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July 22, 2008

When Being Too Good Becomes Bad

Let’s pretend … you live in a small town, population 1,200. You operate a BBQ joint open only on Saturdays in this small town. The townsfolk describe your brisket as “transcendent meat.” By the early afternoon you’ve sold all 300 pounds of the meats you smoked. Your day is done and your customers are happy. Business is manageable, profitable, and more important, enjoyable.

Then all of a sudden your unknown BBQ joint gets praised as BEST BBQ IN THE STATE.

People now drive hours from all over the state to taste your BBQ and by 10am, all the meat you smoked has been sold. Then you start smoking 1,000 pounds of meat instead of your regular 300 pounds, but still sell out by mid-morning.

This isn’t pretend, this is real.

Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, TX was anointed by Texas Monthly as the best BBQ joint in Texas. Since being lauded, Snow’s BBQ has been swamped with out-of-towners. The first Saturday after being featured in Texas Monthly magazine, I made the trip out to Lexington, TX to taste the ”transcendent meat” at Snow’s. No go. All gone. I was too late, even though I arrived at 10:45am.


As Snow BBQ’s pit master, Tootsie Tomanetz, says, all this attention has “blowed our business out of proportion.”

When faced with a similar situation where demand outstrips supply, most businesses would welcome the opportunity to blow their business out of proportion and simply expand to better meet demand. Expansion is the easy answer. The more difficult answer is to not expand.

Snow’s BBQ doesn’t want to expand because its owner, Kerry Bexley, worries that his and Tootsie’s passion for their Saturday BBQ gig will dry up under all the demands that come with being a bigger business.

These are perplexing times for Bexley and Snow’s BBQ. Sure, business is booming and the attention is good for the ego. However, is being too good actually bad for business? More out-of-town customers mean fewer folks in Lexington can enjoy the meats at their hometown BBQ spot. Tootsie is having to dramatically ramp up her early morning meat smoking duties, which adds intense pressure for everyone involved. It’s not uncommon for Snow’s BBQ to sell out of their meats by 9am which means loads of customers arriving after 9am leave disappointed. Again, is being too good actually bad for business?

Kerry Bexley told the Austin American-Statesman he’ll consider shutting down the business if it becomes just that … a business. “My concern,” says Bexley “is we don’t get so big that she [Tootsie] doesn’t enjoy it. But when it does, well, we’ll quit.”

Wow, that’s a refreshing take ... a business that puts passion and enjoyment before revenue and growth.

Learn more about Snow’s BBQ from this NPR story and this review from Chowhound.
UPDATED | After adding an astute comment, Rick Liebling riffs beautifully off this post with a post of his own ... Scarcity, Storytelling and Having Your Business Blowed Up.


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Ahh the good life. Doing what you love. Following your rules. I am soooo envious.

I guess it really depends. If your "Business" is set up soley for your passion then it's more of a hobbey. I know one thing, making sales in a business is usually the goal.

They can still be true to their "passion" if they want. Hire another cook that is exclusively trained by Tootsie Tomanetz and obviously order MORE FREAKIN MEAT.

Set up an exclusive locals owner dinning area. I'm sure they know who they are, you got Earl, Billy Ray, Suzie Joe, you get the drift. Let locals place their orders the day before so they ALWAYS get served. C'mon, this is easy stuff. Course we don't want no one gettin' blowed up round these parts!

There are ways around this issue that can make them successful and stay true to their brand. Unlike Starbucks I wouldn't recommend they start selling to every grocery store in the world.

But a few well placed changes:

1. Order more meat
2. Train new chef
3. Local dining area
4. Locals can pre-order

Hell, why not bring in a local Blue Grass/Country Band to play. I could come up with a million ideas on this.

But if it's really more about their passion and less about making sales then it's real easy. Only sell to locals. Period.

"They can still be true to their "passion" if they want. Hire another cook that is exclusively trained by Tootsie Tomanetz and obviously order MORE FREAKIN MEAT."

Training additional cooks and simply ordering more meat is pretty obvious. So the fact that they haven't done that suggests to me that Tootsie is likely a 'BBQ perfectionist' that doesn't want anyone else touching the product.

John this reminds me of what Maker's Mark went through when their bourbon was featured in the Wall-Street Journal in the 80s and suddenly demand for their product far outstripped supply. Hopefully Snow BBQ can come up with as smart a solution as Bill Samuels Jr. did.

That's a great post. Of the questions posed, the one I like best is "What do you do when your passion/hobby becomes your job?"

It's a struggle for a lot of small business owners. If your passion is smoking great meat for good friends; where is the line drawn once the word of your master culinary skills gets out?

Values. Some people still have them.

Great thinker!
Keep Cooking!
The Brand Chef

Great story John. I relate. Nothing but controlled growth for me.

You really have to admire Tootsie and Kerry for sticking to their guns and putting their love for BBQ first and revenue second.

I have been in the restaurant industry for about 10 years now part-time and the reason why I continue is because I have a passion for cooking. Once you make it a job and it starts to control your life you lose the fun in it, which in the end impacts the quality of your product.

