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How Kukuruza Went From B2C Biz to B2B

The folks behind the gourmet popcorn business offer a few key steps that guided them toward growth.

Hero image for Issue #59: Featuring Kukuruza

Kukuruza is the Russian word for corn, which I learned while visiting aptly named Kukuruza gourmet popcorn in Seattle. In addition to their 3 Washington state stores, they also have 13 more retail locations across Japan, Taiwan, and Egypt, plus a thriving e-commerce store.

“That’s a lot of popcorn,” I tell store manager Mary Holocher. “Oh yeah,” she replies with a look that seemed to say you have no idea. According to Mary, roughly half of Kukuruza’s revenue comes from online sales. That’s huge, considering they have 16 brick-and-mortar stores across the globe!

The team attributes their e-commerce success mostly to their digital marketing strategy, which includes a mix of the following:

“We spend a lot of time and energy on our web sales, so photography is also key for us,” says CEO Claire Mueller. “It took us a long time to realize that, but now we see what there is to gain. For anyone trying to build a website: Don’t skimp on your photos! The customer wants to know exactly what they are going to get,” she advises.

Social media, email, SEO management, and photography have clearly been worthy investments for Kukuruza, because business is poppin’, y’all. So much so that the company’s new focus is to expand their business model to include a business-to-business (B2B) channel.

“We first started doing B2B sales because of one particularly persistent customer who convinced us that it could be worthwhile,” Claire explains. After that most of the growth was organic or the result of networking but not directly tied to an outbound sales program. But earlier this year, Claire decided to change all that and implement Kukuruza’s first fully formed wholesale line.

Melissa and Claire dancing

Apparently the wholesale market in Seattle is rather competitive for popcorn, but Kukuruza has an edge over its competitors in that it’s the only company using locally grown kernels from a small family farm in Washington state. Claire’s strategy is to play up the locally grown angle and launch her B2B sales with kernels first, then follow with prepared popcorn once she has determined some best practices.

“Since local kernels are highly desirable and the market isn’t saturated, that should give us more of an edge in initial sales development before we take on the more challenging project of wholesaling our prepared popcorn,” Claire reasons. Additionally, the Kukuruza team has a few key steps to guide them toward B2B growth.

Kukuruza has expanded their core team from 4 to 10 people to account for the growing needs of their business. Not only have they added employees to fulfill corporate orders, but they also created an outside sales manager role to cater almost entirely to B2B clients.

That means surveying existing clients to see what they like and don’t like about Kukuruza’s current product offerings and pricing—and what unmet needs they can potentially fill for B2B customers. Claire and her team then compile these customer insights and use them to improve the customer experience.
Another big part of talking to people is networking. “We’re connected with a number of local groups, such as Seattle Made, which helps small businesses launch wholesale lines. They have monthly events where you can get feedback on products, as well as talk to packaging designers, lawyers, and distributors. This has been invaluable to our success thus far.”

What struck me the most about Kukuruza is their willingness to learn from their mistakes and their eagerness to apply these learnings. As part of their B2B initiative, they’ve implemented a weekly sales meeting specifically to discuss learnings, problems, and solutions. During this meeting, they spend an hour talking about sales pipeline, challenges, closed deals, and lost deals. “This has been key to gaining momentum and illuminating the things that simply weren’t working or were holding us back,” they tell me.

Kukuruza has a solid plan in place, but of course there are always unknowns that can pop up. “We’re very excited and a bit nervous to see how the B2B channel does,” said Claire. I’m excited too, so I’ve decided to check back in with them after the holiday season, when they typically see a huge spike in sales. Until then, they’ll be cranking out the kernels.

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