Atlanta’s King of Pops just turned 4, its origin tale almost as familiar around town as it is irresistible. But there’s more to the company’s story since the now-fabled beginning. Here’s a list of 9 things you probably don’t know about or can learn from The King, aka Steven Carse, the laid-off corporate worker who started selling organic, homemade popsicles in fun flavors (chocolate sea salt, Arnold Palmer, mango habanero, apple ginger…) on a street corner in 2010. Since then, brother Nick left his career as an attorney to join the enterprise, and it has become a case study in successful small-business marketing: strong emotional connections; pitch-perfect branding; resonant storytelling; savvy use of social media; and more.
And who doesn’t love a popsicle?
Since the origin story has been told so often, and is available on the company website, let’s start with some new items.
- Farming Future. The King’s popsicles are made with fresh fruit, herbs, honey and other essentials he soon will grow at a 65-acre farm near Douglasville. Carse plans to use the farm for composting, tours/awareness of farming, and eventually start other food-related businesses.
- No ‘Shark Tank.’ Carse isn’t looking to sell the business. But every time it’s featured in national media, he gets calls from folks all over who want to open their own King of Pops stand.
- Growth in the Numbers. In his first year on the corner of Highland and North avenues, Carse estimates he sold 50,000 popsicles, for $2.50 each. The exotic flavors and organic cane sugar/honey/agave sweeteners, along with his low-key pitch, were a hit. This year, he expects to sell 600,000.
- Value Your Employees. “We attract and hire interesting people,” Carse says. “We get a lot of applicants, people who are musicians or artists or students. Initially, it just worked out that way, but now we like it and look for it.” The company has a dozen full-time employees, plus 30 part-time “slingers” who sell at parks, corners and festivals, based out of a 3,700-square-foot production facility in trendy Inman Park.
- Stay Focused. They deliver weekly to 50 or 60 locations around the Southeast and plan to keep the regional focus. Most of the retail locations, which include Whole Foods, are around Atlanta.
- Show Some Emotion. Popsicles appeal to a sweet place in our collective consciousness, memories of childhood, summer fun… and the business model focuses on that by trying to be in what Carse calls “the right places.” That could be a church festival one week and gay Pride the next. “From a very abstract perspective, it’s wherever people want to be happy, where they are going in order to be happy and have fun.”
- What’s Your Story? “We make a very good product, and the product is important,”Carse says. “But more important is our creation story and people’s idea of who we are. I don’t know how we cultivate that more or how we created it to begin with, except by being authentic and trying to be very honest about everything. That seems very simple, but I don’t think people are actually used to that from businesses. They’re used to getting a pitch. I don’t feel like we have a pitch. We’re just some guys trying to do a good thing. We would never have a meeting and say, ‘All right, what are we going to do to be more authentic?’ But I’ll say to five random people, ‘Go do something nice that’s pop-related while you’re on the clock.’ ”
- Make Connections. “People were really able to connect with us initially, and after that it was momentum. Atlanta is on an upswing with things like the Beltline and the food scene, and we are a part of that. People are proud of the city, and they talk about how much they love it. I still work at the old corner once or twice a week – and I like that vibe, the 10-second interaction with people I don’t really know but I’m familiar with, kids I’ve seen grow up … I love that.”
- Keep It Real Online. The King of Pops is ideal for social media. Nick Carse says the business makes the most of it by being useful, telling followers where vendors are every day and showing what is available. “Anybody can have social media,” he says, “but it’s gotta be smart.” So linked is the company’s identity with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest, that he says the King has never spent a dime on advertising.
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