Mind Virus E-Zine


Archive for February, 2011

Popcorn Fiasco

Thursday, February 24th, 2011


Today’s Mind Virus Blog post is for those of you who own and operate your own small business. Those of you who are corporate officers, work in a cubicle, or have yourself a nice corner office, could ALSO learn a thing or two from today’s blog.

In a suburb of a large US city is a chain of “gourmet” popcorn stores. That’s right – all they sell is “gourmet” popcorn. If you L-O-V-E popcorn, then you’ll have no problem paying an unreasonable amount of money for a large bag of “gourmet” deliciousness.

As is frequently the case, I get called in for my opinion – aka professional evaluation. Why? Because my opinion of a businesses’ marketing strategy is VERY valuable…and expensive.

And YES, I DO say so myself.

This particular popcorn chain features 16 different varieties of gourmet popcorn. All of their stores are located in the downtown area of upscale communities, and as you might expect, in the primary shopping districts of large cities.

Even before the economic downturn, they noticed that their business wasn’t what they had expected or projected – especially after having done all that “market research” (or what they thought was market research).

Soooo…WHO do you call to take an objective look at your business? Well…that depends. Do you want to hear what you want to hear? If so, then you don’t call me. If you want to hear the truth, you call Dr. Marc. FYI: Most people don’t want to hear the truth. I know – Shocking!

I took a few trips and took a lot of notes. Then we did MY kind of market research so that what I’d bring back to the company – was based on REALITY and not what they wanted to hear. Based on how things were originally presented to me, the company’s officers wanted to hear that they made all the right moves and that it was “the economy” that was keeping people away from their corn.

Paraphrase: “Marc, we know that we’ve done a great job with these stores. We just want your view of the little things we need to tweak.”

Translation: We are paying you a lot of money, so shut the heck up and tell us what we want to hear. Tell us that we are awesome, that our poop doesn’t stink, and that we did everything perfectly!

Their marketing guru, like most marketing gurus, was another guy who knew more than me (or so he thought). If you don’t believe him, just ask him. You know – it’s funny: I have been slammed and insulted by some of the dumbest people that one could ever hope NOT to meet, and yet – in every case, they don’t know me, haven’t seen my work, and don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.


The new design of the stores was such that, as people strolled by, they could look in the window and watch some teenage employee with pins in his face and pants down by his knees, pour popcorn kernels into the industrial popcorn cooker. These popcorn poppers weren’t the kind you’d see at the ballpark. These were big steel mega-machines that looked like they belonged in a factory.

So as you walked by their window, you looked into a very clean, very sterile environment with 50 lb bags of popcorn kernels stacked to the ceiling, bags of brown sugar stacked to the ceiling, bags of refined sugar stacked to the ceiling, bags of seasoning salt, large plastic gallon bottles of oil (no label on the oil), etc. It looked like a food storage facility you’d see in a documentary about a cruise ship or a restaurant. Popcorn was made periodically throughout the day – but only accounting for about two hours out of their 12-14 day. The rest of the time the equipment sat idle.

When you go inside the store, you walk by the popcorn kitchen, and then – toward the rear of the store, you’d come up to the area where you’d place your order. It was there that you saw the various bins of different flavored gourmet popcorn.


I’m not going to get into my complete analysis. That would take way too long, and it would give away too many tid-bits of information. Sorry.

For starters, I told them that their store design was worse than awful. Why? Well…when people walk by a popcorn store that features their “popcorn factory” for all to see, you would expect (or at least I would expect) to see…err…popcorn being made – ALL THE TIME.

As I stated, even if you were standing across the street, you could look through the window and see their ingredients. The bags of popcorn kernels featured the label of their supplier and read, POPCORN – 50lbs.

Now – if I was their marketing guru (lol), I would have had those folks have giant flour bins that read, Grade A+ Gourmet Popping Corn (or something to that effect), Premium Trans-Fat Free Oil, Evaporated Cane Sugar, etc. I wouldn’t just want them to have those labels on the bins; I would EXPECT that from a gourmet popcorn. Wouldn’t you?

The Point: They are TELLING US that it’s gourmet popcorn, but SHOWING US that it’s crap.

Then I asked their marketing guru why he thought it wise to show the brown sugar, the refined sugar, and the big jugs of oil – all in their off-the-truck commercial containers. Here’s what he said (right in front of the client – in an effort to make me look bad):

“You know Marc – I thought you were a marketing guy. You ever been to a nice restaurant with those open kitchens? Same idea…big shot!”


