hobby. It became a business and one that they wanted to last.
Throughout the past seven years as small business owners, Jennie and Buck have learned that to keep your business running smoothly, it is sometimes best to take a few minutes, breathe, and think before responding with your initial thoughts.
Both Jennie and Buck said: “It really does matter how you treat your customers. I learned my own platinum rule – treat others as I would want my mother or grandmother to be treated.”
Buck also suggested creating strong business relationships with your vendors and suppliers.
Overall, Smolow advises that it is really important to know your customers and be an expert on your products. Through exceptional service, expertise, and quality of product, Just Poppin competes with big businesses.
Although Just Poppin is quite successful and is growing rapidly, both Buck and Jennie said they wish they would have done some things differently when they first started. Mostly, they wish they would have started out with a basic accounting system that would have grown with them as well as kept all of their personal and business finances separate. They also wish they would have had a better website in 2007 and one with a more robust shopping cart. However, they do admit that it isn’t really financially feasible for a startup small business to put too much time and effort into Setting Up an eCommerce Website.
To help finance their business, Buck and Jennie used and still use Kabbage to buy inventory. They said they wanted to make sure the cost of using Kabbage matched up with returns they got from being able to stock up on their inventory. Their major concern when looking into Kabbage was making sure it would be profitable for them.
“Every time we make a decision for a large inventory purchase, we look at our position,” they said. “Kabbage is not cheap money. It is easy, and that is what makes it incredibly appealing.”
As for advertising, Just Poppin uses Google Ads and AdWords. The company also has a strong social media presence in addition to a blog.
Mostly Buck and Jennie concentrate on word-of-mouth and blogging to get involved in their marketing. This means their customer service and products are of vital importance. They post on their blog a few times a month, and their typical customer and reader is a foodie – someone who Buck said is a popcorn fan “who wants to do something new and exciting while having the best quality popcorn at home.”
On social media, they concentrate mostly on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. They have Leveraged Pinterest for Business Marketing quite well because of Pinterest’s visual aspect. Buck and Jennie post products, recipes, crafts, and links to their blog.
In the next five years, Buck and Jennie said they plan on expanding Just Poppin. They said they want their company to be much bigger by adding inventory warehouses and growing their fundraising section of their business. So far they have already started developing their own strain of popping grains to make their own popcorn and expand their business.
“Sorghum is our grain. With it we can create our own varieties, so that’s going to grow and will help us provide interesting and cool stuff to our customers and the popcorn industry,” Buck said.
“As successful small business owners, the best advice Buck and Jennie can give to anyone looking to start a small business is: “Go for it! It is important to do research so you are understanding your product and differentiating your product from others.”
You should be doing your business better than anybody else can, the Smolows explained. That way you aren’t constantly trying to keep up with the industry.
Buck also said: “You should have knowledge of basic finance and get legal with your county, city and state and the IRS. Do it right, and be above the board. Keep a clean operation, and get involved with the Small Business Development Center in your area. The SBDC is an invaluable small business development center, and they will advise you and help you for free.”
Starting a small business takes a lot of work, skills, and expertise. Many small business owners out there like Buck and Jennie have made their small business idea thrive and prosper. But there are still a lot of ups and downs when it comes to owning your own business.
“I wish I would have known that I wasn’t going to get much sleep, but mostly I wish I would have known that things aren’t always going to get done the way I would have wanted them to,” Buck said. “Employees, vendors, suppliers – sometimes you just have to realize this fact and as a result, you just have to accept it. And it’s not easy sometimes.”
The mental support of their families really helped the Smolows when they opened up Just Poppin. It was stabilizing to have their whole family support them, they said. They also mentioned that Kabbage was a helpful asset because with the money they received from Kabbage, they were able to order inventory that they wouldn’t have been able to.
Perseverance through all the trials and tribulations of owning a small business is an expansive accomplishment. Enjoying your life and working while you do it is even more impressive. Seven years ago Jennie and Buck Smolow decided to start their own small business, and ever since, they have changed the way that gourmet popcorn is distributed.
To learn more about starting your own small business, head over to the Kabbage Guides page and read about Starting a Small Business.
Author: Madie Hodges