RENÉE ILLYSE ISRAEL Co-Founder and "Mama Pop" Doc Popcorn


Aug 13, 2014

Renée is an experienced leader with a successful track record of building brands, marketing and sales programs. For nearly a decade, she has been leveraging her expertise to build the Doc Popcorn brand, which is now the largest franchised retailer of fresh-popped popcorn in the world and #59 on the Inc. 500|5000. 

Prior to founding Doc Popcorn, Renée was a vice president of marketing at one of the top integrated brand agencies in the country, Digitas—where she provided leadership to category leaders including The New York Times, American Express and Allstate. Previously, she also held marketing positions in global organizations including Electronic Data Systems and France Telecom. 

Renée serves on the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) Women in Franchising Committee.  She received the Enterprising Women of the Year Award from Enterprising Women Magazine (2013). She was also nominated as an Outstanding Woman Leader in Business by the Denver Business Journal (2012).

Renée earned her B.A. from Gettysburg College and her M.B.A./M.I.M., with honors in International Management and Marketing from Thunderbird — The Garvin School of International Management. Renée, and husband/co-founder Rob and their three young children reside in Boulder, CO. 

1. Tell us about the Doc Popcorn concept. 

The inspiration for Doc Popcorn came from our experience with "mom and pop" kettle corn makers at a Boulder Farmers' Market. We immediately saw an opportunity to professionalize the way this tasty treat is created and sold.  Over the better part of a decade, we perfected a unique offering of fresh-popped mouthwatering flavors and developed a variety of fun, simple and flexible business models for use at high-traffic venues such as malls, stadiums, convention centers and entertainment venues of all kinds.  After owning and operating our own units in Colorado, we started franchising in 2009 so we could share our vision of creating smiles all over the world with our great tasting, freshly-popped snack.  We have since added several beverage offerings and are continually innovating new and exciting flavors every day.

2.      How and when did you become involved with Doc Popcorn?  

I am the co-founder with my husband Rob.  He is a serial entrepreneur with “the big ideas” and my background is brand, marketing and business strategy for Fortune 500s and start-ups.  (We met at a 10K race while living in New York City…just about the time the concept popped into his head).  He is the creative who keeps dreaming up iconic ideas, products and flavors while I ask questions about that idea’s executability and ensure we are staying true to the brand and the core of our business.  We make a good team.

3.      What are some of the advantages in being a Doc Popcorn franchisee?  

Doc Popcorn’s offering is right on trend for the present and the future.  Snacking is on the rise and popcorn happens to be one of the world’s most popular snacks.  That said, popcorn has never been done in quite the way we are doing it in high-traffic venues.  We took a commodity product, much like McDonalds did for hamburgers and Starbucks did for coffee, and made it into a special experience. Our product is fresh-popped, made with high quality ingredients in a variety of flavors, and is a “better-for-you option” in the venues in which we operate. It also helps that we are now the largest franchised retailer of fresh-popped popcorn in the world in terms of units and building a loyal fan base.  This said we are just over 90 units in the U.S., Japan and Mexico.  So there is a plenty of room for growth and for new franchise owners to find a niche for our concept in a variety of markets, both nationally and internationally. From an operational standpoint, it’s also important to note that we have a thorough training program and a great team ready to support our franchise partners through all the steps required to get open and popping!

4.      Who is your ideal franchisee

We award franchises to candidates who have an entrepreneurial spirit and are seeking a simple, fun and flexible business opportunity. Many of our POPrietors (franchise owners) are couples and families operating their Doc Popcorn business together. They get excited about supporting the Doc Popcorn vision to create a smile experience for customers.  They also own or plan to operate multiple locations and are interested in being involved in running their business, at least initially.

5.      Tell us a little about the snack industry? 

Snacking is on the rise among consumers—the average person snacks more than 2x a day.  And popcorn happens to be one of the world’s most popular snacks.  In fact the popcorn industry has been reported to be as much as $4.2B in the U.S. alone by Euromonitor International.  With consumers always on the go, a grab and go snack like Doc Popcorn that is easy to eat, better-for-you and shareable is right on trend.    

6.      What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?

Since we started franchising in 2009, we have grown to nearly 100 franchise owners, or POPrietors as we call them.  This is remarkable growth for an emerging brand.  So one of the greatest lessons we have learned is how important it is to anticipate processes and systems that we need before we actually need them.  Then getting those systems in place so we are ready to support our franchise family when the time comes. In addition, we established a Franchise Advisory Board early on to ensure our franchise partners could communicate their insights and have a voice on key initiatives that they feel would help grow their businesses at the local level.  It is often said that franchisees and franchisors are in a symbiotic relationship.  But this concept is truly the cornerstone of what drives how we run our business. We are learning every day how to work together to drive the brand and keep our POPrietors smiling!

7.      Do you have a mentor and is there someone you use for inspiration?

This is a great industry with many leaders to look up to.  From a company standpoint, I admire Auntie Anne’s a great deal.  They have done an amazing job in our space and we plan to continue following in their footsteps to offer our great-tasting fresh-popped snack in as many high traffic venues as possible.  As I was recently selected to serve on the Woman in Franchising Committee (WFC) for the International Franchise Association (IFA), there are a lot of great women leaders whom I can call upon when facing tough issues or just need a sounding board.  On another level, we have POPrietors with amazing stories that inspire me every day, reminding me of why my husband and I began franchising in the first place.  Couples like the Sanchez’s who weren’t ready to retire and wanted something fun to do together, the Rovettis who joined the Doc Popcorn family so they could teach their Developmentally Challenged son how to run a business or Jed Howard, a military veteran whose wife had twins the week he opened his Doc Popcorn location.  I, along with the entire team, am motivated every day to do our best to support their businesses and goals.

8.      What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?

It’s really important to ask yourself why you want to own a franchise and define the goals you are hoping to achieve and the needs you desire to have met by owning one.  Everyone’s definition of success is different.  You need to know what yours is in order to choose the right partner. 

9.      In your opinion, why do you think that Doc Popcorn would be a great opportunity for someone? 

If someone is looking for a fun, simple and flexible way to start and build a business, Doc Popcorn is a great option to consider. Doc Popcorn is also an affordable option relative to other food franchise concepts which is a nice plus. Someone who would be proud to own our collective vision of making people smile would also likely enjoy running a Doc Popcorn business.  We are particularly suited to those who want to roll up their sleeves and initially get physical and be present with the business.

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