Smile Politely

RiPoppedIt, a small popcorn business in Champaign

RiPoppedIt popcorn bags in the sunlight. Photo from RiPoppedIt on Facebook.
RiPoppedIt on Facebook

I’ve been a regular at the Urbana farmers’ market for at least a decade, and late last fall, I stumbled upon a small business that I fell in love with immediately. RiPoppedIt is a local gourmet popcorn shop that specializes in unique and fun flavors for birthday parties, baby showers, graduations, and even just for a mid-afternoon snacks because you deserve it.

I caught up with LaRisha (RiRi), the face behind RiPoppedIt and was able to get more information about her business, insight about life as an entrepreneur, and a sneak peek at the future of her shop.

Smile Politely: What inspired you to start your own business? And can you explain the meaning
behind the name RiPoppedIt?

LaRisha (RiRi) Exum-Howard: RiPoppedIt came about when I was invited to a housewarming and decided that I would provide the favors for the guests. I decided on popcorn. I like the fact that I could choose everything from the packaging to the flavoring, and there was no right or wrong way.

The meaning behind the name RiPoppedIt is so exclusive because it describes my business in one word. The “Ri” stands for my nickname which is RiRi, “Popped” is derived from the popcorn itself and me popping it. “It” represents not only the popcorn but the flavors, colors, and in some cases the extra goodies within the popcorn such as drizzle and sprinkles. I think of it as “I did that!” and it makes me proud, hence, the name RiPoppedIt!

RiPoppedIt on Facebook

SP: What are the bestselling popcorn flavors?

Exum-Howard: I will narrow it down to the top three, which are cinnamon roll, banana
pudding, and salted caramel pecan.

SP: I see you now offer a monthly subscription box. What comes in the box?

Exum-Howard: The subscription box includes one large and small bag of gourmet popcorn and a bag of savory popcorn. The popcorn flavors are chosen by RiPoppedIt, so you never know that flavor you’ll get.

SP: Where can we buy your popcorn?

Exum-Howard: Right now, it is offered through my website for pickup, delivery, and shipping. Periodically I attend the Winter’s Market at Lincoln Square and other pop-up events.

RiPoppedIt on Facebook

SP: What is the process like for making the flavored popcorn?

Exum-Howard: First thing is first, and that’s popping the popcorn. Next, I select my choice of flavoring. Depending on the flavor, the preparation may vary. Once all the ingredients are mixed and blended, it is now time to coat the popcorn. After all the popcorn is coated, we toss it in the oven at 250 degrees for about 30 minutes until it’s nice and hard. When it is finished and cooled down, we add all the goodies to it, which in some cases consist of cookies, sprinkles, nuts, or chocolate. Lastly, we package it and get it ready for our customers to enjoy!

SP: Do you have a favorite popcorn flavor?

Exum-Howard: My favorite are the savory ones.

SP: What challenges have you faced as a business owner?

Exum-Howard: Maintaining a work-life balance. As we know, running any successful business is hard work. Yes, I must work and make many sacrifices to grow my business, but it’s also important to work smart — and what I mean by that is: I always focus on my most important tasks and the things that’s going to drive my business forward. For example, getting enough sleep each night? This helps me stay healthy, stay productive, and perform at my best. Not only do I have my RiPoppedIt business, but I also have another small business that I do on the side, in addition to my full-time position.

That is why I believe maintaining a work-life balance is important; it helps reduce stress and helps me from getting burnout from all the different jobs I work daily. Another challenge I struggle with is promotion. When I am busy, I seem to forget to stop and promote my product. Promotion can have a positive impact on the successfulness of a business, and this is something that I am focusing on doing more of in the future.

RiPoppedIt on Facebook

SP: Can you describe RiPoppedIt’s culture and values?

Exum-Howard: When I think of culture and value, I think of the values that have guided my business decisions at RiPoppedIt. I have always included integrity, honesty, ethics, and respect for the dignity of others. RiPoppedIt is all about a fun and safe environment, while getting the job done. Culture, on the other hand, is the way RiPoppedIt implements our values, and always creating an experience for our customers. At RiPoppedIt, we want to create a culture where we can celebrate our success and where people look forward to purchasing our products respectively.

RiPoppedIt Is all about striving to build a legacy on our unique culture, by moving forward to achieve our business goals.

SP: What advice do you have for someone wanting to start their own business?

Exum-Howard: Research, research, research. I can’t stress this enough! Even though I own a business, I research and discover new information daily.

Don’t give up! Anything worth having is worth fighting for. It can be tough at times, but in the end, you will be able to sit back and admire your accomplishments.

SP: Tell me about the goals or milestones you want to achieve in the next few years?

Exum-Howard: My short-term goals involve being able to prepare my popcorn in a commercial kitchen. Having the opportunity to work out of a commercial kitchen would not only give me the ability to increase my products but also boost my promotion and advertisement.

As for now, RiPoppedIt is limited to how many flavors we can make and how much product we can produce due to the amount of space we have. Two years from now as a long-term goal, I am looking forward to having RiPoppedIt’s Popcorn sold in a storefront, with several assorted flavors to offer.


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