Niche business finds plenty of customers in Port

Fueled by downtown tourism, holiday traffic, Broadway Popcorn sells a product its owner admits no one needs but a lot of people have an appetite for

BROADWAY POPCORN owner Bill Bird, who filled boxes with popcorn at his downtown Port Washington store last week, said although his is a niche market, business has been good and he’s considering opening another shop. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press staff

 

After opening his store nearly six years ago in Port Washington, Broadway Popcorn Co. owner Bill Bird said he’s impressed with the growth of his business and is contemplating opening another location.

“When you start out, you’re first thought is am I going to be able to pay the bills,” he said. “Popcorn is a niche market, and you’re making a product that everybody can live fine without. But the customers keep coming back to get more fresh popcorn.”

The popcorn has been made in-house at 322 N. Franklin St. since May 2013.

Bird decided to open the Port location because demand outgrew the production capability at his first store in Sheboygan Falls. Port became a viable option to support the company’s growth after Duluth Trading Co. opened in the city, Bird said.

“When Duluth came here, that was a huge statement for me,” he said. “They thought Port Washington was a good place to be, and they have more resources than me to analyze the business opportunities in the area.

“It’s also a neat town with the harbor that brings in a lot of tourism during the summer.”

He said most of the tourists come from the Chicago area, and they often stock up on supplies to bring home to family and friends.

While tourism is a major source of revenue for the company, Bird said nothing compares to the holiday season when customers are seeking last minute gifts. During that time, the shop pops about 90 pounds of kernels per day.

“It’s all hands on deck when Christmas comes around,” Bird said. “At some point, you wonder how you can sell as much caramel corn as you’re making.”

Broadway Popcorn produces more than 40 flavors, and during the holidays its red and green Prancer Pop with mint and French vanilla flavors was a top seller, along with gingerbread, eggnog and hot cocoa flavors.

Bird’s business partner Therese Suttner comes up with the flavors and said the Broadway Mix, which consists of caramel and cheddar corn, is the No. 1 sale item.

The company also sells sport team tins featuring the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Bucks and Brewers logos that are very popular for consumers. Bird said sales were down this season for the Packers tins because the team had an off year.

“I think this was the first time we sold more Brewers tins than the Packers,” Bird said. “The success of the sales is predicated on how well the teams do. When the Packers are running towards the Super Bowl, we can’t make enough of the stuff.”

While the vast majority of his business is retail, there is also a wholesale component, Bird said, noting the shop supplies the American Club, Woodlake Market and Piggly Wiggly in Kohler and works with Acuity in Sheboygan.

He also sells corn grown in Indiana to be popped at home.

A former contractor, Bird said he wanted to stay busy in retirement. He said he got the idea to go into the popcorn business when his brother David opened a similar store in Missouri.

“I needed to do something to get me out of the house and stay active,” Bird said. “I realized the success my brother was having, so we took his know how and expanded from there.”

Because of the popularity of his popcorn, Bird is considering opening a third store in southeastern Wisconsin when the timing is right.

“If everything lines up accordingly with the location and store, I would like to expand my presence in the area,” he said. “There aren’t too many other popcorn stores around here, and I think there is definitely a market for more.”

Bird has about 10 part-time employees at his Port Washington store, many of them Port High students.

“I really want to teach the younger generation about the importance of responsibility and hard work,” he said. “It’s a good job for kids to have after school for a couple nights a week, and I enjoy seeing them walking down the hill after class to work.”

He said customers appreciate the ambience of the store when they see and smell the corn popping.

“It’s kind of like walking into a candy store,” Bird said, noting he no longer notices the buttery smell of popcorn because he’s been around the product for so long.

“I really can’t smell it any more, but you always get a smile on your face when you’re eating popcorn,” he said.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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