Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chicken Fried Bacon

So when will this be at the NC State Fair?

I suppose they'll serve it with a large bottle of Lipitor?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Secret Sauce

This is another in my series of articles about how to market your sauce.

We usually get 2-3 inquiries a week from new vendors that have developed a new sauce that they'd like us to carry. In fact, that's one of the fun parts about the business -- the top of our refrigerator always has a huge supply of sauces to try. One of our rules is that we don't carry sauces that we don't like, unless it's a market leader and there's a huge demand for it. For instance, we generally don't use the ultra-hots personally, but we carry them because our customers appreciate it.

One thing you should consider when contacting distribution partners is timing. If you're going after specialty web sites and gift stores, Nov/Dec is a non-starter. They're just too busy with the holiday rush to look at you. Jan/Feb/Mar is a great time to be pushing a sauce -- if things start to work out, you'll be just in time for the big summer season. But calling someone on the phone during December is just going to earn you scorn.

Periodically we get a sample where the vendor is really coy about their product. Test bottles without ingredient lists seem to be the common method of trade secret protection. But today we got an actual printed letter (didn't know people still wrote those!) from a vendor that wanted us to sign a confidentiality agreement before they would send us a brochure about their special new product. Somebody's lawyer was a bit out of control.

Here's a bit of advice: you don't want to do business with someone that would sign that letter. Confidentiality agreements are always a hassle, so wise businesspeople don't sign them unless there's a really important reason. The chance to look at a brochure isn't a good reason to sign up for legal liability. This is not the right time for your department of business prevention to meddle.

Your "secret recipe" doesn't matter. Not one whit. You'll have to publish the ingredient list when you go commercial anyway, and any chef worth their mixing bowl can taste and experiment and replicate your recipe with enough time. The commercial value of the sauce is in marketing and distribution. If taste mattered, Kraft Barbeque Sauce wouldn't be a number one seller. Shelf space, a pretty label, and a well known brand name are far more useful than a secret recipe.

A secret product is even worse. As a retailer, we don't want products that people aren't looking for. We want well known products with high consumer demand, and preferably a supply limited to only us. So approaching retailers with a super secret hush hush plan is really the wrong direction.

We don't mind taking on new products. Everybody has to start somewhere, and we're proud that we've helped many new companies launch their products. These small batch products are usually much better than the glop you can buy in a grocery store, and that's what our business is built on. Finding those hidden gems and bringing them to our customers is a big part of what we do.

Don't expect a retailer to pay up front for your great new sauce -- there's just too much risk that it will be like 90% of the other new sauces on the market and be a flop. The retailer has enough cost in giving you shelf space, creating the web page, taking photos, writing copy, etc. The retailer is doing you a huge favor by giving you exposure.

If you're going to launch a new sauce, you need to be prepared to give away a lot of it. You're looking for exposure and distribution channels. Anything that gets in the way of that is a bad idea.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Add a Little Oil to your Marinade

Tonight's dinner was grilled venison backstrap marinated with an off-the-shelf marinade. I've used this marinade before to mix in with venison burgers, and it's very tasty.

Tonight's dinner, while passable, was a bit on the dry side. While I was trying to decide where I went wrong, Gloria pointed out that one of the major differences between this marinade and Greg's Happy Sauce is that Greg's Happy Sauce contains olive oil, which helps to seal the meat while it cooks at a high temperature.

Lesson learned. If you're going to grill extremely lean meat such as venison and your grilling sauce/marinade doesn't have any oil, add a bit to it for better results.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Last month we ran an interesting donation game for Operation Sauce Drop. Gloria and I donated our season tickets for two games to Operation Sauce Drop, which then ran a donation auction. We let people donate to Operation Sauce Drop and specify that they were interested in a particular game. The people who made the highest donation for a game got the tickets. We raised over $500 on $300 worth of tickets, and the winners got a good deal on some great seats.

We got a lot of good feedback from that program and were proud to be able to see our tickets that we spent real money on generate more than just their face value for the troops. Several people suggested that we do it again, but instead of just posting in the Hurricanes Swap Meet section of their fan forums, we asked the moderators for permission to post a notice of the event in their main board. This presumably would have generated a lot more traffic.

