No Net

“The right leaders feel a sense of urgency in good times and bad, whether facing threat or opportunity, no matter what.” – Author Jim Collins, “How the Mighty Fall”

Everyone has their theories, but my take is that a leader must work at being uncomfortable at all times. Seriously.  Good leaders walk the tightrope in order to push their teams outside of their comfort zones. It’s the only way to push growth. Changing guest culture, advances in technology, and competitors nipping at your heels adds to this sentiment. At Dickey’s, we live on the edge and eat apprehension for breakfast.  Because if you are aren’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.

In today’s volatile business climate, it’s natural for leaders to seek a sense of security. In his book How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins introduces five tripwires that trigger a leader’s (and their company’s) demise. Two of them – “hubris born of success” and “denial of risk and peril” – strongly underscore the comfort zone that leaders can fall prey to, and sometimes even seek out themselves. But, I say lose the safety net and look for ways to use that adrenaline rush to build something beyond compare. Pitfalls to avoid:

  •  Complacency – When the desire to grow or become better wanes, your guard is let down. The drive to develop people, advance goals, and push limits dies and stagnation sets in. Don’t do it.
  •   Comfort Zone – The greatest successes have almost always been born out of necessity.  The phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention” and its kin “Frustration is the father of progress” are pretty spot on. Comfort zones don’t afford you the vision to see what needs to be done, they only show you what needs to be maintained. Comfort zones are for sissies.
  •  Lack of Transparency – By staying comfortable, one tends to “hole up” and not be in the public view. When you’re out in public, you’re more readily seen for who you are and what you do. When a leader is “holed up” they can hide their tracks and cover their trails in order to keep their status but how motivating is secrecy?
  • Accountability Lapse – In tandem with transparency, leaders who do not make themselves uncomfortable will not allow themselves to be held accountable either. They will not build processes in their organization that a keep them sharp and on their game. No accountability, no chance for them to be moved (forward) but more chances for them to be removed.
  • No Sense of Urgency – Firefighters have determination when a fire is blazing – they have to. But it only comes after countless hours of hard drills and training to ensure that urgency is there at any given moment. A leader who seeks comfort will not develop themselves to be ready for the changing business climate, and soon will cease to be an effective and relevant leader. Your team should always be on fire and good leaders fan the flame.
  • No Momentum to Overcome Inertia – Leaders who are uncomfortable will always keep things moving. This enables their organizations to easily turn on a dime to respond to (or be ahead of) trends in their industries. A leader who stagnates needs a large amount of effort – mostly external – to get themselves and their teams moving. By the time they do, it is usually too late.

Being uncomfortable is not in our nature. We crave stability, security, and rest at certain times. I’m all for kicking back with a cold one after a tough day but I never become comfortable. Pushing past security with a sense of urgency is a vital mindset that all great leaders must adopt in order to grow, influence, and achieve any lasting success. And at the end of the day, after the tigers have been tamed, the results are worth the rush.

Don’t Drop It!

Lean manufacturing experts have long been using an upside-down pyramid to draw their org charts. I have always liked this view as it symbolizes how the most important people in the organization – those at the top – are the line workers, carried by the leader at the bottom. 

Sometimes it can feel as if – as leaders – we are holding that inverted pyramid with just a thin stick, like a juggler would hold a spinning plate. Not an easy thing to do! The slightest mistake, and the plate comes crashing down in front of us.  

The difference to a plate juggler, though, is that the pyramid is not just made of plastic. In organizations, this pyramid is really made of its people, culture, mission, values, strategy, policies, processes and so much more. Like it or not: All of the good and the not-so-good things are in there. Feeling the pressure, yet? 

Once I picture myself balancing this "pyramid", a few things become clear:  

1. You need something that keeps it all together

No matter how you structure your pyramid (which processes, systems, priorities, culture etc), trust is the glue that keeps it all together. Trust is the most fundamental part of your organization’s health. You need your pyramid to be as compact as possible, and the more glue (trust) you have to keep the components from shifting against each other, the better. 

Lesson: Always seek the truth and build trust in your organization. There are many ways to build trust. One great way is to give people a voice when making decisions that impact them!

2. Alignment about Direction 

As any decent juggler will tell you, if you want to move that spinning plate above your head in a new direction, you need to adjust your own movements to those of the plate, first. So, if the plate is moving to the right, and you want to move it to the left, you first need to bring yourself to the right of the plate in order to slow it down and to eventually move it left. If you don't, you will lose balance and the plate will fall. 

Similarly, if you try to move your organization in a new direction without alignment, the pyramid will tip and fall. Alignment doesn’t mean everyone does what the leader says. It means everyone is on the same page.  

Lesson: On strategic changes, build broad support in your organization. Address those who are impatient, those who worry, and those who resist. No, its not a vote, but by getting greater acceptance in your team, your decisions will ultimately be more effective. Communicate, communicate, and communicate.   

3. Getting Whacked

Sometimes when you juggle plates, someone comes along and whacks your stick from the side. It may just be some good-natured fun, but you end up having to recover. 

In business, not every directional change can be well-thought out, strategized and debated. Sometimes in business, too, you get “whacked” - as Jack and Suzy Welch put it in “The Real-Life MBA.” Getting whacked can come in different forms: a new competitor, and vendor who goes out of business, a recession, a natural disaster.  

To recover, you may need to change direction quickly, and your ability to recover may not hinge on alignment in your organization: It may be all about capabilities. Is your organization capable of moving quickly, and of adapting to the new demands? Are your processes and systems flexible enough? Is the culture in your company allowing mutual support of teammates, or do people stay in silos, protecting their own turf?  

If the people in your organization are willing but not able to move quickly enough, your pyramid will undoubtedly fall after being whacked. 

Lesson: Use any opportunity to build and grow your organization’s capabilities. Employees will thank you for it, and you will thank them for being able to take on new challenges when you need them too. Quickly. 

Lastly, what I like most about the "upside down pyramid" is that it shows so well the weight of responsibility that lies on the shoulder of the leader. The people "above" you rely on you to do a good job. They rely on you with their dreams and with their livelihoods. You owe it to them to keep the pyramid in balance: relentlessly build trust, ensure alignment, and build your team's capabilities. 

 

Comfort Zone

“The right leaders feel a sense of urgency in good times and bad, whether facing threat or opportunity, no matter what.” – Author Jim Collins, “How the Mighty Fall”

Everyone has their theories, but my take is that a leader must work at being uncomfortable at all times. Seriously.  Good leaders walk the tightrope in order to push their teams outside of their comfort zones. It’s the only way to push growth. Changing guest culture, advances in technology, and competitors nipping at your heels adds to this sentiment. At Dickey’s, we live on the edge and eat apprehension for breakfast.  Because if you are living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.

In today’s volatile business climate, it’s natural for leaders to seek a sense of security. In his book How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins introduces six tripwires that trigger a leader’s (and their company’s) demise. Two of them – “hubris born of success” and “denial of risk and peril” – strongly underscore the comfort zone that leaders can fall prey to, and sometimes even seek out themselves. But, I say lose the safety net and look for ways to use that adrenaline rush to build something beyond compare. Pitfalls to avoid:

  • Complacency – When the desire to grow or become better wanes, your guard is let down. The drive to develop people, advance goals, and push limits dies and stagnation sets in. Don’t do it.
  • Comfort Zone – The greatest successes have almost always been born out of necessity.  The phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention” and its kin “Frustration is the father of progress” are pretty spot on. Comfort zones don’t afford you the vision to see what needs to be done, they only show you what needs to be maintained. Comfort zones are for sissies.
  • Lack of Transparency – By staying comfortable, one tends to “hole up” and not be in the public view. When you’re out in public, you’re more readily seen for who you are and what you do. When a leader is “holed up” they can hide their tracks and cover their trails in order to keep their status but how motivating is secrecy?
  • Accountability Lapse – In tandem with transparency, leaders who do not make themselves uncomfortable will not allow themselves to be held accountable either. They will not build processes in their organization that a keep them sharp and on their game. No accountability, no chance for them to be moved (forward) but more chances for them to be removed.
  • No Sense of Urgency – Firefighters have determination when a fire is blazing – they have to. But it only comes after countless hours of hard drills and training to ensure that urgency is there at any given moment. A leader who seeks comfort will not develop themselves to be ready for the changing business climate, and soon will cease to be an effective and relevant leader. Your team should always be on fire and good leaders fan the flame.
  • No Momentum to Overcome Inertia – Leaders who are uncomfortable will always keep things moving. This enables their organizations to easily turn on a dime to respond to (or be ahead of) trends in their industries. A leader who stagnates needs a large amount of effort – mostly external – to get themselves and their teams moving. By the time they do, it is usually too late. 

Being uncomfortable is not in our nature. We crave stability, security, and rest at certain times. I’m all for kicking back with a cold one after a tough day but I never become comfortable. Pushing past security with a sense of urgency is a vital mindset that all great leaders must adopt in order to grow, influence, and achieve any lasting success. And at the end of the day, after the tigers have been tamed, the results are worth the rush.

 

Subdue The Enemy Without Fighting.

Sun Tzu's The Art of War was written in the second century BC. He was a high-ranking general in the Chinese military and wrote one of the most influential strategic and tactical military books in history. The book's influence can be felt in both the East and the West today -- not just in the military sciences, but in law, government and business.

Like many professionals before me, I've found Sun Tzu's writing to be prudent and impactful for today's business environment. The number of takeaways is almost incalculable. However, below are a few of the most important executive marketing lessons a professional can take away from The Art of War today.

Lesson 1

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

Translation - The most effective marketing doesn't even feel like marketing to the consumer.

Lesson 2

"In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity."

Translation - Consumers are being inundated with a record number of marketing messages today. To capture and keep consumer attention, be different and be helpful.

Lesson 3

"Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance."

Translation - Ignore peer pressure when competition markets with a bullhorn -- market with a magnet instead. Use content and your online community to generate discussion and dialogue.

Lesson 4

"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go
to war first and then seek to win."

