Capital Ideas: Chad Jordan of Cravings Gourmet Popcorn

According to Chad Jordan, who owns Cravings Gourmet Popcorn in Lansing’s Old Town, the recipe for a vibrant, successful, small business is simple.

All it takes is an innovative product, the ability to recognize and seize the right opportunities, a respectful and empowering atmosphere for employees, the right location, involvement in the community, and a commitment to marketing and harnessing the power of social media.

Well, maybe “simple” isn’t the right word.

Working for Yourself

After nearly two decades working in the retail world, Jordan learned many of these important business lessons. Along the way, he also learned perhaps the biggest: that he didn’t want to work for someone else anymore.

The final straw came in 2003 when he was laid off from a job he’d held for just under a year.

“I hated the feeling that someone else controlled when I worked, how much I made, whether I’d be working today or not,” he says. “It really irritated me. I always believed I had the talent and ability to do it on my own.”

Jordan is now known as “the Cravings guy,” and the name can have any Lansingite salivating in seconds. But success didn’t fall on his lap. In fact, the first lesson he learned was the value of trial and error.

“I had other businesses before that weren’t as successful as I would have liked,” Jordan says.

Opportunity Pops

Jordan went through a few unsuccessful business, including an Ebay store and others. “I’d written a business plan for Cravings around 2004,” he says, “but I couldn’t figure out how to get it from a business plan into a store.”

The answer came knocking in 2007 when a couple who ran a kettlecorn shop at the Lansing City Market decided to retire. Knowing Jordan was a fellow popcorn enthusiast and business-minded guy, they offered to sell him their equipment.

The timing was right, the equipment was right and, as Jordan was soon to learn, the City Market was the perfect place to start up his gourmet popcorn and soda pop business.

Operating on a small scale with low overhead allowed him to experiment with recipes as well as develop his marketing strategy one step at a time.

Social Media Man

If Cravings is known for anything beyond Jordan’s unique popcorn flavors—think cheddar bacon, dill pickle and signature gold—it would be his terrific marketing. In the social media world, Jordan’s popcorn is a small-business standout.

“We do all of them,” says Jordan. “Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare. . . . But I haven’t always been involved in social media. In fact, I was pretty reluctant at first.”

Like many social media aficionados, Jordan’s first virtual networking experience was with Myspace. And he was not impressed.

“Myspace is like the Baltic Avenue of social media,” he laughs. “I didn’t give any other social media a chance because of it.”

Fortunately, a friend took the liberty of signing Jordan up for Facebook in 2009. It didn’t take him long to recognize the network’s potential, and he began to see the benefit of the other free online media outlets.

Today, he recognizes that the key is to use each social media tool separately to maximize their individual strengths.

“The platforms all work differently,” he says. “Facebook users are more active and focused than any other group out there. So I use Facebook to poll them on new ideas, to get suggestions and promote things that are big.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Jordan explains that Twitter is more like a CB radio.

“Unless you’re on that person’s station, you’re not hearing anything. The messages are short, back and forth and then they’re over.”

Going On Tour

Starting in January, Jordan’s hottest online project will be utilizing Facebook and Twitter to schedule daily visits to workplaces throughout the Capital region and bestow free popcorn on the lucky employees.

With a new office getting blessed with Jordan’s gourmet popcorn five days a week throughout January and February, it looks like a whole new crop of Cravings fans are about to sprout up in 2011.

“All you’ve got to do is ask,” Jordan says. “Go to the Facebook page and add your business’ name to the list or send us a message. We’re calling it the Pure Popcorn Addiction Tour, and it’s all free.”
 
The goal is to raise awareness of Cravings’ offerings. And, as Jordan says, what better way to do that than with free popcorn and a one-on-one visit with the owner?

At Home in Old Town

With more than 1,600 followers between Facebook and Twitter alone, Jordan’s social media marketing messages are definitely being received. But in addition to the virtual presence, he’s also got a real-life location that lives up to the buzz.

“It’s amazing how people will take you more seriously when you’ve got an address, [when] you’ve got a phone number,” he says. “You’re viewed as a legitimate business.”

It was back in February of 2010 that Jordan decided Cravings was ready to find a permanent home outside of the City Market. After looking around in several Lansing-area cities, something clicked when he toured a property on Old Town’s Turner Street.

“I walked in here and the door was already orange, the floor was orange and it just seemed right,” says Jordan. “I thought, ‘This could work.’”

Jordan credits Old Town Commercial Association with making all the tangible aspects of Cravings easily accessible to so many people.

“Old Town has been tremendous,” he says. “When it comes down to it, you’ve got to have people at your door or you will fail, and they bring customer traffic. They’ve got all these different events down here and they work so hard to make them a success.”

Product Power

And what, do you suppose, is the final kernel of Jordan's small business success story?

Oh, yeah—the amazing popcorn.

He challenges anyone to Google “gourmet popcorn” to see how his product stands apart from the crowd.

“They’re all the same,” he says of the competition. “They have the same three flavors.”

Not at Cravings. Jordan is known for his daring popcorn flavors. The latest? Curry popcorn. Currently in development? Fajita and mocha chai.

And while those may sound intense, Jordan is just getting started.

“Lately we’ve been trending toward more savory, less sweet,” he says. “In 2011, we’ll start using infused oil to create a stronger flavor. We want to make popcorn that, after you’ve chewed on it for a few minutes, new flavors start to emerge. I think we can do that.”


Natalie Burg is a writer who loves to say good things about downtowns, communities and the people who believe in making them amazing.  

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.



Photos:

Chad Jordan at Cravings Gourmet Popcorn

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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