In this exclusive Franchise Chatter Q&A, we learn about Doc Popcorn and Dippin’ Dots, two of the most recognized names in the snack and treat industry. Steve D’Amato, franchisee with Doc Popcorn and Dippin’ Dots, tells us what attracted him to the co-branded model and why it’s a unique franchise opportunity.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Tell us more about Doc Popcorn and Dippin’ Dots. How are they related?
Steve D’Amato (SD): Doc Popcorn is the world’s largest fresh-popped popcorn franchise retailer offering a wide variety of handcrafted specialty flavors including Klassic Kettle, Sinfully Cinnamon, Triple White Cheddar, Sweet Butter, Cheesy Cheddar, Better Butter, Caramel Bliss, Hoppin’ Jalapeno and more. Using whole grain kernels, proprietary flavor blends and other high-quality ingredients, Doc Popcorn creates a popcorn free of trans fat, MSG, artificial colors and preservatives.
In 2014, Dippin’ Dots, the nation’s original beaded ice cream franchise, acquired Doc Popcorn. Dippin’ Dots has produced and distributed its flash frozen tiny beads of ice cream, yogurt, sherbet and flavored ice products since 1988.
Following the acquisition, the two companies began opening co-branded locations, of which there are currently 17 across the country. I operate one of the 17 in Mashantucket, Connecticut, in the Tanger Outlet at Foxwoods.
FC: What are the benefits of the co-branded model?
SD: By combining two leading snack and treat brands in one space, the co-branded locations give guests the opportunity to satisfy any sweet or savory snack craving with the offerings of Doc Popcorn’s fresh-popped, kettle-cooked popcorn and Dippin’ Dots’ iconic flash-frozen ice cream treats.
Not only does the co-brand integrate two delicious treats and fun concepts, but it also offers balanced revenue streams throughout the year. Just weeks after adding the flash-frozen beaded ice cream onto my offerings last summer, I experienced a more than 15 percent sales increase. It’s beautiful to see how the two businesses get along and share resources.
FC: Tells us about your professional background and your decision to get into franchising.
SD: Previously, I worked for the United States Postal Service for 20 years and eventually became burnt out and dissatisfied with where I was at career-wise. Although the postal service is where I met my wife and future business partner, I made the decision to leave that environment and pursue a personally fulfilling career.
At that time, I chose to become an entrepreneur. Why not, right? I decided I’d pursue franchise ownership, so I’d be investing in a proven business concept and receive support from a larger system.
As I started researching other business ventures that would excite me, I came across Doc Popcorn – a reasonably-priced, manageable franchise with a lot of potential. Next step: try the product. When my tin of popcorn was delivered, it was love at first bite. With no Doc Popcorn locations in my area, I knew I had to bring the delicious snack to my hometown.
FC: Take us through your jump into the snack industry.
SD: I joined Doc Popcorn as a POPrietor in 2012 and opened my first Doc Popcorn cart that July at Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut, an amusement park I visited throughout my entire childhood. Running a snack cart in one of my most cherished childhood places was one of the greatest joys in my career – it really brought everything full circle for me. This summer marks our sixth year in Lake Compounce, and we continuously see growth year after year.
However, amusement parks are seasonal, so I had to complement the cart with a year-round mall location. I opened a Doc Popcorn location in the Brass Mill Center Mall in Waterbury, Connecticut, on Black Friday of 2012. It was a wild year for us, but it absolutely paid off.
In the spring of 2015, I moved my mall location into the Tanger Outlet at Foxwoods, where I debuted a new co-branded store with Dippin’ Dots.
FC: Tell us about the level of training and support provided by Doc Popcorn and Dippin’ Dots.
SD: When I was opening the new dual-branded location, I received great hands-on training from both franchises in all aspects of management to get me up and running in a timely manner. As Doc Popcorn and Dippin’ Dots continue to become more integrated, I’m noticing an increase in levels of support by both brands. It’s refreshing to know I have a strong, continuous support system even after opening my location.
FC: Do you have any plans to grow your business?
SD: My wife and I are always working to bring these tasty treats to more residents in Connecticut. Currently, we’re working on expanding our catering side of the business. So far, our newly opened dual-brand location is extremely successful, so we’ll likely look to open another down the line.
FC: How is it being in business with your wife?
SD: Some people may call me crazy, but I love it! My wife, Kelley-Ann, is an incredible person and business partner. It works for us because we have different roles and responsibilities, so we’re supporting each other. I do more of the administrative work, while Kelley-Ann takes care of the scheduling and training of employees.
Plus, when the kiosk is open during the summer, we are often not in the same location. Even when we are, I truly enjoy all the time I spend working alongside her. It’s important to remember to step away from the business and make time for each other outside of work.
FC: What do you like most about being a franchisee with Doc Popcorn and Dippin’ Dots?
SD: I love the fact that the two brands are increasingly integrating and unifying. The two snack options are extremely complementary and support one another. It’s a perfect combination, and I am lucky to be a franchisee with both brands.
FC: What advice do you have for others who might be considering franchise ownership?
SD: Be prepared for anything that comes your way, and don’t be afraid to take on something different. If I didn’t embrace the merger between Doc Popcorn and Dippin’ Dots, I would have never gotten to where I am now! There will be many ups and downs, victories and defeats. Take advantage of others’ experiences, and most importantly, be ready to work many long, hard but rewarding hours.