3 Crazy Business Lessons from B’s Barbecue


“If I was on death row their BBQ plate would be my final meal.” ~ John Dillanger, B’s Barbecue review on Google +

Located in Greenville, NC, in an old country store that almost looks abandoned, lies one of the greatest Eastern-style barbecue joints in North Carolina. How do I know? Partly because it has been featured in newspapersbooksmagazines, andtelevision programs for years; partly because of the line out the door every day at lunch; and partly because, like many others, I go out of my way to get their barbecue.

The food at B’s Barbecue is amazing but don’t expect any extras from this hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The have no phone, no website, no air conditioning, and no posted hours of operation except an old, hand-painted sign that says, “Closed Sun and Mon.” B’s opens “generally” at 9:00 AM and customers know to get there early because B’s shuts its’ doors when the food runs out. Their famous Eastern-style barbecue sauce is not sold in stores and not available on the Internet. You can only find it in the old Crown Royal bottles located on the tables.

What makes B’s Barbecue famous is its’ great tasting barbecue and unique, original charm. B’s opened in the late 1970’s when then farmer, Bill McLawhorn, decided to turn his hobby into a business. He had barbecued pigs and chickens for years and thought he had a pretty good sauce recipe, so he decided to start a barbecue business. Every week he prepared 40 hogs and 240 chickens for a simple menu that included barbecue, slaw, potatoes, green beans, and fries. Today, B’s is run by his three daughters, Judy, Tammy, and Donna, who continue to run the restaurant exactly as their father did.

As a leader who has worked hard to improve businesses over the past 20 years, I’ve always been impressed with the success of B’s and a little curious as to why they don’t make any changes. I’ve often thought of ways they could improve their business. They could paint the building, add a new sign, pave the parking lot, add air-conditioning, create a website, add a phone line, expand their menu, or even open a new location. So why not make a few improvements to boost sales? The answer lies in the owner’s desire to keep B’s simple, original, authentic, and true to its roots. The real question is…what’s wrong with that? We can learn a lot from B’s business approach:

The customer isn’t always right – One thing you don’t get at B’s is a lot of choices. Their simple menu is posted on the wall and you better be ready to order when you finally make it to the front of the line. If you try to order something special or something that is not on the menu, you’ll hear it from the people behind the counter and those behind you in line. This simple approach is refreshing. How often do we hear of products or companies that fail because they are trying to be all things for all customers? Stick to the principles of what makes your company unique. Remember, not all customers have your best interest in mind.

Do what you love and do it your way – Daughter Judy credits B’s success to the importance of family and being true to her father’s vision for the restaurant. In an interview she once said, “We’d like to have a nice new fancy building and eight or ten more people working… but, to us, when you start doing all that, then it’s like any other restaurant and that’s not what we wanted it to be. That’s not what my dad wanted it to be; he wanted it to be ours.” Again, this is very refreshing. Too often we hear of companies changing business models for the wrong reasons. You need to be careful not to let others define success for your businesses. It’s your business. Do it your way.

Word-of-mouth trumps the Internet – Conventional wisdom says you must have a well designed website and be active on social media. The long line at B’s Barbecue tells a different story. With nothing more than word-of-mouth, B’s continues to get new customers to come and eat their barbecue. Many companies work hard to get their website and social media strategy right while their product or service performance is poor. The lesson of B’s is to get your product right first. Be excellent at what you do first then add your marketing plan.

In a time where every business seems to be following the same formula for success and there seems to be little differentiation between companies and brands, it is refreshing to go to a place like B’s. It’s a place where they focus on doing the things that matter very well. The great food and simple charm leaves you with the feeling you are experiencing Eastern-style North Carolina barbecue exactly the way Bill McLawhorn would have wanted you to. You also get a sense that his daughters love what they do and don’t plan on changing a thing…and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

[Photo Credit – BBQ Jew]

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