PLEASE NOTE: The content below is a draft and will be edited so it may not read that nicely yet and may be full of errors.
The Team, the History
Founded in 2010 by Joe Sieben, Popcorn Man has grown to become a famous popcorn brand in South-East Queensland, and becoming strongly recognised nationally each year. Prior to landing himself in the popcorn industry, Joe ran a successful branding agency known as Spicy (www.spicy.com.au). His background in Industrial Design, Engineering, and Graphic Design helped Joe visualise potential in building businesses, and catapulted his branding agency towards bigger and bigger clientele, which resulted in less of the fun stuff. Joe decided start a business in creating businesses, grow them with the intention to sell within 1-2 years for a profit before moving to new start-up business.
While visiting the Tamborine Mountain Country Markets, Joe and his family stumbled upon a stall selling Kettle Corn. One taste and the whole family were hooked! Even better, the stall known as Hot Poppin’ Kettle Corn was for sale!
It was the perfect little business to experiment with. It was a weekend gig so it didn’t eat into the weekday business of running a branding agency. In a mad rush, the purchase was made and a new brand was born – Popcorn Man. With great guidance from the previous owners (Stewart & Simone – currently owners of Fire & Dough Woodfired Pizza), Joe had his first market at Forest Lake Markets in August 2010, and his first solo run the following week at Mount Tamborine Country Markets.
The business was profitable, but certainly nothing anyone could make a good living with… yet!
After a few weeks popping, the future of Popcorn Man started to become clearer. Changes were made to the branding, systems were created to make every task efficient, and fine-tuning of the original Kettle Corn recipe was done to perfect the product.
It was clear that “Kettle Corn” was still a big unknown thing to many, and quite different between kettle-corners at other markets / shops. Joe decided to rebrand Kettle Corn into “Sweet ‘n’ Salty”, closed down his branding agency and focussed solely on Popcorn Man.
By this time, Popcorn Man became a household name to the local market scene including Carrara Markets, Nerang Markets, and Southport Sharks Market. It was time to grow… it was time to move to the bigger markets and events. The only way to do this was to employ another vendor to fill-in once in a while. 2 years after conception, Joe was offered help by a friend, who happened to be a photographer Joe recommended to his branding clients. This would end up working out really well for his friend (we’ll call him PM2). In fact, he decided to run it full-time himself.
Joe decided to expand away from the Gold Coast markets and leave them for PM2. In 2012, Joe attended the Ipswich Festival and opening of Robelle Domain / Orion at Springfield. This was the biggest event for him to date and opened the doors to bigger things. Jan Powers Farmers Markets at Powerhouse accepted his application soon after, and things started booming. In fact, the market organisers were so impressed they invited Popcorn Man to the Queen Street Markets in Brisbane CBD (now known as Brisbane City Markets).
The Queen Street Markets were certainly a game-changer. The organisers at the time were always pushing for excellence, and the vendors were always trying to out-do each other in quality and presentation. This encouraged Joe to push harder than ever. PM2 was quick to snatch up any event in the Springfield area after a successful opening, and Joe could focus on building a customer base in and around Brisbane. Timing couldn’t be any more perfect when B105FM offered to do a contra deal in advertising. This would take Joe around various locations around Brisbane handing out free cups of popcorn in exchange for a mention on live radio. The response was fantastic! His next stop was Eagle Farm Racecourse Markets, Manly Farmers Markets and Chandler Markets. With both Joe and PM2 fully-booked, a third Popcorn Man vendor was needed. PM2’s friend (PM3) who was keen to land some work was up for the task. This gave us a little relief and allowed us to take on two more markets; Mitchelton Farmers Markets and Kelvin Grove Markets.
The Popcorn Man brand was growing and events were booming. It wasn’t long before we were invited to the very famous and brand new Eat Street Markets.
Unfortunately, PM3 was urged by the Eat Street organisers to step away from a well-known brand and continue as his own brand in order to stay as a vendor there. It was a big mistake for us not having proper legal paperwork, but a huge lesson.
It was time for a brand re-tune. A trademark application was unfortunately rejected for Corny Popcorn – the brand to replace Popcorn Man, thus only a visual rebrand occurred. The original Popcorn Man branding was great, but very focussed on the younger demographic. It was clear the biggest demographic were the working class between 20-50 years of age. The new logo was made cleaner and more recognisable… and easier to use.
Out with the old, and in with the new.
New marquees, uniforms, website, labels, and even machines were made to reflect the new brand. The stronger brand had big positive effects and we were now ordering a tonne of corn a month compared to 1 tonne a year in the early days – big growth indeed! Enough growth to finally build a custom food trailer!
After trading with the new branding for just over a year, IP Australia sent us a letter advising us that they randomly reviewed our Corny Popcorn trademark application and found they had erroneously rejected it, and that is was now accepted. This was great news, but it was too soon after the recent rebrand to dive into it. Although Corny Popcorn was born, it wouldn’t start appearing until 2019. It was due to be the brand of Night Quarter in the Sunshine Coast – an event we pulled out of last minute due to many concerns we had, somewhat worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Possibly the most difficult time for Joe and his business was during the covid hysteria. Having a big dependancy on Office Workers in visiting him at the Brisbane City Markets, the pandemic shut down the city dropping sales to naught. Many stalls were struggling to the point of closing down for good. Having web design skills from his branding days, Joe decided to build a website to allow customers to order fresh market products online, and have it delivered to their door in a covid-safe manner (as advised by the so-called experts at the time). www.deliver.market was born, and online ordering for Popcorn Man popcorn became a thing. Deliver.Market was a big success, and we are proud to say it has helped many market vendors survive the lockdowns. Being extremely time consuming, Deliver.Market was shut down once the pandemic eased to help promote people coming back to the markets.
One thing it did prove, is that there was quite a big demand for online ordering of fresh popcorn and ingredients. As expected, a brand new website was developed with an online shop which included ingredients under our sub-brand: Doc Popcorn and Popcorn Shots.
In December 2022, there was a falling out with PM2. Details will remain confidential, but it allowed Joe to move forward and push Popcorn Man into the potential it has. In fact, it happened to be the perfect time to fully rebrand into Corny Popcorn…. and here we are… at the very beginning of a Corny new age.
What will happen with Popcorn Man?
Popcorn Man has a big following, and is a very strong brand and will not disappear. Our current goal is to have Popcorn Man and Corny Popcorn as siblings – Popcorn Man doing what it has always done, popcorn at markets and events; and Corny Popcorn focussed more towards super gourmet popcorn, shops, and wholesale.
The Now Team
We are currently a small team, but will be expanding nationally soon. Andrew, who many may know from the Brisbane City Markets is our test pilot for new licensees. Our aim is to build a team who will not just like the job, but love it. We want the licensees to have big profits and pride in what they do. In order to do this, we need to make sure our vision on paper is achievable.
Our Innovations and the Future
We have been leaders in many facets of our industry. We created the trend to name Kettle Corn Sweet and Salty popcorn – now almost exclusively used in Australia. We redesigned American style Kettle Corn machines to meet Australian Standards – new fan-powered gas burners to be compliant in food trailers while maintaining identical output as type2 high-pressure gas systems found in American machines. We developed new custom resealable zip lock bags with an integrated handle before the single-use plastic bag ban was put on the table. Our one-of-a-kind custom built food trailer specifically designed for our popcorn – how many food trailers have a 3m x 4.5m usable floor space?
Our latest addition, although small is variable pre-purchase and subscriptions for our fresh popcorn. But wait ’till you see what is coming in 2023.