One things for sure...I want to try that brisket haha.

"making sales in a business is usually the goal"

*a* goal, maybe, but if it's *the* goal something's wrong. sure, if no money is involved, it's a hobby, but if it's just about sales, you could have excellence without passion. and you can't.

the idea that you could simply hire someone else to help smoke more meat misses the point that their excellence comes from passion, not technical ability.

now, serving locals first—that's perfect. treat the folks who've been there for you better than the total strangers who just happen to drop by. if the locals get served and the folks who drive 100 miles get nothing, pretty soon their business will be the little passion-driven place they seem to want it to be.

This is called "catastrophic success." It's well known in some planning circles (the military, even at strategic levels) but I think needs to be in every business plan. What if the product takes off and you have to ramp up production by four orders of magnitude in 1 week?

Even if it's just you talking to a vendor, that's a good question to ask before you need to.

Great story.

I wonder though if they were to grow their operations to meet demand, would the exclusivity of Snow's BBQ (brought on by the limited supply) begin to wither? If EVERYONE was able to get all the Snow's BBQ that they could eat, would they still want it as much?

Snow's obviously makes great BBQ, but how much of their recent success can be attributed to the very limited supply available?

I know in Canada, Krispy Kreme doughnuts were all the rage when Canadians had to drive across the border into the US to buy some. There was an aura of exclusivity surrounding them. But shortly after KK opened in Canada...well, now they have closed down all but 6 stores and aren't exactly doing too good. Though I know there are other factors that can explain KK's downfall (people eating healthier, etc), it was nevertheless interesting to see how after the initial hype interest declined dramatically.

I think if you begin making a locals only section and hiring bands to play, your on your way to being something that your not. I agree that you can hire another chef, or bring an existing employee that shares the passion up into the ranks of assistant chef.

Never loose sight of what why your business was first created. To share your passion with others is a beautiful thing. To make sure the locals are able to enjoy their product, perhaps you put on a special invite dinner for those who have supported you throughout the years.

I think I might trademark the name "Pit Master", very cool. I want to be a Pit Master!

Scott ... one has to EARN the right to become a Pit Master. Think of it as earning a black belt in judo. Any other way is counterfeit, dude.

Many people who run small businesses aren't looking to take over the world and what they do is often a passion rather than a career option.
Being a food product, if the couple feel pressured they will loose interest and the quality of the product could well suffer.
If they don't want to grow, that's fine, simply increase prices to reduce demand. Naturally if you want to offer a discount to your local customers, that would be your choice!

The LAST thing I would do is order more meat or hire another cook. Right now Snow doesn't have a problem, they have an opportunity. An opportunity to give customers a real and authentic story, of which the actual eating of the meat is just a part. Tootsie Tomanetz (you couldn't make that name up) is part of the story. Having to drive to Lexington the night before so you are in line at 12:01am is part of the story. Keep that story going and you become legend. Order more meat ("they used to have better quality meat") or, God forbid, hire another cook ("it's not as good as when Tootsie does it") and people drive back to Plano and say to their friends, "Totally over-rated, don't bother."

That's how you become not Texas' best BBQ, but America's Best.

Rick ... with bullseye commentary like that, you have earned the rank of PIT MASTER COMMENTER.

Thanks for so compellingly telling us that to ramp up business would be the route to NOT be the best BBQ in Texas. Brilliant commentary!

I agree with what Rick said. Keep that story alive, and make being able to have some of Snow's BBQ something to be remembered. If there were a way to set a limit, and of course give the locals first pick that would be ideal. But Tootsie's plan was never to have more 'sales' like some of the comments have stated.

The story of the Businessman and the Fisherman comes to mind.
Read it at:

Life isn't about earning the next dollar.
Enjoy life, feed your passion.

Thanks John. Seth Godin had an interesting, and I thought relevant, post on scarcity recently. I combined that and built upon my comment on my blog at:

John, some really great stuff recently on Brand Autopsy.

Pit Master Rick

Rick has it.

Bigger does not always mean better.

In the battle for the buck it is all about Value.

Snow’s BBQ Value is in their Quality Product and it's Exclusivity / Experience.

This place sounds great. Wonder how much they do a day and what is the menu.
Pitmaster takes years to accomplish.
Almost there.

i m going to try it as soon as possible! thanks for sharing!

Thanks for all your comments on Snow's BBQ. We have a few goals at Snow's and we intend to stick to them. We want to offer a quality product and provide the best customer service possible.We pray that when you visit Snow's not only to you get a chance to have some great BBQ, but have an experience you will remember forever and one you will tell your friends about. Things are going well and we seem to be keeping up with the demand and maintaining a quality product. Thanks again and look forward to seeing some of you. Check out our website Sincerely Snowman.

Often we forget the little guy, the SMB, in our discussions of the comings and goings of the Internet marketing industry. Sure there are times like this when a report surfaces talking about their issues and concerns but, for the most part, we like to talk about big brands and how they do the Internet marketing thing well or not so well.

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