In short, they told us No. We wouldn't be allowed to post this offer, even in the swap meet. Frankly, why our organization offering tickets in exchange for people making donations is a violation of their TOS, while other people selling tickets for cash is not, is beyond me. But it's their forum, they can make whatever rules they want. It's a shame the troops will be waiting longer for their sauces because of the Cane's legal department.

One of the things that was said was that it couldn't be verified that the sauces were really going to the troops. Take a look at the Operation Sauce Drop Feedback page and think about how much money it would cost to fake those photos. How exactly do you get military people to pose with sauces in a helicopter as part of a hoax?

So instead of running another game, we're just going to sell our tickets for the Dec 28th game vs the Bruins and the New Year's Eve game vs the Islanders. I'm asking face value for the season ticket holder price of $75 each ($150/pair). These are section 103, Row K, seats 1 & 2. They're seven rows from the ice on the blue line at the end the Canes are on offense twice, behind the opposing team's bench. Frankly, you get a better view there than you do on the glass. These are Center Ice Premier seats, so you get access to the club level and The Deck, which will be an especially nice perk for the New Year's Eve game.

I'm going to donate the money to Operation Sauce Drop. First person to email me at grillinggreg at gmail dot com gets it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Yahoo Stores Missed Cyber Monday

Well, it wasn't just us. The story has hit the major news services. I've seen estimates that as high as 45,000 websites were down. Yahoo was gracious enough to post the following:

Some merchants are reporting that shoppers are receiving an error message indicating 'system unavailable' during the checkout process. We are aware of this issue and are currently investigating.
Some forum posters have posited that Yahoo put "tweaks" into their production system a mere 2 weeks before the big day. As anyone with a background in software development can tell you, that's insane. Those production systems should have been frozen until after the holidays.

Bill Hartzer points out that Yahoo doesn't have a service level agreement. That may be, but I think it would be hard for Yahoo to convince a jury that the lack of an SLA means that they're excused for being down on the biggest shopping day of the year.

Bill also suggested that Yahoo merchants could have redirected their order form to a different server. That's easier said than done -- the Yahoo TOS specifically forbids sending users to a different checkout system. Testing that would have been rather difficult because Yahoo would have shut the users down. And if you've ever done any programming on the Yahoo store system, you realize that it's not just a simple redirect. This would have been well beyond the technical capabilities of most stores.

Promote My Site suggests that these store owners still made the right choice by outsourcing their store.
Let me just say that maybe Yahoo could have done a better job - we don’t know what happened yet - but I’m sure they were paying attention to the problem, which is certainly more than most businesses could do.
It doesn't sound to me like Yahoo was paying attention. Or maybe they were. Before cyber Monday, Yahoo was predicting that it wasn't going to be such a big day:
But others say it's hardly the busiest online buying day of the year. Internet retailers should expect even bigger days on December 7 and 10, according to the folks at Yahoo! Shopping.
I guess they knew something last week that the rest of us didn't know.

So far today the web site seems to be working again and we're taking orders. But thanks to Yahoo, what should have been a big day was a bust for Carolina Sauce. So support your friends in a small business and place another order.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Yahoo Stores Crashing on Cyber Monday

If you're having trouble placing an order on a yahoo store website (such as Carolina Sauce Company), you can blame Yahoo.

Yes, it's cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year, and Yahoo's stores are displaying an error page when many customers try to place an order. Many retailers go with Yahoo because of their promises of up time and bandwidth. A Yahoo store provides the customer with the assurance that they're dealing with a reputable retailer. This is absolutely devastating to a small business that relies upon cyber Monday for a large portion of its business.

One wonders if Yahoo's largest customers are being hit with these problems. Has Yahoo thrown the little guys out of the life boat?

If you're having trouble placing an order, please call and order by phone. We'll be glad to take your order. 919-765-0143

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hottest Pepper, Part II

The moral to this story: Ask before you chomp down on a new pepper.

"It felt like someone tasered my mouth..."