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Business is popping for Windsor family company

Friday, June 26, 2020

The owner of a local, family-owned business has found a new revenue stream and greater efficiencies by embracing e-commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeff Gamble, owner of What’s Poppin’ Popcorn Factory in Windsor, has been popping kettle corn by hand since 2007. Prior to the pandemic, the business generated most of its sales from hosting fundraisers and attending festivals and local events.

Their mobile trailer could be found at regional events such as Lasalle Strawberry Fest, Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Foundation’s annual fireworks fundraiser, Wheels on Wyandotte Car & Motorcycle Show, Ruthven Apple Fest and Bright Lights to name a few.

“Our fundraising side of the business has helped dozens of non-profit organizations collect money from the sale of our kettle corn and other specialty popcorn flavours,” stated Gamble, adding, “In its simplest form the organization would collect orders from parents, neighbours, coworkers … and then we deliver the orders upon completion.” 

At the onset of COVID-19 both sales streams ran dry with all festivals, events and major fundraising campaigns being cancelled for the year.

Soon after the shutdown, Gamble received an email with information about Digital Main Street, a government-funded program which facilitates technology adoption among small businesses. Digital Main Street provides businesses owners access to training, webinars, technology resources, grants and individualized support from a local Digital Service Squad. Gamble filled out the Digital Main Street information form and was contacted immediately by the Small Business Centre’s Digital Service Squad who has worked closely with him ever since.  

“We have always had a rudimentary website that was just more a point of reference than anything else. At most, people could go online and download our order form to pursue a fundraising opportunity. That is all we ever expected from it, not much else,” said Gamble.
Lindsay Renaud, a member of the Digital Service Squad in Windsor-Essex, assisted Gamble in adding an e-commerce component to their website in addition to upgrading the overall look and feel.

“Our first promotion was Mother’s Day and we did over 300 orders in the week leading up to it; obviously far more than we had ever imagined.”

With the influx of new orders some mistakes were made, but Gamble said lessons learned from early e-commerce sales has made the business more efficient. Since improvements to the website has been successful, Gamble is expanding his online offerings in hopes of further increasing efficiencies for his business and his customers.

“I still wanted to add a fundraising component to our website because there are so many charitable groups that are really struggling this year due to the cancellations of their major fundraisers,” said Gamble, who hopes offering online fundraising options will help make a little difference for the charities this year.

Every other week Gamble runs a banner on the website to drive customers to a special shopping cart designed for the organization they are assisting with fundraising at the time. When a customer buys a large pail of any flavour of popcorn $5 dollars per pail is donated back to the charity. The ad runs for a week and at the end of the promotion the popcorn is delivered contact free to the customer’s house by volunteers provided by the charity.

“A couple weeks ago the [Alzheimer Society of Windsor-Essex County] had a very successful campaign and had all of the popcorn delivered at no charge by members of UNIFOR Local 195,” said Gamble.

Upcoming fundraising dates have already been set up with Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association, Windsor Homes Coalition, Canadian Mental Health Association, and others. What’s Poppin’ Popcorn Factory is now booked solid with fundraisers until September.

“Our future plans include the purchase of more equipment … and we may be looking at a larger facility,” said Gamble. “We are looking at getting into the world of retail distribution. We know that Windsor has some great specialty markets that we would love to see our products in.”

Jeff Gamble received support and guidance through the Digital Main Street program and the Small Business Centre's Digital Service Squad. You, too, can receive support to improve the online presence of your business. Contact the Small Business Centre for more information.