If at First You Don’t Succeed...
By Andy Hanacek
Marci’s Fun Foods had to ‘try, try again’ with a new distributor and has seen sales of its lone product skyrocket in response.
When Marci and Ron Razete started out in the kettle corn business, they were concessionaires, popping their delicious kettle corn fresh at corporate events, craft shows and other functions.
But in 2001, the Razetes heard through the grapevine that another concessionaire like them was offering kettle corn in grocery stores.
“We went and visited and spoke to the produce manager [at that store], and he said the sales were strong [though] the packaging was so bad and the product looked so bad,” Ron Razete explained. “It was burnt and unsifted, with no label, twist-tied in a bag like the newspaper comes in. It was so bad, that you couldn’t believe anyone would buy it at all, let alone that they were selling the daylights out of it.”
The store manager encouraged the Razetes to provide a better product if they could, and Marci’s Fun Foods, LLC, was up and running.
And did Marci’s ever start running. In 2002, Marci’s first full year in operations, sales reached the $67,000 mark, but bigger growth was on the way. Sales more than tripled in 2003, and surpassed the $1 million mark for 2004. All with one product, one flavor and two bag sizes. In the words of Razete, Marci’s Fun Foods is “the WD-40 of snack food companies.”
“When you look at our sales, they look unimpressive, until you consider we have only one product,” he continues. “But we send entire tractor-trailers of our product to a distributor, and nothing goes out of code because they go through it so quickly.”
According to Razete, Marci’s Old Fashioned Kettle Korn, the company’s brand, was the 90th-best revenue-producing product in the western Pennsylvania market, including all pretzels and salty snacks. That also may not seem impressive, Razete explains, until you realize that there’s not another popcorn product in the top 200, as listed by Information Resources, Inc.
But the road to growth has gotten smoother only within the last 18 months or so for Marci’s. Razete admits that they made mistakes early on.
“We screwed up everything you could screw up in the first 18 months,” he explains. “We partnered with the wrong kind of distributor, … one that really was ill-suited for us. Fortunately, we survived that, because they were a deli-bakery distributor. When a refrigerated truck came to pick up our product, you know, it didn’t make sense.”
Now, Marci’s primary distribution partner is a large snack manufacturing company that is willing to coax the brand to new heights (and, Razete adds, willing to keep the Marci’s name on the product).
For its part, Marci’s is willing to follow, having made major improvements in production just this month. Currently, the company is housed in a 3,200-sq.-ft. plant, but it’s practically bursting at the seams.
“Even with creative solutions in shipping raw materials in and out, staging them into another facility that we rent temporarily and doing some crazy, time-consuming things, I don’t think we can survive in our location beyond the summer,” he says. He adds that the company, which is located about 40 miles outside of Pittsburgh, would like to find a new facility, potentially closer to the Pittsburgh market.
But that’s the future. Presently, Marci’s just finished adding enough corn poppers to boost popping capacity from 100 lbs. per hour to 800 lbs. per hour. They also purchased a vertical form/fill/seal machine to automate the packaging process, and bag film with a new logo to improve the image of the product on the shelf. The packaging line was expected to be up and running this month, pending final approval of the artwork on the new bags.
“We decided that our packaging hasn’t done anything for us in the sense of sales, so at least we can’t go anywhere but up,” Razete adds. “We think our packaging is really going not to the next level, but really to the top. We’re going to do, once and for all, a great job at it.”
With 17 employees and more than $1 million in sales in 2004, Marci’s has been doing a lot of things right after a rough start to business. The most important thing, however, that Marci’s has done correctly the entire time, Razete says, is backed up by its ballooning customer base.
“Our customers, before they’ve ever seen our product, have been looking for an authentic kettle corn, and they can’t find one,” he explains. “And when they find us, they lock in. That’s the only difference: We just do it right.
“We don’t deviate at all from the process that we [used] when we were out at functions, making it fresh. It’s made exactly the same way, and as long as I’m alive and Marci is alive, we won’t change a thing. How else do you become category leader with a single product?”
Many snack manufacturers and bakers can learn a thing or two about focus and revving up business from Marci’s. Product quality has carried Marci’s Fun Foods this far, and as the company improves the peripheral pieces — distribution, packaging, production, etc. — things should get only better.