When you think of the holidays, what images come to mind? Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? A house filled with family and friends? Popsicles? …Huh?!? Is the last one throwing you off a bit? In that case, you don’t know about King of Pops and their unique business model.
Indeed, whenever Christmas rolls around, this creative confectionery company combats slipping sales by branching out. Instead of frozen treats, it’s all about elves, Yuletide tree delivery, and set-up and disposal. We discuss this intriguing concept with King of Pops CEO, Steven Carse, and his Director of Marketing, Diego Torres on the latest installment of CEO Exclusive.
Together, they provide a lesson in turning frigid temperatures into dollar signs, even when the consumer base is less interested in icy fruit on a stick and more concerned about Santa and the sugar plums dancing in their heads.
It’s All About Joy and Happiness
For a company like King of Pops, success means making the most of whatever situation is right in front of you. When they noticed a decrease in popsicle sales during the winter, it was time to take action. “We tried to think of something that would be fun to do in the colder months,” according to Carse. “We happen to have a lot of jovial young folks that are used to kind of smiling and laughing with people and we thought…maybe they would make nice elves.”
Yes, elves. Suddenly, they came upon the idea of selling Christmas trees, and providing a unique and cheerful way of keeping their brand in the public eye. “We deliver and pick up Christmas trees, dressed as elves, and try to have a lot of silly fun with it while we’re at it,” Carse points out. It’s all about problem solving and not being afraid to try something you haven’t done before. “It’s about having the confidence to follow through on ideas you believe in,” he says.
It’s also about trends. Yes, we’re all about trends at CEO Exclusive. Carse says, “the one thing I am most passionate about is getting as many people involved, authentically, as possible.” Indeed, for this leader, it’s all about getting your staff involved, which is quickly becoming the standard in the modern business model. “It all starts with the employees,” he stresses, tapping them for their ideas and stressing creativity along with corporate values.
Still – Why Christmas Trees?
The decision to ‘branch’ out came after a great deal of interaction with the community, though nothing was planned initially. “It happened kind of by accident,” Carse explains. About five years ago, they discovered that one of their slingers (the name they give employees out pushing street carts, and popsicles) was a great yoga teacher. So, she began a class for the employees, and before they knew it, the public wanted to get involved.
“People would stop by and see if they could join us,” Carse points out. After a year of communal yoga classes, King of Pops had an epiphany. “We had a realization that (this) was an opportunity for us to do something bigger. To plan together and market it and push it.” Now, the company is involved in all manner of “signature events,” attracting anywhere from 300-400 people to upwards of 800.
“Seeing this success, inspired us to do more,” says Carse, the result being a run club and a trivia competition. There’s even an annual field trip, all with the focus on bringing Pops’ “tribe” to the people, and these potential consumers to the company. And, of course, the idea of playing Santa’s little helpers once sweater weather was upon us. It’s all part of a plan to keep the brand in the public eye, to have the potential consumer learn of King of Pops through efforts outside the freezer case.
Get Your Employees Excited and Involved
For Carse and Torres, it’s all goes back to that key concept – staying authentic. “Don’t put on a front,” Carse warns. “What you’re doing should be something you are proud of and you should just want to be telling people about exactly what you are doing.” The result for King of Pops has been solid growth for each of the eight years they have been in business. Of course, it takes a team, or “tribe” to realize such ambitions. As Torres explains, “It’s the willingness to hear out your employees…for them to raise their voices and give their opinions.”
Sure, there are risks involved with such a strategy, but there are rewards as well. For everyone at King of Pops, it’s about not knowing if something is good or bad until you try it. Hence, the tree elves. But it’s more than that as well. It’s about another key CEO buzzword – listening. “I don’t have a ‘millennial’ strategy,” Carse says, addressing how to deal with today’s young worker. “I have a people strategy. It’s just engagement. I want people to create their own space…and bring their own ideas to the table.” Torres agrees. “Listen to the team,” he stresses.
Be Transparent and Tuned Into Life
“Being heard is really important,” Carse states. “Once you’ve done the talking for a long time, you can forget what it’s like to be heard.” Torres believes in being transparent as well. “I think people really appreciate that,” he says, “I know our audience definitely does.” It’s this approach, this trial and error, anything goes style with lots of input from the staff that has helped King of Pops ride out the colder months, and any internal struggles.
Life can step in and strain staff relationships. Still, it’s important to address the concerns, no matter how hard it might be. “When you have a team member that has other things going on, that’s always very difficult to face,” Carse admits. “I think we can do a better job of communicating those things which are so heavy.” It’s all part of remaining authentic, to putting yourself and your beliefs on the line every day.
Remember The L’s
There’s another ”L” word involved too: learning. “There’s a downside to experimenting,” Carse explains, “and I’ve really tried to emphasize that that’s okay.” Still, people feel bad about situations that have gone awry, and it’s from these conversations and engagement that King of Pops has discovered what works and what doesn’t – and Christmas trees work. “Tree elves delivery starts the day after Thanksgiving,” Carse says, and it’s one of the factors he uses in recruiting. That’s another lesson learned.
“We have something we call ‘a surf break,’ which is from January 15th to February 15th,” explaining that employees who work full time or have clocked 800 hours that year earn this perk. It’s paid time off. This, along with playing Santa’s helper, inspires a unique group of applicants every year. “The big thing definitely (for King of Pops) is tree elves. They even give each employee a special elf name. Torres is Fancy, while Carse goes by Chimney.
Yes, it’s a strange juxtaposition, but it’s been a very successful one. As an example of thinking way outside the box and utilizing your staff’s creativity, King of Pops has branded itself as a company as jolly as a certain symbol of holiday joy. It’s a strategy which carries them through the lull in popsicle sales and back to those glorious days of sun, fun, and sweet treats on a stick.