By Donna Cope
July 30, 2018
It’s good ol’ summertime, and sales of Frios Gourmet Pops are exploding across Alabama and nine other states.
At Noccalula Falls Park and Campground, many visitors stop at the Frios store while hiking or taking in the famous falls, Kathy Guest said.
“A lot of people eat Frios pops when they’re here,” said Guest, who has worked in the park’s business office for 10 years. “Frios stays pretty busy.
“They are really good – they’re not really popsicles, they’re like cream fruit,” said Guest, who calls herself an aficionado. “If you get the zesty orange, it tastes just like a fresh-squeezed orange. They even have Nutella this year.”
With 43 stores and counting – Frios hopes to grow to 60 locations in 2019 – devotees of the flavorful pops abound. The more than 80 flavors include coconut, cookies and milk, banana, pineapple and decadent Candy Bar, with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup pieces and Kit Kat and Butterfinger candy bars. In Texas, avocado and lime is a fan favorite. The list of flavors is ever-growing, said founder and owner Andy Harp.
Around 2013, Harp, who’s always had a bit of entrepreneurial spirit, took to the idea of selling gourmet frozen pops. With a background in public relations, marketing and chemistry, Harp thought he had the skills to make the business happen. He was interested in starting a company with a fluid, easygoing culture.
Real fruit is a staple of Frios Gourmet Pops. (Brittany Faush/Alabama NewsCenter)
Working from home, Harp made a nice salary. But, he joked, “I always felt like I was kind of under house arrest. Once I quit my job and told my family what I’d done, I saw them go through the five stages of grief in 30 seconds. But my family has always backed me and helped make my dreams come to fruition.”
Since Harp rolled out his company – literally onto the streets of Gadsden – Frios’s business has doubled each year.
“The first day, I was out on the street, selling the pops,” Harp said. “My friends and family came up to buy them. My family came up to pray for me – they thought I was crazy. By the second day, it was like onlookers at a train wreck, wondering what was going on. But the third day, there was a line of people going around the block.”
Made from real fruit and other fresh ingredients from Alabama farmers and suppliers, Frios was an immediate hit. Within months, Harp had his first storefront in his hometown of Gadsden. Today, Frios has Alabama-based stores in Alabaster, Decatur, Fairhope, Florence, Madison, Mobile, Montevallo, Montgomery, Prattville, Tallassee and Wetumpka.
In 2016, with more than $1 million in sales, Harp received the Emerging Retailer of the Year Award from the Alabama Retail Association. With a multistate business, the Frios manufacturing plant in Rainbow City turns out 10,000 to 13,000 pops a day.
“Ironically, I went into this business to escape corporate culture,” Harp said. “Now, we’ve got SOPs and training classes for franchisees. Along the way, we changed the business focus from a little Gadsden-based dessert store to a franchise.”
While studying marketing at UAB in 1998, Harp served an internship at Alabama Power headquarters in Birmingham. During that time, he spent two weeks at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, as part of his internship. Observing Disney’s successful strategy of involving a cross-section of all employees in all facets of business, Harp employs the same tactic. Everyone from his culinary team to executive management to the office receptionist is involved in decision-making. During winter, Harp and his team consider new flavors, taking ideas from individual stores.
“I look at and accept everyone’s opinions and ideas,” Harp said. “We get everybody involved to come up with unique flavors and ideas for our pops.”
Harp also owns an Irish-themed pub, Harp & Clover, in downtown Gadsden.
Harp eats a banana pop at his company’s 16,000-square-ft. manufacturing center in Rainbow City, Alabama. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)
“I’m Irish, and coincidentally, those two national symbols of Ireland are in the name of my restaurant,” he said.
With the “exponential growth” of his stores, Harp would like to see 100 Frios stores nationwide in the next couple of years. Despite the unexpected fast track to success, Harp is determined to maintain his relaxed vibe at work.
In the early days, Harp said it was exciting to experience the loose culture of a startup company. A few “tenets” of that business philosophy remain.
“I still wear T-shirts and Birkenstocks to work every day,” he said.
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