Why Dippin' Dots Is Teaming Up With a Popcorn Brand

Dippin' Dots and Doc Popcorn are opening an increasing number of joint locations -- and sales are soaring.

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By Stephanie Schomer

Courtesy of Dippin’ Dots LLC

In the snack world, ice cream and popcorn might not sound like a winning combination. But according to Steve Rothenstein, senior director of franchise development for Dippin' Dots, which also owns Doc Popcorn, the disparity between the two foods is what makes them a perfect match in the franchise world. Since 2015, Rothenstein has led a push to open kiosks featuring both brands, primarily in shopping malls, in an effort to appeal to more customers from a single space. So far, it's working: More than 20 co-branded operations are currently open, seeing higher sales volumes than single-­brand locations. By the end of 2018, that number of locations will double.

Related: 3 Tips for Co-Branding Happily Ever After

What makes these two brands work together?

Dippin' Dots has had success in malls, and Doc Popcorn is in that space today. Now, there's no secret, malls are facing their own challenges. Putting two brands in one spot can serve more customers in a minimal amount of space. We opened our first co-branded units in late 2015, and at first, getting malls to buy into it was tricky. There are logistical challenges; electrical, plumbing and storage all need to be considered. But our volume is much higher in these locations. We're getting more traffic and traction, and now malls are calling us.

Historically, how have cobranded franchises been received by customers?

I worked at Yum! Brands back when they started co-branding their spaces, putting Pizza Hut and Taco Bell together under one roof, for example. It started in the mid- to late-'90s and was successful in some markets, though it's not a strategy they continue with now. To be transparent, the aroma was a problem. If you walk into a taco shop and smell pizza, it's confusing.

Related: The Top 100 Franchises for Less Than $100,000

So how is popcorn and ice cream less confusing?

You're coming to us from a different mindset. You're in a mall or an outlet mall, and you're looking for a snack, not a meal. More often than not, people will be traveling with a group. So we've got sweet and salty. If four people walk in and three want ice cream, we can still serve that one person who wants something savory, like popcorn.

Does a single franchisee run both brands at any one location?

When we first tried this in Springfield, Mo., at the Battlefield Mall, we had a franchisee who'd signed on for a Doc Popcorn, and we asked them to cobrand with our Dippin' Dots program. Now we have more than 20 around the country, and each franchisee runs both of the brands at a location. We're mindful of whom we want to bring into the system. We want to make sure they're ready to grow, and grow soundly. No business is easy, and running two is not a piece of cake.

Related: The 6 Best Financing Options for Franchising a Business

Dippin' Dots has been around for 30 years. Doc Popcorn is 15 years old, with a much smaller footprint. How is this helping with brand awareness?

A lot of our original Dippin' Dots customers now have families of their own, so they're bringing their kids in and discovering Doc Popcorn. Each brand has its own power, its own customer base. Getting them to work together, even from a branding perspective, was challenging -- we had to tweak logos and colors to make sure the stores actually look good. But in the end, it just means we can serve a larger base.

Stephanie Schomer

Entrepreneur Staff

Deputy Editor

Stephanie Schomer is Entrepreneur magazine's deputy editor. She previously worked at Entertainment WeeklyArchitectural Digest and Fast Company. Follow her on Twitter @stephschomer.

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