PopLuck: A Homegrown Popcorn Success Story
Upbeat, energetic, and welcoming, Jennifer Minski is the proud founder and owner of PopLuck in Erie, Pennsylvania. From the time she was in high school, she set her sights on one day owning her own business. But it took her years to determine what business would be right. Her passion for the popcorn business was born when she received cheddar and caramel mix popcorn for her 40th birthday. Her friends had brought it from Pittsburgh, and it was a hit. She wished Erie had a popcorn store and that prompted her to start researching. Because Jennifer loves to cook, she was naturally drawn to this type of business. She started her business plan in March of 2016. She researched, obtained a mentor through the Chamber of Commerce, and within nine months had secured a business loan to launch PopLuck. Building everything from the ground up took time. Yet, she was fortunate to find a trusted partner in Gold Medal.
Jennifer came across Gold Medal’s website while researching. She reached out to the Pittsburgh branch and was connected with her representative, Mike Dydynski. He met with her and consulted with her on the equipment and products available for mass producing gourmet popcorn. “Mike is so dedicated and patient. He’s extremely helpful. You can tell that Gold Medal truly wants to see us succeed.” As a result, Jennifer chose to use all Gold Medal equipment in her production, including poppers, cookers, and tumblers.
PopLuck officially opened in July 2017. Jennifer calls their location, “small but mighty!” Housed in a shopping plaza across the street from a park, the shop is literally popping everyday.
Keeping It Poppin’: How PopLuck Keeps Their Menu Fresh Daily
What distinguishes PopLuck from other popcorn businesses is they only sell 11 flavors at a time, and they have a flavor change every day. Jennifer strives to keep things fresh and fun. They have their set flavor of salted butter, which is nicknamed Generic Jenny. And they offer the traditional cheddar and caramel flavors as well. They also set a flavor of the month. Then they have six creatively named flavors that rotate, which always keeps the product fresh and keeps customers following to see what flavor will come up next.
Every day, PopLuck posts their flavor board on Facebook and Instagram. It keeps customers engaged. Plus, every day there is also a new Roll Call promotion. With the roll call, they choose a certain name or association, and those individuals will receive a free small Generic Jenny popcorn. For example, one day it might be people with a birthday in October, or people named Hannah. For Halloween, they offered free popcorn to any customer in costume. Jennifer shared that this gives customers a reason to share posts with their friends.
Facing Challenges Head-On
The engaging atmosphere is something that customers appreciate. PopLuck’s innovation mixed with determination is what helped them to overcome the challenges during the pandemic. First, they had to close up shop completely for eight weeks. Then, they were allowed to open but only for curbside service. Yet, Jennifer was willing to work hard and get creative to keep her customers happy.
“We had to make it fun,” Jennifer shared. They ran six phone lines to keep up with the demand. The staff of mostly teenagers had to learn the different types of cars and even made flash cards to study. One employee really kicked the fun up to another level by wearing costumes and rollerblades. Building their presence on social media also helped to keep customers connected to PopLuck.
The community has been really supportive and to show her appreciation Jennifer enjoys doing fundraisers to help give back. One example is for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they sold a pink-colored plain popcorn with 100% of the sales being donated.
They also run promotions just for fun! They had a cake pop version for the Taylor Swift movie and made Barbie popcorn for the Barbie movie. Jennifer shared it was fun to see the fathers come in and order Taylor Swift popcorn for their daughters. For Thanksgiving, they will offer a Thanksgiving feast in a bag and even top it off with a miniature piece of pecan pie!
In addition, Erie happens to be home to the pepperoni ball. If you haven’t had one, it is a ball of dough stuffed with pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. PopLuck was smart to create a pepperoni ball popcorn flavor, inspired by their hometown snack.
Jennifer estimates that they’ve had well over 150 flavors total in their history!
A Proven Successful Business Strategy
One factor that was very important to Jennifer when she started the business is that she wanted the products to be affordable. “I wanted a family of five to come in and everyone be able to get their own bag of popcorn for less than $20.” Even now, the most expensive bag in the shop is just $11.50.
A second factor that mattered to Jennifer was customer service. She calls her staff overachievers! “Our success is happiness. And that’s for everyone from our staff to customers,” Jennifer explained. “I’m very big on customer service. When a guest walks through our door, everyone stops to yell hello.”
Those connections matter. Customers become not only regulars but also friends. The culture of PopLuck truly makes all the difference. And that is evidenced by the overwhelmingly positive customer reviews. Jennifer is proud of PopLuck’s Google reviews rating of 4.9 with almost 300 reviews. Nearly perfect it shows just how the community has fully embraced PopLuck.
As for the future, Jennifer wants to continue to do more of the same… creating new flavors, making more connections, and just keeping on popping!
If you’re intrigued with the ideas of having a gourmet popcorn business, here are some more great resources from Gold Medal: