Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Selling Ice to Eskimos -- Memphis Style

I also saw Chef David Chang interviewed by Charlie Rose. Midway through the interview, Rose asked Chef Chang if he had aspirations to open a restaurant in Japan. Chang replied quickly, "No!" saying that he had too much respect. Then laughing, he added, "that would be like some guy that had a BBQ restaurant in Munich, Germany announcing he was opening up in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s not gonna happen," he chortled. Charlie Rose laughed profusely at the thought. I’m not sure, but I think he threw his hands up and said, "Duh!" Immediately, the observation seemed so obvious.

Chang’s statement hit home for me quite literary because I live in Memphis. Memphians are proud of their BBQ. Memphis likes it’s BBQ as much as Boston likes their Red Sox. I don’t think that the Yankees have much of a shot at being the team of choice in Beantown no matter how good Yankee-style baseball is. So, the chances of success for Chang’s Bavarian BBQ-meister are slim in Memphis, and everyone knows it. But, not so quick. I don’t think everyone sees the obvious. Sure, it is right there in front of us, and we all see it when it is pointed out. Yet, seeing the obvious is not a skill that everyone has developed fully.

I drive Jamie nuts with my cynical habits, among which is pointing out to her when someone tries to make a living by offering non-Memphis BBQ in Memphis. The list is not small. Here is my short list of those that have tried:

1. Chicago BBQ expert, Famous Dave's, opened and closed in Memphis with a famous Memphis partner, Isaac Hayes.
2. Famous Dave’s sauce was sold at the Market on Main.
3. St Louis-based grocer, Schnucks, advertises and sells St Louis-style ribs
4. BBQ chain restaurant, Smokey Bones, offers St Louis style ribs.
5. Numerous non-BBQ chains, including Jillian’s, have offered Saint Louis-style ribs on their menus.
6. I wonder how KC (Kansas City) Masterpiece BBQ sauce sells in Memphis?
7. Birmingham-based BBQ restaurant, Jim and Nick’s, is now open in Memphis.

Some of those on the list have been tremendous flops. The verdict is still out on others. And still, for others, BBQ is such an insignificant part of their business that the verdict may never be realized. I believe that even if selling St Louis-style ribs in Memphis doesn’t put you out of business, it couldn’t be a big seller. My point is this:
consciously observing the obvious can make you lots of money or save you lots of money. Not everyone, however, consciously makes these observations. You will have a competitive advantage if you cultivate the skill of just paying attention and seeing the obvious.

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