25 January 2024

Steven Carse from King of Pops: Supporting the Local Community is Key to Growing a Business

By Ronald Smith

Last week at the Xerocon event, I had the pleasure of meeting Steven Carse, who started King of Pops with his brother. They began as a popsicle company using natural ingredients and had just one cart in 2010. Now, they have grown to employ over 250 people in eight cities across five states.

During our chat, Steven told me how getting laid off from his job in a big company turned out to be a great opportunity for him. He realized the importance of getting involved in the community to better understand his customers. He also mentioned how an employee who brings his ukulele to work fits right in with the company’s values.

Below, you’ll find some highlights from our conversation. If you want to listen to the whole interview, check out the video or click on the SoundCloud player below.

Let me tell you about King of Pops.

I am Steven Carse: King of Pops is not your ordinary popsicle company. We take pride in offering a superior product. Instead of using artificial flavors and bright colors, we use real fruits and create interesting flavor combinations. Our goal is to bring joy to people in a fun way. That’s why you can find us at various events around town, where you can actually experience our pops firsthand. We also provide catering services for office parties and other special occasions.

So, did you know that I started this business with my brother?

Steven Carse: Yeah, back in 2010, I lost my job in the corporate world. But you know what? It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. During college, I used to visit my brother, who’s an anthropologist, in Latin America. Those trips were my little escapes from reality. And it was during one of those visits that he introduced me to something amazing – the paleta. That’s just a fancy way of saying popsicle in Spanish. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it left an impression on me.

Fast forward to when I was searching for a new adventure in life. I thought, why not give this paleta thing a shot? It seemed like a crazy, yet intriguing idea. And guess what? My brother Nick, who was a lawyer back then, liked the idea too. So, we decided to team up and go for it together.

Steven Carse: Making this drink is actually quite easy. I use ingredients that are in season and local, which helps to make it even more delicious. The taste isn’t overly sweet, but there might be some sweetener added to enhance the flavors. I never use artificial colorings or anything like that. Instead, I focus on creating interesting and unique flavor combinations. You can enjoy classic flavors like raspberry lime or strawberry lemonade, but I also like to experiment with more adventurous options, like blackberry ginger lemonade or grapefruit mint or tangerine basil.

USamerica.US: I actually tried one of your drinks today. It was really good! Can you tell us a bit about your business model? It’s fascinating how you guys set up shop and follow the demand.

Steven Carse : When I first started my business, we couldn’t afford a brick-and-mortar store, so we set up a small pushcart on a street corner in Atlanta. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it allowed us to go wherever the people were. We discovered how to find events around town and started growing in three different ways. First, we sell directly to people – it’s called B2C. Second, we sell to businesses – that’s B2B – and they often give our products away at events. Finally, we also sell our products in Whole Foods and other grocery stores.

USamerica.US: So, how do you stay in touch with your customers? You know, the ones who end up buying something from you, like a refreshing drink on a hot day? How do you keep that connection going and start building a bond?

Steven Carse : When we hire people, we look for folks that we believe others would want to talk to when they come to our food cart. Nowadays, everyone is busy with social media, newsletters, and other communication channels. We use these platforms too because we have to. It’s just the way things work. But we also make an effort to participate actively in the community by organizing events. For example, in each city we operate, we hold a weekly yoga event that attracts between 200 and 700 people. We have a running club and other events throughout the year. These events help us connect with our community and keep them engaged. Of course, social media plays a big role in staying connected and keeping everyone informed about what we’re up to. However, we truly value the personal touch of face-to-face interactions.

Steven Carse : Yeah, definitely. Back in 2010, we used to simply share a snapshot of our menu on Twitter, and at that time, social media was like a new toy that got everyone excited. People were like, Finally, I can actually do something with Twitter! They would go out of their way to find us. But things have changed now. It’s become so crowded and fast-paced that if you just post a menu picture, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will notice it unless there’s an interesting story behind it. So, we are always on the lookout for captivating stories and things that would grab people’s attention. That’s what makes all the difference.

USamerica.US: You also mentioned that your employees need to have a specific mindset and the ability to connect with others in order for this approach to be successful.

Steven Carse : Yeah, we have a different perspective here. When you think of Chick-fil-a, they’re considered the best when it comes to great service in the fast food industry, but they have a specific image to maintain. What sets our company apart is that while there are still some expectations, like no cutoff tank tops, we encourage you to bring your true self and share your interests with us. It’s a relaxed and open environment. It may sound cliché, but we have a guy who brings his ukulele to work and plays it. That’s the kind of atmosphere we have, where everyone can have fun and be themselves. I truly believe that when people are enjoying themselves and expressing their true selves, it shines through and resonates with others.

I’m Steven Carse, and let me tell you, managing schedules can be a real challenge. But luckily, we have some fantastic software that helps us stay organized. And that’s just the beginning! We also use this amazing tool called Office Vibe, which allows our team members to answer a bunch of questions anonymously. It’s like a treasure trove of knowledge! They can share what’s bothering them, like if the chairs are not comfortable. Can you imagine? We might never have known if we weren’t really listening.

Oh boy, that’s a tough one. The hardest part, I tell you. Managing people is no walk in the park. It’s all about how much you care. The more you care about the folks, the harder it gets. Anyone can just give orders and say, Go do that. But if you want them to actually care about what they’re doing, that’s a whole different ballgame. Now, I know not everyone who walks through that door dreams of making this their forever job, and that’s okay. It’s how it should be. But to really take care of them, it takes a lot of time and effort.

USamerica.US: I heard you’ve been using Xero for about four years now. How has using Xero helped you grow the business to where it is today?

USamerica.US: So what’s your plan for the future? Will you expand to other cities?

Steven Carse: Absolutely! Our goal is to focus on the South. We want to become a local food influencer in this region and stay connected to the people we serve. After all, the South is our home. We don’t have any big plans of going international or anything. There’s still so much potential for growth here in the South. There’s even more room to expand in Atlanta, which is a huge city. It’s a challenge for us to reach everyone there.

Hey, guess what? Our plans are always expanding! We’re not going out there and searching for money from venture capitalists or anything like that, but we are steadily growing at a rate of about 10% to 20% each year. It’s exciting news! We recently partnered with the stadium and now you can find us at SunTrust Park. But that’s not all, we’re also in the Greenville Drive and the Nashville Sounds. It’s so cool because it gives us another opportunity to connect directly with our customers. Oh, and let me tell you about our awesome rainbow umbrella hats! We usually have rainbow umbrellas on our carts, but the guys walking around the stands get to wear these super fun hats. It’s a blast! There’s plenty of potential for even more growth in the future. By the way, we’re also planning to open some really small bars where you can bring your kids and get them a refreshing drink, while you enjoy a cocktail or beer if you’d like.

USamerica.US: That’s great!

USamerica.US: Like Cheers.

Steven Carse : I’ll be there. We’ll be opening a few of those in the next few years, and that’s kind of a big exciting thing, a step for us.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.