Sometimes, the coolest ideas are born out of adversity – both literally and figuratively. That certainly was the case for the King of Pops – an iconic Atlanta popsicle brand that serves up its hand-crafted gourmet pops in push carts across the South and in select retailers.
After getting laid off from his job as an analyst at a giant insurance company during the Great Recession, Steven Carse realized that there were no “sure things.” He wanted to create a story that he would be proud to tell his grandkids about one day. Inspired by the Paletetias in South and Central America, he hit on a cool idea for a business: gourmet popsicles. .
With $7K and a lot of youthful energy, 25-year-old Steven decided to go all in. He rented out his condo, crashed on his brother Nick’s couch and focused all of his time on building the popsicle business. Despite obstacles in his path that prevented him from opening a store, he pushed the first King of Pops cart onto a a busy Atlanta corner less than a year after his layoff.
As the company grew, SKU mentors Nick joined Steven have built a popsicle empire that creates UMOHs (Unexpected Moments of Happiness) for thousand of mouths with flavors such as Thai iced tea, coconut chocolate sea salt and Pineapple Habanero.
“We scour the South for sustainable fruits and farmers in order to introduce ice pop flavors that are truly remarkable,” says Steven. “We chop, mash, freeze and ship thousands of artisanal ice pops a day. Drop by one of our carts, suggest our 500th flavor.”
From Pups to Tree Elves
King of Pops has has grown an average of 30 percent per year since it started in 2010. The company’s growth strategy includes offering cart franchises, which they call their “Cartrepreneur™” program. The King of Pops’ carts with adorned with rainbow umbrellas have rolled into parks and stadiums as well as events ranging from Bonnaroo to birthday parties.
“The carts were a blessing in disguise (just as getting laid off was) and the rest is history,” says Steven.
The company’s product offerings have grown to include the signature pops, Slush-Tails and Pop-Tails (vodka, ginger beer, mint, blueberry, lemonade, with a Blueberry Lemonade Popsiclea topping it off. They also expanded into the pet category with their King of Pups line of frozen dog treats.
Their frozen journey has taught them a lot about the creativity and grit required to scale a brand as well as the opportunities and challenges. Their deep knowledge of emerging brands has led to the creation of Perfect 10 Foods (P10), an Atlanta-based distributor that works with 140 specialty brands to get their products onto retail shelves throughout the South. They work with a variety of food and beverage, personal care and petcare brands.
The Carse brothers also started a Christmas tree delivery business called Tree Elves to offset our seasonality and we started a farm to grow some of our own ingredients, compost our waste and educate people about sustainability.
We talked to Steven about his entrepreneurial ventures:
The Power of CartrepreneurS™
SKU: Can you share more information about your Cartrepreneur™ program?
Steven: For the first decade of our existence, whenever anyone asked if they could buy a cart and sell pops on their own, we politely declined. When the pandemic hit in 2020 our backs, we were up against the wall. Without a ton of great options, we decided to go for it. We rushed to put together a reseller program and in 2022 we started selling franchises.
The Cartrepreneur™ program is designed for people who are active in their community and want to connect in a new way. The territories are relatively small and the initial franchise fee is $9K. It ranges from a side hustle for people to a full-time opportunity.
The program only is only offered in the South, where we are able to self distribute the pops and whre we have a strong marketing presence. In addition to the proactive work that the Cartrepreneur™ uses to build their business, we have an active marketing department that is curating lots of inbound leads. Additionally, franchisees can sell in territories and /or take the show on the road if there is a music festival, large activation or just about anything else that someone might want a pop for.
Because of the approachable nature of the business we have a lot of great applicants, but we are highly selective and only offer 1-3 new territories per month.
A Distributor for Cool Brands
SKU: What prompted you to start P10?
Steven: We started with the problem that many small CPG brands face when working with giant distributors. It is hard to get much attention or data, not to mention the mysterious and ongoing fees that can be tough to manage. We wanted to create the distributor that we would want to work with, so we did just that. We have a straight forward fee structure. We don’t have any contracts, and provide you with the stores you are in so you can help to support your product.
SKU. What are your goals for P10?
Steven: We want to become the industry experts for specialty and independent foods in the South and be a true partner with food brands that we think are doing cool things.
SKU: How do you find brands?
Steven: We are constantly seeking them out, and get quite a few referrals from our current brands and current customers.
WSKU: hat are some of the most interesting trends you are seeing right now?
We are really focused on specialty foods and are strong in the snack category. Reinvented or better-for-you classics with new flavor profiles, ingredients or presentations seem to be turning heads. It seems like keto friendly and gut health also are on top of mind. Sweetener choices and probiotics are playing important roles. Another great snack that is in all kinds of shelf stable formats is fruit, with freeze-dried, jerky and chip formats are leading the way.