What’s Poppin’ finds bigger kettle online

by Andrew Seale   |   August 18, 2020   |   Share this:  

What’s Poppin’ likes big groups. Festivals, events, fundraisers – whatever it is, the more people the better. For the past 12 years since Jeff Gamble started his Windsor-based popcorn business, the festival circuit has been his key revenue driver. And it’s been good to him. It’s helped set him up to expand his line of popcorn three years ago to include 13 flavours. It’s given him the inertia to break into fundraising with schools and teams in the festival off-season and during the winter. It’s been stable. Lucrative, even. But then the pandemic happened and made big groups impossible.

“Once COVID hit, schools closed. There were no baseball teams, no hockey teams to sponsor,” says Gamble. “So we were out of options. Really, we had no plan B. I don't think anybody did really. I don't think anybody would've made accommodations for what we've just gone through in the last couple of months.”


Gamble had barely begun to formulate an idea when he heard from a Digital Service Squad member at Digital Main Street, a program that combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities.


“We’d had a website in the past,” says Gamble. But the website was more of a landing page, a form that explained how fundraising worked with What’s Poppin’. Alongside Digital Main Street, Gamble overhauled his digital presence, adding an online shop to sell popcorn and streamlining the fundraising component.


“I didn't even think about (selling online) six weeks ago,” he says. “All of a sudden we have history and analytics and trackability, and now we can email the customers who purchase from us and ask how the purchase was or send them notifications of our next sale or fundraiser or whatever… everything's changed.”


Gamble says going online has completely altered the way he thinks about the business. It’s also expanded his reach. Through heightened exposure What’s Poppin’ has started a series called Poppin’ for a Purpose where $5 of every pail goes towards a charity they're working on for the week. “We're already lined up until the end of July.” 


Recently, they raised $1,200 for the Alzheimer’s Society. It’s been an eyeopening experience, admits Gamble. “I never realized the power of social media and the power of the internet… I never thought somebody would buy popcorn online – (but) there's a lot of people that will buy popcorn and have it delivered to their doorstep.”


Going forward, he sees online being the backbone of his business model. “Even when kids go back to school and go back to normal. When we do school fundraisers or team fundraisers, we're going to use our website for everything from now on.”

Written by Andrew Seale

About Digital Main Street

Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.

This case study was completed during a prior expansion of DMS in partnership with the Province of Ontario and Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

In June 2020, a $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario and an additional $7.45 million from the Government of Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19.

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