How GoPo Gourmet Popcorn Became Mid-Missouri’s Go-To Snack ShopDavid Cawthon
Three months into their marriage, Brooke and Nicholas Bartlett began making homemade popcorn.
“We were broke,” Brooke says. “We wouldn’t even buy chips for parties. We’d bring the popcorn. Somebody said, ‘You should start a popcorn business.’ So [Nicholas] really got to work and put his whole heart into the flavors.”
It got to the point where Nicholas making delicious popcorn – dubbed GoPo Gourmet Popcorn – wasn’t enough, so Brooke became the marketing, packaging and customers service arm of GoPo, based in Fulton, Missouri.
“You have to be obsessed with your product,” she says of making the leap into entrepreneurship. “You have to love talking about it all the time, because it’s part of your life. It’s not something where you go to work and then you turn off – it’s all the time. Nick and I really enjoy talking about business all the time. We enjoy going to other small businesses. It’s our passion.”
Known for fanciful flavors like lemon meringue (lemon with white chocolate drizzle and graham cracker crumbles) and Everything Tiger (everything-bagel seasoning with savory cheddar and a butter base), GoPo initially launched as a popcorn subscription service, which Brooke says helped them with upfront costs as a new business; they weren’t locked in renting a storefront for $2,000 a month.
“We were really able to adjust to our customers’ needs and work on our pricing without that constant threat of overhead bills,” Brooke says.
Getting serious about a popcorn business
They agreed to give GoPo their full-time attention for six months and see if they could make it work. After that period went well, the Bartletts pulled the trigger on kitchen space in Fulton’s Brick District.
A key resource for the Barletts was another local business owner: Kelly Gilion of Plume, a boutique, bake shop, and event space in nearby Columbia, Missouri. Kelly let GoPo operate in her shop, and the couple also used that time to glean some business insights.
“I didn’t know how often I had to pay sales tax, you know?” Brooke says. “You don’t know what you don’t know. It was just a lot of getting on the phone and a lot of calls to the Department of Revenue. It’s having the stance of a learner and being OK that you’re a learner because there’s no way to know all the things you need to do for your small business.”
Eventually GoPo opened its own shop in Fulton’s historic Brick District in 2019. This location has been another support for the Bartletts as entrepreneurs.
“The Brick District is super unique. A lot of the owners work their business here on a daily basis,” Brooke says. “They’re true mom-and-pop shops. My 5-year-old knows all the businesses by the owners’ names. We put on events together; we shop at each other’s businesses. We celebrate each other’s successes because we know how hard it is in retail today, against the internet and everything else.
“It’s almost like a small business campus: I can walk to the post office, and the print shop, and I live a mile away. For me, it was really important to have all that stuff close and not be spending all day in the car, driving back and forth to run these necessary errands you have to have for a business.”
Kernels of entrepreneurial wisdom
Ultimately, Brooke feels the best advice for a new business is to start small. GoPo didn’t need 70 flavors to launch – the Bartletts cut it down to 16. Instead of spending a lot of money on the best equipment right off the bat, for example, Brooke says make sure you understand your customer base and are finding your niche because that’s what will build your success in the long run.
“I always tell people, you don’t have to have it perfect on Day 1,” Brooke says. “It’s OK to start tiny and learn your customer base, and then grow based on that. We still have ideas we haven’t implemented yet because we can’t execute them. It’s very much a building-block process.”