Translation - Backwards plan your marketing -- define what success looks like and how you're going to get there, up front.

Lesson 5

"Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

Translation - The most effective marketing gets consumers to buy without selling to them.

Lesson 6

"Opportunities multiply as they are seized"

Translation - Technology and consumer behavior are ever-evolving and represent multiple marketing opportunities.

Lesson 7

"Earth gives birth to length. Length gives birth to volume. Volume gives birth to counting. Counting gives birth to weighing. Weighing gives birth to victory."

Translation - The most effective marketing measures and tracks tactics, strategies, goals and ROI. Measure your progress every step of the way.

Lesson 8

"If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril."

Translation - Marketers who ignore the changing media landscape and consumers' ability to avoid advertising altogether are at risk of brand-obsolescence.

Lesson 9

"Put them in a spot where they have no place to go, and they will die before fleeing."

Translation - Sell something to a consumer and gain a customer today. Be truly useful or remarkable when marketing to a consumer and gain a customer for life.

Lesson 10

"The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom."

Translation - Don't be afraid to fail and don't chase influence. Marketing that is truly helpful to consumers is appreciated by them and positively impacts a brand's bottom line in perpetuity.

The above 10 lessons from The Art of War are meant to reflect today's marketing reality. Inbound marketing as a strategy is beginning to filter into the boardrooms and both earned and owned media have started to demand more attention from traditional paid budgets.

Laggards and late majority adopters will soon feel the impact as millennials begin to take prominent leadership roles and their incomes rise. Marketing to Baby Boomers doesn't attract Generation Y. Sun Tzu said, "Thus those skilled in war subdue the enemy's army without battle .... They conquer by strategy." Marketing has evolved, the battlefield has changed and so have the stakeholders. Will you conquer or capitulate?

Lombardi Time

Vince Lombardi - loved by some, feared by others, but respected by all was arguably the greatest football coach of all time and is on the short list of history’s greatest coaches, regardless of the sport.  His ability to teach, motivate and inspire players helped turn the Green Bay Packers in to a dominating NFL team in the 1960s. Lombardi was also a thoughtful man with uncommon passion, a motivator with uncompromising values, and a leader with unprecedented wisdom and authority. He loved to win and taught others the discipline to achieve victory.

The phrase Lombardi time is coined from Vince Lombardi. He required his team to be early.  It meant that processes would run smoothly and no time would be lost waiting. It also showed respect and was a required discipline to be on his winning team.   Disciplined People, Disciplined Thought, and Disciplined Action.  It’s the formula Jim Collins provides in Good to Great, “A culture of discipline is not a principle of business; it is a principle of greatness.”

Having a great idea, and assembling a team to bring that concept to life is the first step in creating a successful business. While finding a new and unique idea is rare enough; the ability to successfully execute this idea is what separates the dreamers from the entrepreneurs.  “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will,” said Lombardi. And the discipline or will to manage your time is part of the package.

Why subscribe to Lombardi time?

1. Time is an irreplaceable resource

Each second that becomes part of your past will never be part of your present or future ever again. Using each second, minute and hour of the day efficiently is the difference between winning and losing.

2. Move your flywheel

By taking control of your time, you're able to stay focused on the task at hand. This leads to higher efficiency since you never lose momentum (i.e. moving the Flywheel). Lombardi states, “The only place 'success' comes before 'work' is in the dictionary.”  This is true but working smarter is the key.

3. See the big picture

When you practice good time management, you are able to see big picture decisions better.  It starts with arriving at meetings early to gauge the landscape and plan strategy for a more effective discussion.  In addition, when you feel pressed for time, you're more likely to jump in to decisions and not fully consider alternate options.

4. Be more successful

Time management is the key to success; it allows you to take control of your business rather than follow the flow of others. You accomplish more, you make better decisions, and you work more

Lombardi said, “I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."  Mr. Lombardi was a smart man.  Leaders have a host of responsibilities that keep their schedules packed. From managing teams, to securing new vendors, leaders are tasked with juggling multiple projects at once. Effective leaders ensure that they maximize their time and accomplish their goals. They win, at all costs.

Battle to be the Best

RolandDickeyJr.

“Every battle is won before it is fought."

-Sun Tzu

These lines come from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, a guide to military strategy written more than two thousand years ago. Why is this still relevant to the barbecue business and part of my leadership strategy today? The Art of War lays out a brilliant philosophy that has proven itself in all types of competitive endeavors. It’s remarkable how the same lessons are discovered again and again.  We apply these techniques to our service model in order to stay fresh and relevant in the industry.

Not a great deal is known about Sun Tzu the man, but his instructions for victory have taken on new meaning for business leaders such as myself. As Rick Wartzman, executive director of The Drucker Institute, wrote last year in Forbes, “Ask businesspeople to peg the writer whose thinking is most clearly reflected in both military and corporate circles, and odds are that you’ll hear the name.” 

"Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril" - Sun Tzu

Business has always been challenging, but as competition becomes more global and moves at a faster-pace, it has increased its edge. Business intelligence is crucial to learning competitor's strengths and weaknesses and understanding the capabilities of our own company. At Dickey’s we work at understanding the nuances that make us a growing brand.  Understanding that big picture is how we stay relevant. 

Sun Tzu gives us strategy from a warrior’s perspective.  Although we’re not at war, we are committed to actions that march our brand forward and bring our guests value. Strategy does not eliminate risk but it does help us approach the right risks. Innovation is at its core, an act of discovery, in which we must embrace the uncertainty of the environment, exploring it for opportunities and ways to serve better.

In other words, it’s the science of making good decisions about the future. It starts with the mission of the company and knowing what we stand for. After that, strategy must consider how the climate is changing in order to remain innovative and fresh. Not war but a great strategy for the art of great barbecue.

From The Pit

When Zac Brown sings “I like my chicken fried, cold beer on a Friday night, a pair of jeans that fit just right and the radio up,” he’s just nailed the heart of the guest experience.  Creating a successful brand is about knowing what makes your customers tick and being able to create that experience every time – sometimes before they even know they want it.

Guests crave more than delicious food from their favorite brand – they want a complete experience. One that includes all senses and gets it right every time.  From the rustic design of our restaurants, the wood fire smell from the smoker to the tunes playing in the background – it all sets the vibe for our guest’s experience. We know it’s the details that make guests feel good about dining with us and it’s also what will keep them coming back. 

Our guests relate to our hometown roots. After all, our humble beginnings in 1941 were as a beer joint with a little pit-smoked barbecue in the back.  What we do right hasn’t changed and never will.  Dickey’s Barbecue is recognized around the country, but you walk into our stores it feels like a local barbecue joint. We still pride ourselves on authentic, down-home food, served with genuine southern pride.  We give guests that local joint vibe with all the modern capabilities of a national restaurant chain.

We also make sure we serve our guests consistently.  We have almost 500 locations across the country, but the experience you have in Minot, North Dakota is the same you have in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  At Dickey’s, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But, we do take pride in the art of great barbecue. Although we’re a 74-year old chain, we definitely don’t want to look like it.  Kicking the tires on our brand is essential to staying relevant. Maintaining a streamlined image, whether it’s on Dickey’s craft paper packaging or our web presence or even a logo update; lets our guests know we pay attention to the details. 

In today’s fast paced, quick serve environment, creating a relevant brand takes strategy, innovation and a vibe. Guests are the bread and butter of any business, but especially in the fast casual industry.  Dickey’s has become so much more than just a recognizable national brand.  We hold memories for many people and their families.  They spend their birthdays and graduations with us and let us into their homes for parties and important family events.  We take their loyalty seriously.  Our Big Yellow Cup Club is an opportunity to thank our loyal customers and give them a sneak peek at new menu items and special offers. 

 Some people consider Dickey’s Barbecue an industry anomaly, expanding nationwide on a playing field normally reserved for mom and pop restaurants or regional players. Our growth shows we’re a recognized brand with a national reach –international reach eventually.  Dickey’s brand evolution is the product of a deliberate strategy to take the regional vibe of Texas barbecue to a national audience.  We’re making ourselves known one Big Yellow Cup at a time and our success shows in the many satisfied guests we’ve fed along the way.  

Keep Them Coming Back

Roland Dickey Jr.

Guests. They’re the reason we do what we do.  It was true back in 1941 when we opened our first Dickey’s Barbecue Pit and it is just as true today as we open our 500th location.  They are the reason why our franchise owners arrive at their stores early to unload our fresh out the pit smoked meats and the reason we have a team focused on guest satisfaction. We read every email, Yelp review and social post with one singular focus. Guests.

My grandfather, Travis Dickey, wouldn’t believe our operation today. Back when he opened the first location in Dallas on Central Expressway he was happy to serve his counter guests.  Blessed with the gift of gab, he won over new guests one at a time.  This was our early guest response program. He had no idea he was creating the foundation for a national brand that would expand across the country.  He was just using his quick wit and southern charm to make folks feel welcome and keep them coming back.

We’ve been in the barbecue business for 74 years now and we’re still looking for new ways to keep guests coming back.  It starts with listening. Great guest service is a broad term encompassing everything from friendly greetings to being available at any moment to assist a guest. It starts the moment a guest calls or comes in to our restaurant and it means exceeding their expectations every time. Guests expect it and we deliver in all areas.

We aim for a warm, family-friendly environment for our guests. It starts with the smell of hickory that hits your nose as you walk in our doors and continues with our “Welcome to Dickey’s” greeting. We also make sure the music is the right blend of country classics and modern southern favorites. Guests see our restaurants are clean, well-lit and comfortable. We want to make our guests feel right at home.

When are guests take their first bite, we want them to be blown away by the slow smoked flavors in our brisket, pork, turkey, chicken and hams. Our meats smoke overnight for 13 hours to make sure they are infused with our signature wood and smoked perfection.  All meats are tender, juicy and packed with flavor. At the end of their meals, we offer a free trip to the ice cream machine as a thank you for their business.  And, as they walk out the door and we thank them for their business, we know we will see them again soon.

Our goal is to achieve 100% guest satisfaction and we won’t settle for less. It’s the way my grandfather did it in 1941 and a Dickey family tradition. 

 

Staying in Focus

RolandDickeyJr.

I consider Dickey’s Barbecue a great brand.  This is based on the culture at our company, our leadership and values, along with our commitment to quality and service.  But, let’s be honest, there are many brands out there that share those qualities.  In an effort to keep our flywheel moving, I’m always considering principles that will continue the momentum.

Brands like ours can’t bank on gaining market share just by having the fastest service, lowest price or most innovative menu because there will always be another brand nipping at our heels. Instead, we focus on the sticky characteristics that help our guests solve challenges while never swaying from our brand promise of delivering quality products with passion.

We also engage our guests in conversations via social media, our guest response program and review sites so that our focus continues to improve. The more we interact with our guests, the better informed we are about their needs, priorities, and perception of our company values. Listening sharpens focus but also helps us to relate to our guests on a very basic level.

Marketing Strategist, Denise Le Yohn, recently penned a book titled What Great Brands Do. The title alone had my attention and also the fact that Inc. Magazine put the book in its Top Marketing Books list at the end of the year.  In her book, Denise shares action steps that great brands take that lead to greatness starting with an alignment of words and actions.

"I've heard people define a brand as a company's name, logo, image, advertising, aura, personality, look and feel, attitude, reputation, or trademark. But the fact is that none of these are your brand. These are manifestations, symbols, or expressions of your brand--and by limiting the definition of your brand to this external, surface level, you fail to realize its full business value,” she says. “As you examine the principles that drive the world's greatest brands, you will see the correct, complete view: A brand is a bundle of values and attributes that define the value you deliver to people through the entire customer experience."

I’m with Denise. Every brand has a value proposition to share. The old adage “people do business with people they know, like and trust,” has never been truer.  They also want to purchase from brands they respect and are consistent with their values. The reality of any brand is that every single employee at our company has an impact on the brand. And today, so does every guest. A brand promise is a commitment to taking care of their needs and giving them a consistently positive experience with our company.

You don’t recommend your dentist to friends because he gives a great root canal.  You refer friends and family because of the guest experience you got in that office.  When guests drive up to our restaurants, the experience starts.  It doesn’t end until they walk out the door and honestly it doesn’t even end there.  It’s the aroma of the food, the music in the background, and the friendly guy on the block who asks about their day.  It continues when they leave and post on Twitter or Yelp about their visit.  We are still with them listening to confirm they had an overall great experience. Social media platforms give us unprecedented access to information about where we’re succeeding in wowing guests, where our efforts fall flat, and where opportunities are emerging to strengthen ties with the communities we serve.

In What Great Brands Do, Denise offers advice on culture shifts, making emotional connections with guests and creating resonance that lasts past the trend markers. She also talks about staying committed to consistency and always “sweating the small stuff” when it comes to guest touch points with your brand. Details matter.

The book reiterates "Your brand is the experience that is actually delivered and communicated through every single thing you do, every day, around the clock."  That commitment and focus are the differentiators to greatness.  There is always another brand who can provide a service better, faster and cheaper but not the emotional connection and trust of a great brand.  At Dickey’s that commitment is part of our culture and it starts with my family. We keep our knives sharp, our focus sharper and our commitment to guest experience in focus.

Bullseye

CNBC just published an article naming us the 4th fastest growing restaurant chain in the country. The story featured restaurant chains bucking sales trends and delivering explosive growth across the country.  Technomic crunched the numbers and served up the fastest-growing chains in national sales--we’re proud to be part of such a remarkable group.

The timing of the accolades from CNBC couldn’t be better.  We just opened our 500th restaurant.  This is a milestone in our company history that has long been planned and talked about.  Many critics thought we had our sights set too high but we always knew we would reach this goal.  I think it was Walt Disney who said, “It’s kind of fun doing the impossible.”  We agree with Walt.

Taking Texas barbecue across the country seemed impossible when we first began franchising in 1994.  The story of our first franchised location is interesting in that it’s not something we planned.  Back in those days, we were happy being the best barbecue in the Dallas area.  My dad still worked the block every day and enjoyed playing to the crowd with the lunch regulars. My dad had a regular customer named Frank Smith who loved our concept.  He wanted a franchise but my dad kept saying no.  Frank Smith was very persuasive and eventually we sold him a store. 

Our first location outside of Texas was in Colorado.  Again naysayers said Texas barbecue wouldn’t find an audience outside of the Lone Star state.  I guess they were wrong again because growth just took off.  It seems people around the country liked the authentic slow smoked barbecue we had to offer.  Taking Texas barbecue across the country is no easy feat.  For many people, they are used to a regional style of barbecue like Kansas City or the Carolinas.  But, there was room in their hearts and stomachs for Dickey’s Barbecue.  By 2010 we were officially the nation’s largest barbecue joint –something our pundits said could never be done.

