Be Your Own Boss: Start a Kettle Corn Business
Are you looking to be your own boss? A kettle corn business might be the perfect business opportunity for you. The start-up costs are relatively low, and once you’ve made enough money to cover the cost of the popper, you’ll see profits soar, as your supply costs—popcorn, oil, sugar, salt, bags, and either electricity or gas to power your popper—are not very expensive. A friend’s family owns a kettle corn business, and it’s not uncommon for them to clear $1000-$2000 in a weekend; that’s after the cost of supplies. It’s also extremely easy to make, so this isn’t a job you’ll need extensive training for, making this perfect for a career change as a full time job or a side job to supplement your income.
Part of the reason kettle corn has the potential to be such a lucrative business is its mass appeal. Most people like popcorn, and kettle corn is a delicious twist on the standard treat, a perfect mix of salty and sweet. Kettle corn is also relatively cheap. Decent-sized bags typically cost $3-$5, allowing you to make a sizable profit while easily competing for customer’s attention with the over-priced foods typical of an event. You get a lot more for your money for a $3 bag of popcorn than you do for a $3 hot dog. Additionally, kettle corn is portable. You can take it with you as you wander the fairgrounds, or you can eat it sitting in the stands of a sporting event. If you don’t finish it, you can take it home with you, and it’ll keep for several days.
If this sounds like a business opportunity you’d be interested in, there are several things you need to consider first.
Pop on or off location
This is an important first consideration.
If you pop on location, you can draw many people to your location by the
novelty of the popping, especially if you have a large kettle; people just like
to watch it pop. Also, the smell will
attract people from a hundred yards away.
You’re also able to make kettle corn throughout the day, providing
customers with a fresh product. The
downside to this, though, is you typically need a larger kettle. This can cost more money. You’ll also need a trailer for the kettle and
a vehicle capable of hauling the trailer.
You’ll also need to make sure you have the proper hook ups for your
kettle, either electricity you can access or your own gas tanks for it.
If you pop off location, like at your home, you don’t need as big of a machine, so your initial investment is smaller, but you will have to make more batches. This can take more time, as not only are you taking the time to sell, you’re taking separate time to make and bag your product. You’re limited to the product you bring with you, but your business is much more portable, as you aren’t lugging around a huge kettle with you.
You’re not limited to just one of these models, though. You might want to start off small popping off location, and as your profits increase, invest in the equipment to pop on location. Similarly, even if you are set up to pop on location, you could always pop at home and take the kettle corn with you to an event.
Determine where you’ll sell
To truly make this a profitable business, you’ll need to have a variety of venues to sell at. Large venues like tournaments, fairs, car shows, and trade shows typically have the highest profit possibilities, but you also have larger fees to pay in order to sell there. Other venues include sports games, the park, free concerts, farmers’ markets, or even in front of a store. Our friend’s dad often sells in front of a local grocery store and sells to people as they go in and out of the store. Clearly that’s not going to give you the $1000+ day that large events will, but, considering the low cost of supplies and having the kettle paid off, he can clear $200 in a day, and the average person is certainly not making $200 a day, so that’s a great profit! Be sure that there are enough locations and events that you will be able to sell at. If you jump into the business without first compiling a list and contacting those in charge of the venues, you might find you don’t have enough places or you have to travel too far to be profitable.
Before you start a business, especially a food-based business, you’ll need to
acquire permits, including tax permits. You
will also be able to get paperwork making you exempt from paying sales tax on
your supplies. Be aware that if you’re
making this at home, you will likely have to have your home inspected. For help registering your business, you can
contact your local chamber of commerce for help or go here to find out what
permits are required in your city and/or state.
Be aware that if you travel, you might need other permits. Some cities that charge sales tax beyond the state tax will require you to get a permit from them and pay sales tax to them based on your sales. The same goes for selling in another state. The process isn’t extremely difficult, but it could be easily overlooked, resulting in unnecessary fines.
For smaller jobs, you can sell on your own, but if you’re at a bigger venue, you will definitely need help to pop, bag, and sell the popcorn. Depending on the size of the event, you'll probably want one or two people for each job. Family and friends are the easiest, and they’ll usually work for free or cheap. If that’s not an option, be sure you can find dependable, affordable employees to help you.
Purchase and house supplies
You will need to buy your kettle, of course.
Large kettles designed for on-site popping will require you to go to a
special supplier. Smaller kettles you
could use in your home to make kettle corn before the event are much easier to
come by. You’ll also want to locate a
store that will allow you to buy supplies in bulk. You could try Amazon.com, Sam’s Club, Costco,
or another warehouse store.
Once you find supplies, you will want to purchase extra supplies so you’re not constantly going to the store or waiting for a shipment. You will need to find a clean dry place to store your supplies.