Sharla McBride was working as a court reporter in 1999 when she tasted kettle corn for the first time. On a camping trip with friends, she fell in love with the salty-sweet treat. Soon after, she bought a popcorn maker and started making her own batches of the delicious snack. Sharla started selling her homemade kettle corn on the weekends, and got her first contract in 2000 with Ovations Food Service under the name “The Kettle Corn Hut.” The business was successful, but Sharla had no idea of the whirlwind success what was about to come her way.
It wasn’t until 2005, when Sharla opened her first kettle corn stand in Downtown Disneyland – where thousands of visitors enjoyed her kettle corn daily – that she realized her true calling was popcorn. The following year, she quit her job as a court reporter to sell her kettle corn full-time, and opened a second location in Disneyland. Planet Popcorn was born, and that was just the beginning.
Rave reviews of Planet Popcorn led to contracts with country fairs in Orange County, L.A. County, Fresno County, Alameda County, and the Del Mar Fair.
More events were quick to follow, spreading word of Sharla’s sensational popcorn throughout California, Arizona, and Nevada. Ten years into her business venture, Sharla had taken a small weekend business and turned it into a multi-million-dollar popcorn company. She’d expanded her product line to gourmet funnel cakes and crepes, and Planet Popcorn had added a third Disneyland kiosk.
In 2013, Levy Restaurants joined forces with Planet Popcorn to start selling their delicious products at the Las Vegas Speedway. A year later, Planet Popcorn secured contracts with the Oakland A’s and Oakland Raiders. It seemed, for a moment, that Planet Popcorn was unpoppable.
But looks aren’t always what they seem. Despite the rise of Planet Popcorn and its notoriety with recognizable brands, the business was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, due to gross mismanagement. Sharla was forced to ask her mother to take out a second mortgage to keep Planet Popcorn afloat. Could The Profit and entrepreneur/host Marcus Lamonis help save this business and make it profitable once again?
Read on to find out.
Planet Popcorn on The Profit
The Profit Season 1 Episode 3
The first thing Marcus discovered upon arriving at Sharla’s cart was that her popcorn tasted amazing. The next thing he noticed was that Planet Popcorn was a cash-only business that did not accept credit or debit cards. A cash-only company leaves room for vulnerability to theft and missing money. There was no safe, no security cameras, and Sharla was seen shoving money into a bag on location. When Marcus walked into the back offices, he observed cash all over the place, noting that he could have easily walked off with $20,000 in cash without Sharla even noticing.
While there was no money lying around in the kitchen, it was an unorganized mess with many bags of popcorn without a way to track or inventory them.
Marcus said that he would be willing to invest in Planet Popcorn if Sharla would agree to put in the work required to take the business to the next level. When Sharla explained to Marcus that she had successfully grown Planet Popcorn by adding products and opening more locations, he pointed out that generating revenue did not always mean business was making a profit. He suggested that she concentrate on the existing popcorn businesses instead of continuing to expand and branch out.
Marcus met with Sharla, her fiancé, Steve, and her mother to discuss the changes he was looking to make for the good of the business, including:
- Starting a website that could handle online orders
- Acquiring a storefront at Disneyland, pointing out that the Disney portion of the company was profitable, while the concession aspect offered little rewards for a lot of work
- Maintaining a singular focus on popcorn instead of expanding to other products
- Severe tightening of Planet Popcorn’s business practices
Sharla expressed that she was uncomfortable with foregoing the kiosk business model. Marcus felt that it was a narrow viewpoint that was putting her mother at risk of losing everything.
The Profit host offered a deal of $200,000 in exchange for a 50% share in the business, which would give him financial control of Planet Popcorn. He also said that he would need to take complete control of the business operations for one week. Steve felt the deal was ridiculous and stormed out of the meeting. Sharla stayed but told Marcus she was unwilling to surrender full financial control of the business she started and grew. He expressed that her company would fail without the infusion of capital he was offering, saying that Sharla did not have a comprehensive understanding of how the cost of materials affected pricing and revenue generation. Marcus also informed Sharla that he had purchased the domain names of “planetpopcorn.com” and “popone,” which she had neglected to secure.
Sharla’s accountant, Casey, bought into everything Marcus was saying and agreed to join in a heartbeat, which got Sharla to finally agree to the deal.
One of the first things Marcus did when he assumed control was to clean out the office and install a series of security cameras at all Planet Popcorn locations. He established a system to manage their inventory and instituted a point-of-sale system so they could track the inventory – and, most importantly, cash. Marcus brought in a web designer and a packaging expert to upgrade their brand identity.
Sharla agreed to updating the packaging process and developing more creative product names, but resisted any change in the design of the logo. Marcus agreed. While Sharla did not understand the need to change the packaging from bags to tin containers, Marcus explained that they could charge more for the perceived added value the tin would garner. Customers could also return with empty tins for refills at a reduced price.
After realizing Sharla did not have any interest in understanding the side of the business, Marcus hired a forensic accountant to go over the books. The accountant figured out that Planet Popcorn had lost upwards of $400,000 more than the original estimate.
The last straw came when Marcus discovered that Sharla was trying to buy the “popone.com” domain name out from under him. He declared he could no longer trust her, and even though it meant that her mother might lose her house, Marcus backed out of the deal.
Life after The Profit for Planet Popcorn
Sharla eventually lost her deal with Disney and was forced to rebuild the business from scratch. All was not lost for the people of Planet Popcorn, however. Sharla ended up repairing her fractured relationship with Marcus, who wound up investing $50,000 in Planet Popcorn in exchange for 40% equity in the company.
Planet Popcorn’s website is live and active, with recent updates referencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Their Facebook page displays updates as recent as June 2020, but their Instagram account boasts a mere 321 followers as of that same month.
The company’s locations in LegoLand California and Irvine Spectrum Center have closed and all sales are now direct through the website.
Planet Popcorn is still operational today – but the future is uncertain, and the planet seems a bit lost in space. A small and devoted following, hard work and a focused marketing scheme might be enough to get this once-towering popcorn planet back into orbit around the sun.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is strictly informational; INSIGNIA SEO is not affiliated with Planet Popcorn, The Profit, or any of their subsidiaries.