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Brazil: Tips to face the crisis from a popcorn street seller

Well before the beginning of the global economic crisis, a Brazilian street seller was on his way to becoming a very famous entrepreneur in the country by doing just one thing: selling popcorn, with a personal touch. 36 year old Valdir Novaki used to work as an itinerant farm labourer, until he arrived in Curitiba, in 1988, where he started working as a newsagent, then as a car park driver. His ambition was to get a license to open a popcorn trolley, and become a successful business man. His ultimate dream was to become the best and best qualified popcorn seller in Brazil. Here is his profile:

If every one can have a website, why a popcorn seller could not have one?

"If everyone one can have a website, why shouldn't a popcorn seller have one?"

Popcorn seller Valdir: Valdir Novak, 36 years old, born in São Mateus do Sul-PR, married, 1 child, 4th grade of elementary school, agricultural labourer during adolescence, 20 years of customer service (newsstand, snack bar, popcorn). Resident in Curitiba-PR since 1988.


Contact:
Through the “contact” form on the website or mobile phone: (+55) 41-8417-6579

Personal characteristics: Communicative, helpful and observative.

Skills: great ability to understand business opportunities; quick learner from lessons/guidance; great managerial potential; good teaching skills with people of all levels.

It took Valdir 12 years to become licensed by the city council, and by the time his dream came true he had already been in business for 3 years, operating a friend's licensed popcorn trolley which he used to rent. On getting his own license, Valdir was able to sell popcorn on a fixed spot in Tiradentes Square, where he has been working for nearly 3 years. The business quickly flourished, in a quite unusual way for this narrow field. Álvaro Borba [pt] tells us what makes Valdir special, and so attractive to customers: he has managed to innovate in a field that many would think has little room for imagination:

O novo carrinho foi levado para a Praça Tiradentes, o marco zero de Curitiba, e ganhou uma identidade visual feita especialmente para ele. Surgiu, também, o kit higiene, que inclui palito de dente, guardanapo, balinha de hortelã (sempre providencial depois da comilança) e material promocional elogiando a qualidade dos ingredientes, aos quais o pipoqueiro hoje se refere como “insumos”. No bolso frontal dos uniformes usados por ele foram estampados os dias da semana, para que o freguês tenha a certeza de que Valdir não usa hoje a roupa suja de ontem. Por fim, foi criado um plano de fidelidade para beneficiar os mais assíduos e um site (saboreie aqui) para divulgar a marca Pipoca do Valdir.

website

The new trolley was placed at the Tiradentes Square, Curitiba city's cornerstone, and gained visual identity by being tailored especially for it. A hygiene kit was also implemented, a plastic bag containing toothpick, napkin, mint candy (always welcome after the gluttony) and promotional material praising the quality of the ingredients, which the popcorn man nowadays calls “inputs”. Every day of the week is printed on the front pocket of the uniforms he wears, so that the customers can be sure that today Valdir is not wearing yesterday's clothes. Finally, a loyalty program to benefit the most loyal customers and a website (enjoy it here [pt]) to promote Valdir's Popcorn brand.

Valdir offers two main promotions through loyalty cards: with one of them, the customer gets a free bag of popcorn for every five bought. The second, called “a dozen of ten”, the customer pays for ten popcorn bags in advance and gets twelve. In his website, there is a map of his usual spot for new customers to find him and a detailed description of equipment and products, including the providers of his raw materials. Valdir also shares popcorn recipes and curiosities, his customer testimonials and also information about his volunteer work with an institution for disabled people Pequeno Cotolengo and the Cancer Hospital Erasto Gaertner, where he takes his popcorn trolley to entertain kids. There is information regarding his new professional development: business and marketing lectures too.

Valdir, on a lecture for a bank

Valdir, in a lecture for a bank. Picture from his website.

Despite the fact that Valdir only had the opportunity to finish elementary school, he now coaches students and business people of all ranks. For just over a year, Valdir has travelled around Brazil giving motivational lectures, entrepreneurship tips, and maybe some inspiration. Some of his ideas on how to develop business came from Ricardo Coelho [pt], a marketing and business consultant and professor, and a loyal customer of his popcorn. He saw a natural talent in Valdir and has since helped the popcorn seller on the ladder to become a business coach:

Todos nós sabemos da importância em ajudar quem quer ser ajudado e a satisfação de participar do sucesso destes nossos parceiros. Isto ocorre comigo, quando referendo o pipoqueiro Valdir como um exemplo vivo do que é ser empreendedor e como a prática é uma escola com muito mais conteúdo do que muitos livros de grandes pensadores mercadológicos.

