Gourmet Popcorn With a Purpose
Tim Heitmann, Double Good
October 02, 2017
Last year, Double Good made a decision that defied the most fundamental principles of business: We decided to give 50 percent of every dollar to charity. While this decision seemed to defy logic, to me it was the only logical next step in defining our Evergreen company’s Purpose.
Walking out of my brother’s popcorn shop in 1998, I wasn’t thinking about purpose. One never imagines they’ll find their calling at the bottom of a bag of popcorn. For me, popcorn meant joy and I wanted to share this joy with others. I asked about working with Popcorn Palace, the company he licensed from, and discovered they were facing bankruptcy. I was able to acquire their name and a list of their customers for $2,600.
By the end of that year, operating from a small warehouse in Northwest Indiana, we had brought in $110,000 in revenue. I went about creating new markets for our product: corporate gifts, wholesale, gift baskets, e-commerce and private label. By 2005, Popcorn Palace was bringing in over $2 million a year, attributed mostly to big accounts like Costco and QVC.
These big-box stores, where little guys like me dream of doing business, loved the popcorn, but that love quickly got lost in the shuffle of spreadsheets and corporate politics. One day, I looked at what we’d built and realized we had been doing everything “right,” but the joy was gone.
Around this time, as a side experiment, we set up a small fundraising channel in which students and organizations could sell popcorn and retain 50 percent of every dollar.
Following one particularly deflating call with a Costco account manager, I noticed an envelope on my desk addressed to me in crayon. The letter inside was a thank-you from a boy in Seattle who had just returned from a band competition in Washington, D.C. He said our fundraiser had enabled him to take this important trip with his classmates, and he stated how much he loved Popcorn Palace.
I felt as I did that day in 1998 leaving my brother’s store — I knew everything should change. I’d rediscovered my purpose in the most unexpected of places. My dreams for Popcorn Palace shifted in that moment from growing revenues through traditional channels to growing people’s potential through their sales of our product. Over the next few years, we ended our relationships with big-box stores and eventually eliminated all of our wholesale accounts. We kept two channels — corporate gifts and e-commerce — but it was our dedication to fundraising that finally gave our company Purpose with a capital P.
As time passed, fundraisers became a bigger part of our culture and our business. We tweaked the product lines and made the process more efficient for our customers. We then turned our sights to the other two remaining channels, corporate gifts and e-commerce. They were bringing in about a million dollars a year, but it was obvious they weren’t fulfilling our corporate Purpose. There was only one answer: 50 percent of these sales should benefit a cause as well.
We had to make some big changes to accommodate this dramatic shift in vision. We transitioned to a self-management structure that made us leaner and brought those within our organization closer to our Purpose. We began to move marketing from traditional to social media. We eliminated many products and redesigned our packaging, which reduced manufacturing and design costs.
It was last year that we publicly announced we would be giving away 50 percent of all of our sales, first to a variety of partner charities, but eventually to our own foundation, which benefits kids with special needs. We also changed our name to Double Good. There’s an old proverb that says when we share our joy, it’s doubled — that’s the principle behind everything we do. Delicious popcorn? Good. Donating 50 cents of every dollar to help the world be a better place? Double Good.
Along with the excitement and challenge of the rebrand was an initial hit to sales. The first quarter of this year was the first time since our 1998 launch that we have seen a decline. It was a tough start to the year but I am happy to share that our sales are recovering nicely, and we expect that we will be more profitable than ever before.
In fact, for our 19-year-old Evergreen company, this is just the beginning.
Timothy Heitmann is the founder & CEO of Double Good.