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The Terror Club has a New Member

Opening a business is more than just a becoming an entrepreneur, it means becoming a new member of the club.

Last Tuesday I took down all the brown paper covering the windows, turned the sign around from “closed” to “open” and stood back simultaneously hoping that absolutely no one, and everyone, would come into my brand new store,

Luckily, I was greeted by a steady stream of family, friends and other local business owners who came in to have a look and watch me fumble through the first few hours of business ownership.

There is a strange psychological shift when you find yourself standing on the other side of the sales counter. Having stood so long on the customer’s side of the counter, I found myself a little sheepish about being at the register taking money, and facing the inevitable scrutiny.

Every other job I have had has involved supervisors, and managers, and general managers, and even regional managers. I sold something that someone, somewhere may have made, or ordered, but never felt any real loyalty or great personal investment.

I have rung up sales without a moment’s consideration to prices, or the perception of value. Customers have muttered and complained in previous jobs, and I simply passed them along to a manager without breaking a sweat.

But on Tuesday, there was no manager or supervisor. The popcorn I was selling was my own recipe, made with my choice of ingredients and popped up by me alone. To say that I’m personally invested, not to mention financially invested, is an understatement. To the customer, however, this is another store selling something they may or may not want. Another price tag and another salesperson.

On Wednesday a woman came in and ordered a small bag of caramel popcorn. When I handed it to her she said, “I want to see if this is any good,” before she ate a single piece, grunted, then said, “Ok, I’ll be back.”

I felt like I was going to pass out.

On Friday, a man came in and asked me if I thought I had enough product diversity to make a viable business. He questioned the wisdom of opening a store that sold just popcorn and then he walked out without buying anything.

Oh, my ulcer.

In the book, Beer School: Bottling Success at the Brooklyn Brewery, the owners of the Brooklyn Brewery describe starting a new business as joining “The Terror Club.” Overly dramatic? No, that’s pretty much what it feels like. Shear terror.

People come in and say something, or buy something, or say nothing and leave, and it sets off a minor panic attack about prices or sales displays or long-term viability.

The Firehouse Caramel Popcorn recipe is too spicy and not spicy enough. Is seven dollars too much? Too little? Is the pricing structure too confusing? Is there room to cover a spike in wholesale dairy prices without having to raise my prices?

My investment is deeper than hoping people like popcorn. People have to love it, and make the effort to come back for this to be a viable business. My kids would like to eat something other than popcorn for dinner. Overly dramatic? Absolutely! (But seriously, the personal savings account has dried up like a Georgia lake bed – and that’s not good for the margins on the caramel popcorn with peanuts either, by the way.)

The doors are finally open. The initiation into the terror club is watching sales ring up knowing that later this month, or in three, or six months the dust will settle, and I’ll have to decide if the prices cover the overhead, ingredients and if there’s anything left over for me.

It’s fitting that on Tuesday I saw so many other local business owners stopping by to pick up some popcorn. They congratulated me, and complimented the shop, and the caramel popcorn. I’m especially grateful to all of them for acknowledging how important that day was to me, and offering advice and support. But mostly, I think they came to welcome the newest member of the terror club.

Thanks to everyone who stopped in, it was a great week!

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Rebecca Hohenberger February 08, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Great blog & the firehouse was just right ;)
Michelle Sahr February 09, 2012 at 11:46 AM
Welcome to the club Gwen. Great popcorn. I stopped in twice just yesterday!
* February 10, 2012 at 02:33 AM
If you build it, they will come. Errr, if you pop it, they will come eat! Congratulations and good luck!! Thank you for striving to stay local!! I also think the yummy Firehouse is just right.
Holly Stamper Morgan February 10, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Congrats on the new shop! I love your popcorn and so happy you opened in Kent. Great article. My parents are members of this Terror Club. Thanks for sharing how it feels to be a new small business owner.

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