We all know the importance of helping those who want to be helped and the pleasure that participating in our partners’ success gives us. This happens to me, when I praise the popcorn seller Valdir as a living example of what to be entrepreneurial is, and how practice is a school with much more content than many books by great marketing thinkers.

Marina [pt], a self confessed popcorn addict, gives us first hand accounts of her experience as a customer and explains why Valdir is her favorite popcorn seller ever:

Com dois reais você compra um BIG pacote de pipoca (que vem com aquela sacolinha para você poder levar melhor pela sua caminhada e onde a ajudante do pipoqueiro faz questão de colocar mais pipoca ). Só que além disso, olha o que é ser pipoqueiro no século XXI: ele coloca um pacotinho com um guardanapo, um palito de dente e uma bala de hortelã. Quer mais do que isso? Ele ainda te atende como se você fosse a melhor cliente, a mais especial e que ele ficou muito feliz em ver! Além de alguns visíveis cuidados de higiene. Para ver, que até no mercado de pipocas é preciso se adaptar… Viva o Valdir, o melhor pipoqueiro do mundo!

The Hygiene Kit - Why didn't anybody think about it before?

The Hygiene Kit – Why didn't anybody think of it before?

With R$ 2.00 you buy a BIG pack of popcorn (that comes in a handy bag so that you can better carry it on your journey and which the pop corn man's assistant makes sure she puts even more into). But on top of this, see what it  is to be a popcorn seller in the 21st century: he adds a little packet with a napkin, a toothpick and a mint candy. What more do you want? He also serves you as if you were the best customer ever, the most special one and shows how very happy he is to see you! In addition to this, there are some visible signs that he cares about hygiene. You see, even in the popcorn market we need to adapt… Long live Valdir, the best popcorn seller in the world!

Geziane de Mattos Diost [pt] interviews Valdir and confirms that he is extremely friendly, kind and charismatic, a person who knows how to make all customers happy and attend to their every need, always with a large smile on his face. Focus, innovation and creativity are his keywords, but besides, he just loves what he does and that might make his popcorn just more tasty than his competitors':

Mas o sr. Valdir vive sempre assim, de bom humor? “Ah, todo dia eu tô de bom humor. E o segredo pra isso é a gente olhar pra trás. Se a gente olhar pra trás, vai ver que tem gente muito pior que a gente. Eu tô com saúde, tô trabalhando, minha família não tá passando necessidade… então, é só alegria! Dessa forma a gente supera as dificuldades! Tô sempre com o sorriso no rosto porque eu sempre digo que o sorriso é a menor distância entre duas pessoas. E pra eu ser um pipoqueiro eu tenho que estar feliz!”.

But Mr Valdir, are you always in a good mood? “Oh, every day I'm in a good mood. And the key thing is to look back in hindsight. If we look back in hindsight, you will see that there are people [living in] much worse [conditions] than us. I'm healthy, I'm working, my family is not in need… So, it is only joy! Thus we overcome difficulties! I have always a smile on my face because, as I always say, the smile is the shortest distance between two people. And for me to be a popcorn seller, I have to be happy.”

valdir_pipoqueiro8

valdir_pipoqueiro21

Valdir working at his “craft”, as he calls his trolley. Both pictures by Bruna Bazzo, used with the author's permission.
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  • http://medeamaterial.blogspot.com Juliana Rincón Parra

    Paula, thank you so much for this article. I enjoyed reading about Valdir and am now jealous I can’t get his “pipoca” here!

  • http://arellanos.blogspot.com Juan Arellano

    I really liked thhis post, found it “inspiring”.

  • http://lusosfera.wordpress.com/ Paula Góes

    thank you so much, Juliana and Juan

    Valdir is a star. I will make sure I will let him know of your comments, he will appreciate it!

    Best
    Paula

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  • gorette

    oi valdir eu gostei muito da sua hestoria voce esta de parabêns! meu nome e gorette esto começando com uma lanchonete e vou espelha em voce que Deus lim abeçoi que ter muita saúde e paz para voce e prisipalmemte sabedoria parabens guereiro
    ( um abraço)

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