Learning from Leaders: IFA Leadership Conference’s Renee Israel of Doc Popcorn

Hello, franchise friends! Are you getting excited for the 56th Annual International Franchise Association Convention in San Antonio, TX? This year’s Leadership Conference, “Built to Last: Learn at Every Turn,” is focused on the art of growing, adapting while, at the same time, remaining true to the core concept, talent or idea. Before we head into the conference on Saturday, February 20 at 11:30 a.m. UTC, we’re bringing back our Learning From Leaders blog series to give you a taste of who our four presenters are and what they will cover

Headshot of Renee Israel Co-founder ofFirst up is Renee Israel, co-founder of Doc Popcorn, the largest franchised retailer of fresh-popped, kettle-cooked popcorn. Renee and her husband Rob founded Doc Popcorn, after stumbling upon kettle corn at a farm market. “It was made in a mom-and-pop style and Rob and I were excited about the notion of taking this very simple product that’s been loved by Americans for centuries and making it more flavorful and better-for-you.”

Renee’s Journey To Leadership

In their New York City apartment, Renee and Rob began blending and popping their own naturally flavored popcorn with a mission of creating a snack that was not only remarkably tasty, but also healthier. “Ice cream has multiple brands and flavors in high-traffic venues, so why not popcorn? We hoped to introduce multiple flavors and healthier ingredients to one of the world’s most popular snacks.”

In 2003, Rob and Renee felt it was time for a change so they moved to Boulder, CO where they opened the first Doc Popcorn in a mall kiosk. They had been noticing a big shift in people’s diets and their growing desire for a variety of healthier snack options and they felt that Boulder was the place they needed to be. “It’s a big town for natural foodies, we already had family there and it was a good fit for our healthy and athletic lifestyle.” Rob and Renee had built several store locations over the years in Colorado, but they didn’t know the best way to continue to grow their business. There were a number of approaches to choose from, such as retail-shelf, franchising or opening their own stores. “We wanted to have it locally produced and freshly popped, while helping other entrepreneurs, so franchising became the natural choice for our growth in 2009.”

For Rob and Renee, the goal was always to create something bigger. Rob has always been a serial entrepreneur and Renee was working for a startup and had that bug in her as well. They found their calling in bringing a better-for-you snack to locations like, malls, and stadiums that, at the time, didn’t typically offer healthier options. “Doc Popcorn is changing the way popcorn is done at these venues. We use better-for-you high-quality ingredients to make a variety of flavors and it’s all fresh-popped.” Since the topic of the IFA Leadership Conference this year is “Built to Last: Learn at Every Turn,” a big focus for Renee will be the topic of company culture and how Doc Popcorn has grown and adapted to new opportunities.

Adapting To Change

Since Renee and Rob built their company from scratch, they took hiring the right people very seriously, and brought in people that they felt would value and uphold their goals and mission of creating smiles. In 2014, Doc Popcorn was acquired by Fischer Enterprises, the owner of Dippin’ Dots. “Their culture is different than ours, but their vision of making memories and creating fun is similar, and we are both family-driven snack products.” Doc Popcorn is doing a lot of co-branding with Dippin’ Dots, so one thing that Renee works on every day is keeping the culture and brand in tact. “My role is co-founder, but day-to-day I’m working in brand development and marketing so I have a primary focus on preserving who we are as a brand, while working side-by-side with Dippin’ Dots staff who have that same goal.” Renee also mentioned that an ongoing opportunity and challenge is rolling out co-brand kiosk locations in malls. “It’s a lot of give and take creating a design that enables both brands to be who they are and clearly merchandize our respective products. But we are working well together and have seen early success with the new model”

Renee’s Advice

Through their experiences, Renee and Rob have created a company that is definitely built to last. How did they do it? Here’s the advice Renee had to offer to aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs out there:

  • Let People Help “Do the things that you love and are good at, and hire people to do everything else. You have to know what strengths you and your team members have and be able to let them do what they do best. This will help you really grow a successful business. My husband started with an idea, and trusted me to join him. We both live and breathe Doc Popcorn, but we also have very different skill sets. It’s important to know when to defer to the other person.”
  • Aim. Fire! “It’s one thing to have a great business idea, it’s another thing completely to execute it. Many people want to get a certain level of perfection before they start, but you can’t always be in the ‘ready, aim, aim’ mindset. You have to fire at some point or you will never get there. Sometimes you just have to put it out there and go. When we opened our first location, we did it in a former cookie stand with generic white bags and labels printed from a home computer. Having a ‘we’ll figure it out as we go’ mentality helped us move forward and keep growing.”
  • Stay Focused “It’s very common for entrepreneurs to always be chasing a lot of different ideas and opportunities, but it’s important to have an overall objective so you can stay focused. Once we decided that franchising was our company’s path to growth, we relentlessly placed all resources towards building and supporting this business model. We wouldn’t have been able to do it well if we had also been trying to get our product in retail stores or open our own stores at the same time. The key is to stay focused.”

To learn more about Renee’s journey and to uncover some more tips and things she has learned along the way, be sure to register for the IFA Leadership Conference on Saturday, February 20 at 11:30 a.m. UTC.

See you there!

Note: re:group is a sponsor of this event.

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