As a gourmet popcorn business owner, the main focus tends to be about the quality and flavors of the products you are offering. For days and even weeks you came up with your perfect three cheese blend of popcorn. You fretted over which oils to use for popping, and which butter to use for your caramel corn (salted or unsalted). Most gourmet popcorn companies keep their recipes a secret in the hopes of having a competitive edge. The truth is; despite your popcorn flavors or your packaging, what keeps your customers coming back ultimately are both product quality and customer service.
Consider a hamburger. You can buy a hamburger practically anywhere, and for the most part they all taste the same. There are core expectations when you bite into a hamburger (the juiciness, the chew of the meat patty, and crispness of the vegetable toppings, and then the flavor). Popcorn can also be purchased anywhere, and also has its core expectations such as flavor. But unlike a hamburger, popcorn is often compared to other foods or things (“tastes like this/like that, etc…”). What sets items apart like hamburgers and popcorn are both the quality of the ingredients and good customer service.
As gourmet popcorn business owners, there often is a fine line between using quality ingredients and maintaining low operating costs. However, there are a few things that can be done to ensure quality while keeping your costs down and profit margins high:
- Shop Local – Sourcing local ingredients is a responsible way to support your local community along with getting the precise quantity you need. Also, when you buy locally and direct you can negotiate and build relationships with local suppliers.
- Shop For What’s In Season – It is tempting to shop for what you believe will sell. However, if it’s the middle of the summer and temperatures are high, selling white chocolate drizzle popcorn may not be practical. You must consider climate and other conditions when shopping for quality ingredients. This may include popcorn kernels. Some popcorn kernel types may not be good in warm or humid climates. This forward-thinking ultimately saves money and reduces waste and the risk of returns.
- Do Everything You Can In-House – We know how time consuming printing labels and other materials can be. However, consider that packaging costs are the highest product expenses. When possible, try to do your own printing and packaging to control and reduce costs.
Remember that quality is how you get customers, but Customer Service is how you keep customers. In business, issues and mistakes can happen. The true shining moment in business is how a business handles issues, mistakes and complaints. In this era of social media, a poor customer service experience can ruin a popcorn business. Here are a few tips on how to handle issues that may arise.
- Respond Quickly – When a suggestion or complaint are made, you must acknowledge them in a timely manner. Not all suggestions or complaints require action, but acknowledgement is always required.
- Issue Coupons and Store Credits – Whenever possible, always issue coupons or store credits in lieu of cash refunds. A product’s cost is typically much less than cash value. Also, coupons and store credits provide a way to retain or win back a customer who may have had a less than great customer experience. Often how you handle a situation makes all the difference.
- Create a Refunds and Returns Policy – There are people that simply want things for free. Most gourmet popcorn businesses are small businesses, and cannot afford to be exploited. Please ensure there are provisions clearly in place for refunds, returns and exchanges in your policies. When refunding orders, it is best to do so on a case-by-case basis using these policies as a guideline.
Popcorn quality and good customer service practices are your way to being successful in your business.