Have you ever had that feeling when you’re driving somewhere, and you arrive at your destination and you say to yourself, “how the heck did I get here”? Along with some sore necks from whiplash, that has been 2020 for all of us here at Steel City Pops. Here’s a recap of the trials and tribulations of Steel City Pops 2020:
I arrived with Steel City Pops at the beginning of 2020 as we were finalizing a chapter 11 restructure of our company. We were transitioning the leadership group and closing down a number of our stores in Atlanta, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Steel City Pops grew too big and too fast, and we needed to scale back and catch our breath. As a part of our transition, a number of our longtime managers were leaving the company, and we had just started to bring on a group of new leaders. Our new leadership team brainstormed on exciting innovations, re-branding, and how to get back the swagger the company once had.
Then, in March, COVID hit. Our business model–which was a mixture of selling pops at our brick and mortar stores, catering, and attending events as a food vendor–was in need for a total overhaul. I purchased a bracelet that I have worn since the pandemic began, with its message reading “Smooth Seas Never Made a Skilled Sailor”. This year was going to be difficult, and if we survived as a business, we would be better because of it.
With a stay-at-home order in place and no sales coming in from our stores, we went backwards in time by bringing our pops to our local communities and neighborhoods. We partnered with local HOA groups and neighborhoods to have our pop carts visit weekly and give our customers an opportunity to enjoy their favorite treats. We knew then that we couldn’t stop ideating, so we pushed harder into innovation.
Over the next few months, we developed a variety of new products and offerings in anticipation of our stores re-opening fully. We first released pop floats, in four delicious flavors pictured below, to outstanding reception. Shortly thereafter, we came out with waffle cones–which was our take on the classic ice cream parlor offering. Throughout this time, we continued to ideate on an online product that we could offer when the season cooled off (no pun intended). There was no way we would concede our business no matter how difficult things had gotten.
With restaurants being hit as hard as they had been all year, we knew we needed to give our customers the opportunity to get pops even more conveniently. We developed a national shipping program in August which allowed our customers to purchase our pops all across the country. In September, we released our four pack pop boxes at a variety of grocery stores across the South. Piggly Wiggly was our first major foray into the wholesale market, and our fans celebrated the release at their stores with enthusiasm.
While it’s normal to see a drop of sales in November, our seasonal pop business took a bigger than usual hit on the chin due to a second round of COVID. As the Holiday season was approaching, it seemed to be the perfect time to release our newest creation, gourmet popcorn! Feedback on the quality and flavors has been awesome! As a result, we’ve decided to carry our gourmet popcorn year round!
While I would love to say that this year has been easy, it really hasn’t been. It has been incredibly stressful, wondering day-to-day if we could stay in business. I have watched as local restaurants and small businesses have closed their doors. I’m so incredibly proud of the Steel City Pops team for never losing their drive to fight. I am thankful for the opportunity to continue to learn, adapt, and grow in this post-pandemic world, and I am grateful for the amazing support of family, friends, and our loyal customers throughout 2020 that have allowed us the opportunity to continue to serve our community in 2021.
I’m beginning to feel like a skilled sailor.