Finding different ways to get traffic to your business can be extremely challenging. Bill & Hellen Yuhasz from Ohio opened a seasonal popcorn business and quickly learned that you can’t just open a business and have customers. You have to have multiple channels and different creative strategies to push customers to your business. Read the story below, it gives great insight that no matter what your business is, with hard work and dedication, you can make it happen.
The Company: Great Lakes Popcorn Co., a seasonal business in Port Clinton, offers more than 30 varieties of flavors. Founded in 2000 by Bill and Helyn “Kit” Yuhasz, the downtown retail specialty confection store has eight employees.
The Mistake: We started visiting the quaint towns of Port Clinton and Put-in-Bay many years before we decided to leave our corporate jobs to start a popcorn business. Even though we understood we were starting a seasonal operation, we made the mistake of not understanding just how seasonal a seasonal business really is.
When we first opened for business, I pressed contractors hard to finish the build-out by May. But we didn’t see a big spike in customers and tourists until June, when school is out and graduations are over.
We hoped the season would last until September. But by Mid-August business slowed tremendously.
We had no idea that business would decline so drastically in the next two months. Walk-in traffic dropped off about 80 percent.
We should have known though since all of Ottawa County has a year-round population of only 40,000. But during the summer, about 125,000 people visit throughout the week, while about 250,000 people visit the area on weekends.
We make a huge variety of spicy and sweet flavors, but we needed a plan to get the word out if we wanted to stay in business. I’ll never forget when an elderly customer walked in that first year and announced that we’d never make it two years. We were starting to wonder. But failure was not an option, we had to find a way to make it work.
Just making popcorn available on our website was hardly enough. We had to find new markets and new ways to sell Great Lakes Popcorn.
The Fix: We started working on finding multiple distribution channels.
First we started contacting businesses about gift giving and started preparing for the Christmas season. It took a long time to build up that part of the business, but now we do as much business in December as we do in the first five months of the year.
We did it by beating the bushes, leaving samples of popcorn at a lot of offices. One of our long-standing bank customers has been buying gift tins and gift baskets for 10 years. We’re at the point now where we have to start building an inventory of popcorn in October, because corporate sales account for 25 percent of our annual sales. The rest of the holiday business is a mix of people buying gifts for family. Some come to our store, but most call in custom orders.
Throughout the years, we’ve continually tried to figure out ways to increase business, including using the popcorn as a fundraiser for schools and organizations. Five years ago, we bought the building next door. Since it came with a liquor license, we decided to launch a Caribbean theme restaurant called Kokomo Bay. Now some customers like to customize gift baskets even more by adding wine to the popcorn.
It takes a lot of hard work to build a seasonal business. But we did catch a break when the Food Network sent a crew from New York to cover the Walleye festival and instead ended up spending 14 hours filming at our popcorn shop.
Each year since 2004, we always know when that 4-minute clip runs because we immediately get a spike in Internet orders. It used to run twice a year. A lot of tourists tell us that as soon as they cross the Thomas Edison Memorial Bridge they feel relaxed. We remember that feeling. It’s the reason we wanted to start a business here. It’s different now because we’re headed to work. But it’s a long way from working in corporate America. We give out lots of samples and have a lot of fun.