When Henry Ford decided to produce his famous V-8 motor, he chose to build an engine with the entire eight cylinders cast in one block and instructed his engineers to produce a design for the engine.  The design was placed on paper, but the engineers all agreed it was simply impossible to cast an eight cylinder engine block in one piece. Ford replied “Produce it anyway.”  That’s what we have done.

It wasn’t always an easy path.  We hit many roadblocks along the journey but never gave up.  My family and our team had a vision for expansion that included aggressive growth along with continual innovation and improvement. With focus and grit, we pushed through it all to achieve “The impossible.”

I’ve never bought into the fact that any goal is unachievable. General George S. Patton once said “By perseverance, study, and eternal desire, any man can become great.” At Dickey’s we don’t set goals, we make commitments and we persevere. We celebrated hitting this commitment in the office by telling stories of people who said it couldn’t be done.  We laughed, we toasted our champagne and then we got back to work.  Why?  Because, we’re not stopping -- we’re not even slowing down.

Nailed It

RolandDIckeyJr.

 

 

Years of research has shown that most new businesses fail.  Business owners could be doing many of the right things but they may be in the wrong order. Yet in contrast, many entrepreneurs have a track record of success – they win every time no matter the industry or circumstances.  What’s the secret?

Everyone has their theories. I’m constantly looking for new insights that will boost our business and help us serve our guests better. I believe complacency and autopilot thinking are enemies of innovation.  I keep learning and growing as a leader by keeping my ear to the ground. I’m an avid reader and business historian.  When I am fortunate enough to speak to entrepreneurs, MBA students or college students looking for an edge, I always recommend three books that really speak to the business basics of success.  I read all of the books years ago –they were game changers that helped shape my business philosophy.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins is my favorite business book.  Collins delves in to the questions “Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?”

Using tough benchmarks, Collins and his team identified companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years. After the leap, the good-to-great companies generated cumulative stock returns that beat the general stock market by an average of seven times in fifteen years, better than twice the results delivered by a composite index of the world's greatest companies.

Collins debunks myths about success drivers and pinpoints a down-to-earth, pragmatic, committed-to-excellence process and framework that keeps great companies on track for the long haul. It is the triumph of the Flywheel Effect over the Doom Loop and the victory of steadfast discipline over the quick fix. There is no miracle moment.  The good-to-great findings apply broadly—not just to CEOs and large companies but also to individuals.  As long as we can choose the people we want to put on our own “Bus” each of us can create a pocket of greatness. We can take our own area of effort and concentrate on moving it from good to great.

Double Your Profits: In Six Months or Less by Bob Fifer. This book offers 78 very specific tips that will make just about any company profitable within months.  So many business books are filled with fluff and urge readers to draw their own conclusions and action plans.  This book is different.  So different that even without much hype he was able to impress a few of the nation’s most respected CEOs. General Electric Chairman Jack Welch ordered copies for his top managers as a reminder that many of the cost-cutting, bureaucracy-busting, revenue-raising steps Fifer was proposing fit right in with the GE business model.

The book, which he calls “an exposé on how poorly run companies are in America,” preaches an ethic of profits first, nothing second. He suggests starting each day with three lists. The first is ways to cut costs or increase revenue. The second is what’s needed to maintain revenue. The third is things others want you to do but have no value to your company. “Never start on the second list until you have finished everything on the first list,” he says. “Throw away the third list.”

Nail It, Then Scale It by Nathan Furr and Paul Ahlstrom provides insight in to the key practices that enable business owners to pivot with agility as they fine tune their businesses.  I think the title pretty well sums up the premise of the book.  Get it right and then expand seems like it would be a no-brainer.  But, sometimes it’s hard to see the forest from the trees.

 “Pursuing a rapid experiment and finding out you were wrong and changing directions isn’t failure. That is the road to success,” says Furr.  If you are starting a new business, even a franchised business, using resources wisely is key.  Heading down a proven path allows entrepreneurs to adapt quickly and create a business or product customers actually want. Furr outlines the framework for actually testing ideas before wasting time and money. We use this model daily in deciding on adding new products to our menus or redesigning our dining rooms – it’s about starting with the end in mind.

 

Pulling Our Chain

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There has been much speculation on the fast casual market, especially in states like Washington where eating local has become a fascination.  The headline in a recent Forbes article reads “Behind Seattle's Franchise Battle: Why Patrons Don't Care If Chains Die.”   Well, shucks Forbes, I believe there are many people that would strongly disagree with that point.

I wouldn't call Washington the center of the universe when it comes to national tastes but I am willing to take the bait and entertain the thought that as the shop/eat local movement spreads chains need to evolve.

When is a franchise not a small business? When it’s in Seattle.”

When a local owner opens a franchised location (even in Seattle) they consider it an entrepreneurial endeavor.  Many invest savings they have accumulated over a lifetime.  They don’t take it lightly and neither do we.  When my grandfather opened the first Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in 1941 it was a business risk and as we open our 500th location, in Yakima, Washington, there is the same risk/reward proposition.

