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Small Business Digest


Parents Desire To Teach Children Value Of Work Leads to Successful Firm

Seeking a fun way of teaching their children the value of working led one Minnesota couple to create a highly successful business.

Angie Bastian and her husband Dan are co-founders of Boomchickapop, a unique kettle corn now the official of the Minnesota Vikings.

The company started as a venture to teach their children but has become a thriving enterprise.

Angie was working a nurse practitioner and Dan was a teacher.

“We were both looking for something fun to do with our younger children to show them the value of hard work and maybe make a few extra dollars to set aside for their college funds, she says.

Dan did some research online and found a kettle on an Internet ad and she made the recipe – they both loved kettle corn.

“We started making the kettle corn in our garage, and hosted kettle corn stands at area events. Little by little, we grew a following, and we haven’t looked back!” she adds.
They used a zero percent credit card offer to purchase their first kettle and the needed equipment to start. After selling kettle corn for about six months on the weekends, they earned enough money to purchase an Alumna trailer to haul their equipment.  Before that time, they would lift the 150-pound kettle up into the back of their Ford Explorer. 

Early in their efforts, they started to have a following and then they had their breakthrough marketing idea.

The Minnesota Vikings have training camp every year in Mankato at Minnesota State University and the school gave the duo the opportunity to pop there.

“We thought it would be great if the team ate our kettle corn, so we popped 120 bags and gave them to the team. They loved it so much and wanted more. Shortly after, the team approached us to become the official kettle corn of the Vikings,” she adds.

From this success, this success they decided to broaden their portfolio and pursue commercial sales.

They quickly learned their event style packaging wasn’t up to par for this endeavor. So Dan left his teaching job and they put both feet forward investing in everything needed to gear up for the big time, including their first production facility.

Lunds and Byerly’s were the first retailers to give them a chance.

Starting with three locations, the product started flying off the shelves, and they quickly expanded our distribution.

At first, Dan would personally make the deliveries, some as early as 4 a.m., before the kids had to be to school.

As with any small start-up, there were of course some missteps along the way. Looking back, there were people that we should have listened to more, or listened to less.

Entrepreneurs get a lot of advice from all kinds of people.

“We could have grown faster, but we wanted to maintain our Minnesota roots and not lose sight of why we started this in the first place – it was because of our kids. We’re very active in our kids’ school and social lives, and they were (and are) our number one priority,” she says.

To manage growth, the Bastians surrounded themselves with good people with diverse backgrounds to help them to where they are today.

“We grew probably slower than we could have, but for good reason. We wanted to do things our way and at a pace with which we were comfortable. We were learning along the way and wanted to make sure everything was done perfectly, she reported.

The Bastians say that in the beginning, the growth felt like a grind and now it feels like they are on a supersonic jet. 

All along the way we added resources, reinvested in the company and tried, to the best of our ability, to anticipate and plan. 

“We were driven to grow the business in every phase of its development. The nature of growth changed as our company matured but it’s really the same exercise only on a much larger scale and scope,” she opines.

“In our 12th year, we almost doubled our gross revenue.  It takes an incredible amount of energy and resources to feed that monster….and you have to find a way to feed the monster without letting it consume the business.  It’s a balancing act and you’ve got to have strong relationships in every direction of the business--- vendors, retailers, employees and the bank.,” she avers.

Angie’s is all about authenticity and honesty.

“We value being philanthropic and caring for our workers. We look for someone who is passionate about what we do and shares our same level of integrity and beliefs. We are very involved in the business, listen to and work closely with our employees. This helps keep that small company feel, even as it grows to a nationally recognized brand. We have many employees who worked for us starting in high school – and they’re still here,” she says proudly.

“We treat our employees with respect, and we fully realize that we wouldn’t be anything without them. They live and work here just like we do, and we don’t take that for granted. We host employee holiday parties and summer picnics, and have an employee recognition program.,” she adds.

The original reason for the company the children have worked for the company on and off when school schedules permitted.

“They’re very active, busy teenagers.  When our son was 5-years-old, he said something like, “Why are you guys doing this kettle corn thing anyway?”  My response to him was, “Well, maybe someday when you grow up and finish college you can help run the business.”  In the most innocent, sincere and confident voice my son responded, “No can do, I’m going pro (baseball.)” she says proudly,’

“For Dan and I, it was the realization that our dreams my not be our kids dreams.  Our job is to teach, to model and demonstrate that you can dream big and realize your dream through hard work and perseverance.  We know our kids are going to do amazing things.  It just might not be building or maintaining a popcorn company, and we’re ok with that,” she says.

Change and adaption are also part of their experience. 

The couple have needed to re-engineer the popping production lines to keep up with the pace of growth. 

“We have an incredible core production team, but it’s always a challenge to find and maintain production staff. In the past five months, we’ve added and hired 50 additional production staff,” she saus.

Research and product development have been part of the reason for the company’s success. Their R&D team was just named “R&D Team of the Year” in the small company category by Food Processing. They create and develop 20-30 new prototypes a month.  Obviously, not all make it to market

As to what advice they would give to other entrepreneurs, Angie has this to say.

“The best piece(s) of advice that Dan and I can give to entrepreneurs is to trust your instincts and learn how to make the best decisions possible.  You’ll make mistakes, but never let a mistake stay a mistake.  Work with people that you trust.”

“It helped that we approached our business like we approached parenthood, and I think it works as a metaphor for start-ups.  In its infancy, we had to do everything because honestly, we couldn’t afford to pay for what we needed.  It’s intense and exhausting—just like toddlers!”

“ As you find business success and it begins to grow, it becomes an exercise of letting go.  Hiring competency is key, as well as being able to communicate to people how to do their job in the spirit that is congruent with the mission and vision of the company,” she says.

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