You know Bill, I HAVE been to a number of those restaurants. Thank you. But here’s the deal; You are selling gourmet popcorn for an outrageous price. You know it, your client knows it, and their customers know it. Their customers are willing to pay the price for the popcorn because it’s supposed to be GOURMET. When you say “GOURMET,” but you show them ingredients which represent everything BUT gourmet, you screw yourself out of legitimacy.

Now Bill, this probably is something that they didn’t teach you in marketing school, so bear with me, because here goes: People will NOT balk at paying your outrageous prices (if they love the product and want to treat themselves) when they believe that your product is actually what you claim. But you Bill, being the smart guy you are – with your fancy briefcase, and your cheesy shoes, decided to show the customers how badly you’re screwing them. AND, Bill, you decided to do it right there in the front of the store – right there in the window. WOW – you are a %*#@-ing genius!!!

From my perspective Bill, your client – the folks who SUPPOSEDLY make premium gourmet popcorn, should be using organic popcorn, organic oil, organic evaporate cane sugar, etc. Not only would that have gotten you more customers, but it would have been fertilizer for one hell of a PR campaign! But not you Bill! You decided to kiss their butt and then basically show them how to kill their own business.

Hang on Bill, because the DARK LORD is just getting warmed-up…

You CLAIM that your client’s stores have many different flavors of popcorn, and yet, you hide the plastic display bins – filled with the popped premium gourmet flavored popcorn – in the back of the store next to the cash register. Wouldn’t you want all those bins – or at least another set of bins – and all of those flavors – sitting right up there in the front window so that passers-by might taste the delicious popcorn with their eyes? Ever heard the term “window shopping” Bill? Probably not.

Finally, BILL, you have the popcorn machines running for two whole hours a day (lol). WOW! Hmm…that makes sense…err…I guess. It’s not like kids will walk by with their folks and want to watch the popcorn pour out of nifty looking 1,000 pound popcorn machine. Naaaaaw! You decided to show those kids who was boss by putting on display – a popcorn machine that doesn’t pop popcorn! Hooray for you Bill! You are a genius!

You should have that machine going all day long, but at a lower speed. And yes Bill, I did check – and that machine does have a low speed that would produce the same amount of popcorn in one day, as you produce in two hours. Why go so fast? I hope you’re not that way in “other” areas of life…BILL.

If you had popcorn left over at the end of the day, you could bag it up and give it to a homeless shelter. Talk about GOOD WILL! Talk about PR! The popcorn kernels cost your client nothing. Even with high corn prices, popcorn is not the same corn used to make xantham gum. It’s cheap. You could have donated the daily extras to underprivileged kids, school clubs, etc. People would buy overpriced popcorn for the simple fact that you were SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY!

Gosh Bill…I sure wish I was smart as you. Maybe one day Bill…maybe one day.


Naturally, I am prepaid for my analysis (lol). All of that information and a ton more was presented to the client in a nice report. I wished them well and said goodbye. Instead of saying goodbye to Bill, I simply scratched my forehead with my left middle finger. That’s a proud Bostonian’s way of saying, “See you later!”

About a week and a half later, I get a call from the popcorn company’s CEO and CMO. They told me that they wanted to hire me to redesign their stores. I said no, but that I would be happy to build the strategy and work with their designers/architects and with a marketing firm that welcomes outsiders and listens to someone who MAY know more than they do.

Bill called me up and asked me to lunch. I said no. In his eyes, he was the bigger man for calling me up (although a bigger man without a big client – lol). To me, Bill is a POS. And yes, he DOES read my blogs. When I am hired to come into an business, I expect nothing less than decency. If you don’t give me that, you’re going down. You don’t get a second chance.

Did you learn anything from this blog?

If you didn’t, then you are an idiot. Let me be the first to congratulate you.


Perhaps, if you are smarter than Bill, you will tell your colleagues where they can FINALLY find one voice who understands business. I don’t care if your friends own a restaurant, if they are chiropractors, surgeons, or exotic dancers. This blog is about STRATEGY, and this site is about BEING BETTER.

The Dark Lord has spoken!

Have A GREAT Day!

…Dr. Marc Swerdlick, MIND VIRUS