Eric Bickernicks, of Velma’s Kettle Corn, takes readers through the steps needed to start their own food concession business. He writes about his encounters with unusual customers, relentless health department officials and inept event coordinators. During this time, he documented everything on video, and this ebook links to over eighty videos which show exactly what transpired.
He goes over the equipment used to start his kettle corn business and the improvements he encountered as his business grew. He explains the different types of popcorn that are available and the benefits of each type. His business had many peaks and valleys and he shares the bad times as well as the good. He sold his product online as well as at events, and, on at least one occasion, US troops serving overseas were surprised with boxes of his kettle corn.
As marketing is always important for any new company, Eric goes over the different things he tried–from refrigerator magnets to t-shirt sales. He explains what it took to get a mention in the local newspapers and what other press he managed to get. He goes over what worked and what didn’t in his attempts at SEO (search engine optimization) to get his website ranked on Google.
He learned the hard way that, contrary to expectation, bigger events don’t necessarily mean bigger profits. He talks about the factors behind failed events, such as on-site location, when he was sometimes stuck in the far corners of a parking lot. At other times he was a victim of his own success, as with the occasion offended town officials stopped him from popping because his product became the focus of their event. Word of mouth spread about how good his kettle corn was, and he was eventually pursued by other towns for his services. He goes over his thoughts regarding corporate events, where the vendor gets payed up-front regardless of sales.
Some events were unconventional, like the time he gave away kettle corn to the neighborhood kids on Halloween, sold at a haunted hayride and set up his equipment on-site for a local movie night. He also took his set-up indoors during the winter, and explains why it never seemed to work.
Midway through his career, he moved and was forced to find locations all over again. He goes over his perceptions of each event before and after he attended. He took his business on the road to Florida where he explored the business opportunities available during the winter months when, back home in New England, popping outdoors was impossible. He even traveled to Hawaii, exploring it as a possible business location.
Creativity plays an important role in attracting customers and he writes about how he got customers to sing songs and participate in unusual challenges (all on video) just for a free bag of his product. On one occasion he even got an artist to go against his aesthetic judgement and paint on black velvet for some kettle corn. He also found out that kettle corn has non-human fans, such as cows and pigs.
Dealing with criticism from demanding customers and disgruntled competitors has been an ongoing issue. He relates stories about these confrontations and talks about what other bloggers and competitors said about him and his company. These tales include his account of the kettle corn vendor at Boston’s Fenway Park who felt the need to confront him and when the failure of a wealthy town to embrace his product changed his perception of what makes a good customer.
These personal anecdotes illustrate the rewards and perils of running a small business and make Bickernicks’ book more than just another business start-up manual.
Velma’s Kettle Corn website: www.velmas.org