After being laid off from his corporate job at the height of the Great Recession, Steven Carse reached a crossroads. He took it as an opportunity to seriously consider what he wanted to do with his life – he thought this could be the moment to bring an idea to life.
Over the course of a few trips to Latin America in his teens, Steven and his brothers quickly became ardent consumers of the countries’ frozen treats. ‘Paletas’ or popsicles, can be found on nearly every street corner in Latin America – vendors and their carts pop up everywhere when the temperature rises.
Steven and his brothers thought that this style of popsicle, made with real fruit and featuring unique flavor combinations, could do really well in the US. Now that Steven was at a juncture in his life where he had the time to get the idea off the ground, he gave it a shot. So, with minimal planning and little idea of what to expect, King of Pops was born.
In the years since, the Atlanta-based company has taken off in a big way – they have expanded to sell their icy treats from their own storefronts, pushcarts, a recently opened bar and on store shelves in cities across the South. They’re not afraid to experiment with flavor. Over the years, they’ve offered more than 500 flavor varieties – everything from the standard strawberry lemonade, to the more unique grapefruit mint or tangerine basil. Steven talked to us about their rapid expansion and why they’re keeping it local.
A happy accident
Initially, Steven planned on selling from just one pushcart, but it quickly took off from there. Not long after, Steven’s brother, Nick, left his job to become King of Pops’ second employee. Steven has been pleasantly surprised with the success of his business. He uses Xero to manage King of Pops’ financials, and it has made a big difference in the company’s back office operations.
“I’m not the detail-oriented person in my company,” Steven said. “We went from desktop accounting software and going web-based has been a big change for us.”
The business of popsicles is seasonal by nature. Understandably, the demand for frozen treats wanes in the colder months. King of Pops has spawned several side businesses including an enterprise that sells Christmas trees. Then, when summer comes around again, popsicle production ramps up from 10,000 units to 10 times that in a single week!
“We’ve got all these separate companies so the roll up functionality in Xero is something that we need to have,” Steven said. “The invoicing functionality is definitely nice – we use it very extensively. Last year we used a third-party company to handle our invoicing, but this year we’re just using Xero.”
“We use quotes because, in our world, nothing is binding. You need that initial level of human to human commitment, but then we create a quote from there to get it on paper.”
Steven attributes a lot of the company’s success to the people of Atlanta and their love of spending time outdoors – perfect conditions for pedaling popsicles.
“Atlanta has been super supportive,” Steven said. “People really go out of their way to support small businesses, especially if it’s people that are in their backyard.”
“The amount of events on weekends is just crazy. People really want to be outside. There are festivals for everything you could ever imagine: from Comic Con to Dragon Con, to music, art and craft festivals. Farmers markets and those for a small food business are a great way to have face-to-face interactions with customers.”
They like to give back to the community that has supported them by holding similar events of their own. This philosophy extends to the way they run their business sustainably. They work with local farms to source produce, do their own composting and even started their own farm.
In fact, they don’t plan on expanding beyond the South because of the great relationships they have with local suppliers. They recently moved their head office team of more than 15 from a cramped building into a more spacious space downtown. The city of Atlanta itself is a great place to run a business from, Steven said.
“The people that I’m closest to are people who were starting businesses at the same time as me,” Steven said. “A lot of Atlanta’s successful businesses started around the time of the recession. These entrepreneurs wanted to take things into their own hands. If you’re in a secure job and it turns out not to be, it makes starting a business seem not so risky.”