Our owners buy a system that has been perfected over time.  We provide training, marketing and operations support but it’s still a small business. These local owners invest time, money and resources in the same entrepreneurial spirit as my grandfather did.  A franchise is a small business just ask your local Dickeys Barbecue Pit owner who goes to bed late after loading the smoke pit and gets up early to make sure they serve fresh products to the guests they have come to know so well.

Seattle took it a step further with the the $15-an-hour minimum wage the city passed last summer. They are counting franchises as bigger businesses that have to pay the higher rate sooner, because of their connection to a national franchisor. It's not fair and it's not evenly applied.  I believe it should be struck down by the courts.

“ franchises face a growing crisis. Consumers increasingly tolerate them, but don’t feel deeply attached to them”

We are fortunate to celebrate birthdays, holidays and graduations with guests.  They send us notes, emails, tweets and hand drawn pictures telling us about their experiences.  We once catered a wedding for a couple who met at a local Dickey’s Barbecue Pit and wanted Dickey’s to cater their wedding as a tribute.  I would say we are more than being tolerated.

Guests feel passionate about the foods they eat – I’ll agree with that point.  Barbecue is a food that brings out an even greater sense of passion and connection with guests.  Sometimes just the smell can send you back to the time your grandmother took you to lunch 10 years ago.  Does it have to be local to be special?

We still take great pains to source the freshest meats and track them from the field to the block insuring the highest quality.  We’re dedicated to the craftsmanship of authentic slow smoked barbecue served by local owners in 43 states across the country.  Many guests find this comforting knowing that they can grab a great meal in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and the same great quality food in Clovis, California.  We’re consistently good and there is merit in that accomplishment.

Seattle is a town suspicious of foreign imports (foreign being beyond Washington State borders)

Well that’s too bad Seattle.  You’re missing out on some great meals from really excellent brands.  While your friends in other cities are raving about an innovative new burger or ethnic creation, I hope you’ll be satisfied sticking to your guns.  Since when is different a bad thing?  

We’ve been thrilled with the reception we’ve gotten in markets new to the Texas barbecue experience.  And, here in Texas, I’ve been wow’ed by brands not native to my town.  I’m a foodie like many people, which means I’m opened minded and willing to try new things.  I’m relieved to see many Americans feel the same way which is how we continue to grow and offer opportunities to new business owners. 

I think Forbes would be surprised to know that Washington is one of our fastest growing markets. I’m not sure all hipsters from Seattle would agree with Forbes.  I do know we’re dedicated to serving consistently great food and have been happy to meet the locals.  

What do you think?

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I follow many business leaders in the retail and hospitality industry but it’s hard to find a better success story than Bill Marriot.  As the former CEO and executive chairman of Marriot International, his management style is legend.  It could be said that he learned about success from his father J.W. Marriott who turned his local root beer shop into a hotel chain in the 1950’s. Bill was charged with taking this American success story to the next level which is no easy task.  Today Marriot International manages more than 3,900 properties in 72 countries and employs around 325,000 people around the globe.

In his management blog, Marriot tells the story of meeting former President Dwight Eisenhower and learning the power of the question “What do you think?” Those words “What do you think?” are really a key to good leadership. They give valued team members, guests and vendors an opportunity to express their opinion.  They tell people that you really care about their insights and are willing to hear their perspectives.  In my industry this is key. I encourage our leadership team to share their opinions because great leaders listen first and evaluate before making decisions. 

I’m also passionate about listening to our guests. While we can’t be all things to all people, we can ask that very important question and consider all feedback. We have a very effective guest response program called “Talk to Dickeys” that we look at closely on a daily basis.  We use this as a scorecard on how well we are serving our guests. We also monitor review sites and actively engage with guests on all social channels.  Listening to what our guests think is imperative to staying relevant and we take it very seriously.

Bill Marriott joined the Marriott Corporation in 1956, became president in November 1964, and CEO in 1972. In his many years at the helm of his family’s company he came up with 12 rules for success. They still apply today and may be even more important than ever.

12 Rules for Success from Bill Marriot

1.      Challenge your team to do better and do it often.

2.      Take good care of your associates, and they’ll take good care of your customers, and they’ll come back.

3.      Celebrate your peoples’ success, not your own.

4.      Know what you’re good at and keep improving.

5.      Do it and do it now. Err on the side of taking action.

6.      Communicate by listening to your customers, associates and competitors.

7.      See and be seen. Get out of your office, walk the talk, make yourself visible and accessible.

8.      Success is always in the details.

9.      It’s more important to hire people with the right qualities than with specific experience.

10.  Customer needs may vary, but their bias for quality never does.

11.  Always hire people who are smarter than you are.

12.  View every problem as an opportunity to grow.

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit started as a small barbecue joint with a limited menu but lots of personality behind the block.  My grandfather was skilled at engaging guests and never shy about asking for feedback on his food.  We take the same approach with all parts of our business.  If you’re not asking questions then you’re not learning anything. Bill Marriott’s 12 rules are definitely a playbook for success and his favorite question has become my favorite as well.  That’s just my opinion…but “what do you think?

