Steve Farmer admits he is a big kid, and working at a soda and candy shop just might be the perfect job.
"I'm 34 years old, wear T-shirts with comic book characters, ride bikes and work at a candy shop," he said.
Farmer opened Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop in Tyler on Aug. 16. The store offers 400 to 500 flavors of soda and more than 1,000 kinds of candy, he said.
Although it might seem his life is like a fairytale, starting the business was a two-year struggle.
Farmer grew up in Dallas and moved to Tyler in 1999 to attend Tyler Junior College, which he calls the "best four years of my life." He earned an associate's degree in 2003, and a bachelor's degree in business administration from The University of Texas at Tyler in 2006.
Farmer said "the bug" to own a business hit him in college. He felt the education he was getting was geared toward working for someone else, and it "irked" him.
"It's fun waking up and looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Good morning, boss,'" he said.
He started a wholesale company, supplying auto parts to body shops, and sold it after three years. He worked for the Ford dealership for about a year before he decided he wanted to get back into doing something for himself. He said he "floated around" for a while trying to figure out something to do when he stumbled onto Rocket Fizz.
In October 2010, Farmer and a friend were driving through California discussing root beers. Two days later, as Farmer was riding his bicycle around Pasadena, he ran across a Rocket Fizz. His girlfriend asked him to find chocolate-covered gummy bears, and although he had never heard of them, the store had them.
"I was sold," Farmer said of Rocket Fizz. "I've got to have one."
He decided he wanted to open the first franchise in Texas. He went to Los Angeles and met with the co-founders and toured five or six locations, came back to Tyler and formed a limited liability company to become a franchisee.
Ryan Moran and Robert Powells started Rocket Fizz in 2007 in Camarillo, Calif. The men have grown the small candy shop into 36 stores in 10 states. There have been 52 franchises sold in 11 states.
STICKING WITH IT
Throughout the next two years, Farmer went through the process of "getting kicked in the ground," he said. He was rejected by banks and told "no" so many times that he lost his partner in the venture, he said, adding that five banks told him "no," and one of those rejected him three times.
Farmer said he had to change his business plan in between bank meetings because Rocket Fizz kept adding stores, but the banks still told him they had never heard of the business.
"I stuck with it because I believed Tyler needed something like this," he said.
Farmer lost the battle to open the first Rocket Fizz in Texas after a woman opened one in Houston. In August 2012, he moved to Houston to run the store but wasn't giving up on his dream of opening his own in Tyler.
After about a year, he was finally able to open his business.
"It was a long struggle to do this. But I was persistent. I believed so much in it," he said. "If you have something you really believe in, don't let anyone tell you no."
Farmer met Price Arredondo, director of the Hispanic Business Alliance, who helped connect him to the nonprofit The People Fund, from which he received a microloan. He was approved in April, moved back to Tyler and started demo work on the space that formerly housed Timeless Books & Music. Renovations began the first of August and took about a week, he said.
"If you want to get into business for yourself, you've got to get out there and talk to people," he said, adding that through networking, he found Arredondo. "It really is about who you know."
On Aug. 16, the day Farmer got his sign turned on, he decided to open the store, which still isn't fully stocked, he said. He was receiving shipments of Japanese and British candy this week.
Farmer said the response to his store has been "phenomenal."
"It's growing at an exponential rate," he said. "It's kind of a runaway train here."
SPECIALIZING IN BIZARRE
He said kids and adults go crazy in the candy store.
"It's fun watching the adults go crazy in here," he said. "We keep a lot of the retro and hard-to-find candies," stuff some of the older generations haven't seen since they were children. They also sell all of today's candy, he added.
In the 2,800-square-foot facility, Farmer offers 400 to 500 flavors of sodas, 95 percent of which are made with pure cane or beet sugar. Rocket Fizz produces more than 90 flavors of its own soda, all made using pure cane sugar. He said a lot of the sodas have been around for 50 years or more, but people have never seen them before. Sodas come primarily from the U.S., but also from Australia, Japan, Canada and Brazil.
Farmer's favorite soda is the Dublin Bottling Works Retro Red Cream. And although he has a favorite in just about every candy category, Fry's Turkish Delight, which has a chewy gelatin center covered in milk chocolate, tops the list.
The store has more than 1,000 kinds of candy, including 100 flavors of saltwater taffy. Candies come from the U.S., Japan, China, Australia and the U.K.
He also sells reproduction tin signs, lunch boxes and concert posters; gag gifts, such as old-fashioned whoopee cushions and fake dog droppings; and pig, squirrel and horse masks.
"We have all kinds of bizarre stuff that people have never really seen before," Farmer said. "We like to specialize in the bizarre."
When asked about the most bizarre products in the store, Farmer pointed to three flavors of Lester's Fixins soda, made in Mount Vernon. They are Buffalo Wing, Ranch Dressing and Bacon sodas.
"Anything crazy, stupid — we love," he said. "You can really come in here and cut loose."
Farmer said they can do custom, themed gift baskets for special occasions.
Farmer has two employees and also gets a little help from his parents, Laura Farmer, who helps with media relations, and Bill Farmer, who helps with the grunt work.
Rocket Fizz is holding a grand opening celebration Friday and Saturday.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. Friday will kick off an all-day celebration. Dublin Bottle Works will give out free soda samples, and an Elvis impersonator will perform at 7 p.m., followed by more live music. On Saturday, there will be appearances by Captain America, as well as Willy Wonka and a couple of Oompa Loompas.