Combining their business experience, entrepreneurial gumption, and love of kettlecorn, Robbin and Herb Jackson launched Nutmeg Kettlecorn in 2014. Last year, the couple decided to open a storefront.
To get some business guidance, Robbin became involved with the P.R.I.D.E. (People Reentering Into Doing Entrepreneurship) program in Bridgeport, an entrepreneurial program for formerly incarcerated. She was one of the top three P.R.I.D.E. students who then participated in the ENet (Entrepreneurial Network) program at Goodwin University created Matthew Connell, Program Director of the Business Administration Program at Goodwin University.
MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Robbin about her small business journey and the biggest takeaways from participating in the entrepreneurial programs.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. How did your business begin and how has it evolved?
ROBBIN JACKSON: It started as a hobby, inspired by my late mother’s absolute love for popcorn. My husband and I enjoyed learning how to make kettlecorn. We started vending by going to flea markets and fairs to sell bags and ended up making so many wonderful friends. Initially, we were a tent and table operation. Gradually, we perfected our craft and realized that people really enjoyed the product.
To launch the business, Herb and I started with the experience we had. My background is in a diversity of sales and marketing and advertising. Plus, I’m an artist. So, I created our logo with my mother’s favorite colors. Herb has background as a paralegal and realtor.
It took us four years to create an online presence with a website, which we’re still tweaking. Our average sales have been between $30 to $60 per order! I feel very blessed that people have been so receptive to our products. This year, we’re going to open a storefront in Wallingford. I’m really excited about the outcome.
NAN: How and why did you become involved with P.R.I.D.E. and ENet? What have you gained from the experience?
ROBBIN: A personal friend, Charles Grady, who is Outreach Director for the FBI, recommended the P.R.I.D.E., which was created by Barry Diamond. His class is the elementary course prior to Goodwin’s ENet course.
The ENet course has helped me to fine tune what I need to do as far as targeted marketing, understanding business law, and things I need to do to protect my business. It’s been very useful. As a business owner, you never stopped learning. You’re perpetually trying to learn more and maintain new ideas and methods to be able to run your business.
Both classes are essential for a person to develop an idea, learn, and understand how to effectively start or improve a small business. Every professor and mentor I’ve met through both courses has overextended themselves to assist any of us, at any time. This is so valuable to a fledgling business owner. I’m very grateful to all of them!
NAN: Can you share some other takeaways you’ve learned along your entrepreneurial journey?
ROBBIN: If you think you can plan to be fail-safe from any mistakes, then you’re truly not in business. Because the more mistakes you make, the more you’ll learn a lesson, and that valuable lesson sticks with you so you hopefully won’t repeat it.
As a business owner opening a retail operation, trying to find contractors to help us build the store has been challenging. We either find someone who’s too expensive for our budget or someone who says they can do everything for a little bit of money and then it’s shoddy work that has to be re-repaired. So, doing your homework is vital. You also have to make sure you read the fine print on a contract before you sign it and understand that you need protections by having the proper licensing, permits, and zoning in place.
Another thing I’ve learned is you have to understand your target market—who you’re selling to and the purpose of your business. These things are vital to maintaining your business. If you don’t know what you’re doing it for and you don’t have a genuine passion, you shouldn’t be doing it. If you just want a paycheck, you shouldn’t be in business for yourself. You have to love what you do. I enjoy making people happy—and I love to eat!
With this business, I’m honoring my mother in the best possible way. She was a loving person and a teacher who always gave back. She always found time for people, especially those in need. I want to take those lessons from her and pass them on. We’re trying to start a legacy, not just a popcorn store.
NAN: It’s important for Nutmeg Kettlecorn to become a part of your community and eventually give back. Tell us about your future plans.
ROBBIN: Absolutely. The community here in Wallingford and surrounding areas has, without a doubt, let us know they’re ready for something unique like a kettlecorn store.
Community is engrained in us; we even named the company after our state. Everything we do will primarily be made in Connecticut. Because once again, that pays homage to my mom, who was born in Connecticut. Herb and I were both born here, too. We go back seven generations. We love this state—and who doesn’t love a great-tasting goodie?
In terms of the company growth, my goal is to provide an on-the-spot customized service for gifting. I want to revolutionize how people think of kettlecorn. Most people think of it as a seasonal treat you can only get at a county fair, but that’s not true! We cook kettlecorn year round for any of life’s occasions.
Also, we want to be diverse with some of our other sweet products. And I’ve got some things in mind. I know another woman owned business who does ice cream. So, we’d like to incorporate our two products and come up with some fun, exciting ideas.
As far as giving back, in four or five years, I’d like to generate enough to give back to the homeless. Ultimately, I’d like to buy some property and create a little village that will sustain itself and get people off the street, especially families that are hard on their luck and destitute. I plan to call it Nutmeg Village, Mom would have loved that!
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