How I Started is a series of interviews with Republic County entrepreneurs. Businesses don’t “just happen” and we aim to shed light on our local entrepreneur stories.
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Nate & Stacey Freitag
Free Day Popcorn Company
When did you start your business?
What is your product/service?
We grow popcorn on our family farm. Available varieties include yellow butterfly, white butterfly and mushroom popcorn. In addition to the kernels, we also sell full ears of popcorn we call Popping Ears. With Popping Ears, you can pop your popcorn in the microwave, directly on the ear it grew. It’s a fun novelty item for children and adults alike and a chance to see where your food comes from.
What are important attributes of your product/service?
Quality and freshness are the most important attributes of our popcorn. Unlike larger commercial growers, we only sell the current harvest and never blend with an older harvest year. We guarantee it’s the freshest popcorn you can buy – we print the harvest date on every package. Fresh popcorn is light and crisp and has fewer hulls (those pesky bits that get stuck in your teeth!). Because our popcorn is fresh, there are also fewer old maids (un-popped kernels).
Where are you located and why?
In 2013, we moved from Stacey’s home state of Pennsylvania back to the Midwest so Nate could help his dad farm. We decided to settle in Belleville, KS, partly to ease Stacey into rural living and also to take advantage of the ROZ Student Loan Reimbursement Program and no Kansas income tax for new residents at the time. Our business is based in Belleville, and the popcorn is grown on Nate’s family’s farm along the Kansas/Nebraska border.
How many employees?
2 – Just us, with a lot of insight and help from Nate’s dad. We’ll be looking to hire some seasonal help for harvest this fall with Popping Ears.
Who/where is your target market?
We have two main target markets –
1) Business to the consumer: we sell our popcorn kernels direct to consumers in the United States through our online e-commerce website freedaypopcorn.com. Our online customers are often people that value quality and freshness in their popcorn, knowing where their food comes from and the farmer that grew it. A recent milestone: We’ve now shipped orders to customers in all 50 states!
2) Business to Business – Wholesale customers that pop popcorn or resell popcorn as part of their business in the United States and abroad. Our wholesale customers include gourmet popcorn shops, kettle corn stands, independent movie theaters, school concession stands, gift shops and grocery stores.
Who is your competition?
Large commercial popcorn producers.
What education, experience, or talents are needed in your company?
We’re almost accidental entrepreneurs. In addition to farming, Nate’s background is teaching. Although unconventional, it’s proven helpful in educating our customers on the farming practices we employ. Nate’s dad has been growing popcorn for 20+ years, and his experience and knowledge as been extremely valuable.
Stacey’s background is in business communication which has proved helpful in setting up, marketing and branding the business. Stacey oversees the sales and marketing of the business which has helped foster growth and expansion during our first few years in business.
What are some successes when starting a business?
We were able to get many local schools and theaters on board using our popcorn our first year in business. Specifically, Jenny Pachta at the Blair Theater, took a chance on us as a local business and gave us a boost of confidence that we had a quality product at a reasonable price.
Ongoing, we’ve had success at advertising with podcasts which has helped with tremendous growth on our e-commerce sales, especially during the Christmas season.
Our website has also been a good success for us, as we’ve had wholesale customers find us! We now have a contract to grow Popping Ears for an international customer. She found us through a simple internet search. It’s exciting to be growing popcorn enjoyed locally and around the world!
What are some challenges when starting a business?
The biggest challenge to starting our business was following up with potential customers and vendors. Many times we would call or email but never receive a response. It taught us that if we’d want something to be done, we’d have to follow up with potential customers and be persistent (yet, kind!). Many of the potential customers we contacted were also busy business owners like ourselves. Persistence and organizational skills (making notes on who to follow up with!) helped pay off!
Did you utilize any resources that helped start your business?
Initially, we did a lot of research online for starting a business. However, looking back, I wish that we’d have utilized local resources from the start! Luke at the Republic County Economic Development and the staff at From the Land of Kansas (www.fromthelandofkansas.com) have been invaluable resources as we continue to grow our business!
Did you use a business plan when starting?
Do you have any business role models?
I love watching what other fellow entrepreneurs that are a couple years ahead of us have accomplished. It makes me excited at what all is possible if we continue to work at it!
Any advice for others?
If you have an idea or vision for a business, persistence, and determination are needed. No one will believe in your business at first as much as you do. Surround yourself with people to help and encourage you along the way. Don’t be afraid to fail at a particular aspect of your business. It is easy to try once, the hard part is trying again and again. We’ve been rejected by many potential business customers – only to have them come back to us later wanting to work with us because of the quality of our popcorn and our willingness to custom grow a product to meet their individual needs.
Buy product online – www.freedaypopcorn.com