Family Ties

It’s always an honor to be recognized in your industry. The restaurant space is particularly competitive, but filled with successful business leaders who I respect. Last year, Restaurant Business launched their annual Power 20 list where I was recognized with an impressive list of leading restaurant executives. The 2014 list focused on executives in the restaurant industry whose business acumen allowed them to overcome the challenges we all face in the restaurant business.  It was an honor to be included in such a notable list.

This year, the Restaurant Business Power 20 focused on family dynasties leading restaurants into a new generation.  The list of families pushing the envelope in the restaurant space was impressive and I’m again honored to be included.  Families such as the Brennans, the Pappases, the Mortons and the Cathys were all recognized for going above and beyond to push their brands further and I’m thrilled to have my family in the ranks amongst these families. 

The focus of this year’s list on brand evolution is particularly interesting to me. My family is always looking for new ways to push Dickey’s Barbecue Pit to the next level. We understand the importance of evolving for the next generation of guests while we also know it’s essential for us to stay true to our roots.  That is the real balance.  But, as we move to the next phase of growth, we’re looking at ways we can continue to impress our guests, while looking at modern improvements in our stores. 

We are looking towards our 75th anniversary and not stopping the momentum. We just launched Dickey’s first charity, Barbecue, Boots & Badges which is led by my mother. My father still travels extensively meeting with our local owners across the country.  We’re starting to eye international expansion as well.  That will be exciting for our company and my family. We will also be unveiling a new store prototype with an open kitchen and leading edge amenities.

As Dickey’s continues to evolve, I’m sure looking forward to watching where this list of families takes their brands. As for the Dickey family, we will keep the serving the authentic barbecue my grandfather started this business with in 1941 and growing our family business one new guest at a time.

Feeding Our Flywheel

One of my favorite business management books is Good to Great by Jim Collins.  All of our corporate employees are required to read it and then read it again every year.  The reason behind my passion for the principles in this book is simple; they work. One of the concepts that hits home is the Flywheel Effect. Its genius lies in the simplicity of the theory.

A flywheel is a substantial wheel that requires enormous power to move. You can push and push with very little movement. Continue pushing and the flywheel manufactures force and in the long run it begins to turn on its own.  Basically, it starts feeding its own results and the momentum only continues to build.  Collins points to the turning as the instant at which an organization goes from great to awesome or when things really get rolling.

The flywheel idea gives clarity to classic business concepts that lead the way to great results and continued momentum.  In Good to Great, Collins dives deep to detail the flywheel effect in companies as varied as Abbott Labs, Kroger and Wells Fargo.  The concept applies to any industry, even the barbecue business.  It’s all about building force, energy, momentum….passion!

New ideas are great and we are constantly innovating but sometimes a back to basics mindset creates results that build. My flywheel is Dickey’s Barbecue Pit.  My job is to push results as fast as possible while maintaining authenticity.  In today’s fast casual industry it’s not the largest companies that are successful but the fastest and most nimble. At Dickey’s, we’ve put our shoulders to the flywheel moving forward gradually but consistently picking up speed.

This continued result has built the success of our brand. It started with perfecting our recipes and guest experience in local stores, growth throughout Texas and continues daily through franchise expansion across the country.  My commitment is to improve something about our brand every single day. We build new locations, wow new guests and find efficiencies that all move our flywheel. 

 

The Secret Sauce

I recently read an article in Entrepreneur Magazine about innovation. The gist of the article was about how many businesses fall into the trap of growing but neglecting techniques and systems that generate new ideas. While innovation isn’t a term you would normally associate with a 74-year-old barbecue chain, it’s actually a core focus of our company and the bread and butter of any successful business.  

My family has set out to reinvent the world of barbecue and this requires us to recreate, reimagine and disrupt our industry on a daily basis. Launching a regional restaurant brand on to the national stage was a bold move when we first started franchising in 1994. It took the collaborative creativity of skilled entrepreneurial leaders and passion.  We didn’t consider ourselves trailblazers but as it turns out we were doing something that had never been done.

We continue pioneering in our industry and also within our own brand.  Although we have deep roots and traditions, we are always looking for groundbreaking ideas from outside our four walls. We scour the retail and restaurant industries for best practices and our core team is comprised of avid readers; anything from business books to convention papers.  We still focus on core values and traditions – really sticking to what made us great in the first place but we refuse to get set in our ways. There’s a big difference between honoring tradition and stagnation.

Creating new ideas and generating disruptive thought processes are keys to growth and modernization.   This includes everything from the music in our restaurants to Dickey’s craft paper packaging to our web presence or even a logo update; it lets our guests know we’re a modern company.  Staying fresh also means being on the fast track of new technology.  Our guests are busy people and expect an efficient experience which includes online ordering and text capabilities.  We’re bringing a level of sophistication to the barbecue industry through big data, allocation of resources and predictive analytics that will allow us to serve our guests with state-of-the-art precision.

In today’s fast paced, quick serve environment, creating a relevant brand takes strategy and innovation. Guests are demanding more from their brand experiences than ever before.  Our commitment to our guests goes beyond authentic, quality, slow smoked barbecue.  We are committed to innovation, the secret sauce to a best-in class guest experience.