Gorilla BBQ – A Study in Successful Entrepreneurship

Note: Click here for my earlier post on Gorilla Barbecue and their amazing ribs.

As I walked into Gorilla BBQ for my Sunday beef brisket and the most awesome ribs in San Francisco, I had a moment to reflect on their success model. Plus. Gorilla (the co-owner) and I actually had a minute to talk.

They always have a line. Sometimes very long. I would say 2 weekends out of every month they run out of at least two items on their 4 item menu list before closing.

He loves it. No hassles of sit down – it’s all take out. He sells what he makes every day. He slowly expands how much he makes as his “running out” drives customers to come earlier and he feeds the new later ones. He is thinking about maybe having a second location but he has reservations because he is concerned about replicating how he makes his food elsewhere.

Quality is numero uno to Gorilla.

I have worked with a number of extensive franchise organizations and I have lived through how difficult expansion planning can be.

The pursuit of profit is enticing. And sometimes the overwhelming sense of “I have to do it before someone else gets there” is difficult to stave off. ‘How much is enough’ can be a facts and figures discussion or it can be a philosophical discussion.

What Gorilla understands is the charisma or mystique factor. His stuff is good. Unfailingly good. But his business’s reputation outstrips his stuff. He is constantly reaching out to more sales rather than excess capacity.

So. Expansion in retail is tricky. Heck. Any expansion is tricky.

Do organizations make it a science? Sure they do (analysis of geography and consumption and possible customers and ticket size and all that crap – albeit useful crap). I have seen multi-page spreadsheets and maps and revenue analysis information presentations and binders that would make your head spin.

I am sure Starbucks had numbers out the wazoo for location growth plan. What I personally believe they missed was the mystique quotient (never seen that number in an analysis). That, I believe, is more a gut thing. It is also a philosophical vision decision. I personally wouldn’t have expanded Starbucks that fast and I would have tried to maintain some mystique. But, yeah, I could be using hindsight (as they run into some struggles).

Yeah. I know (and like) their “third location” strategy (home, work, starbucks). It’s just that maximizing that location strategy threatened what made them so popular in the beginning.

Hey. Starbucks isn’t going to crash. But their over expansion has created issues they may not have had to deal with had they been a little less aggressive in store openings.

Hey (again). Many businesses cross that line in expansion. It is a line that is difficult to see. Especially when it becomes about money.

But. Back to my man Gorilla and his business. He has two huge things going for him:

  1. He understands exactly what makes him successful: His food. While maybe he is conservative about expanding at the risk of that standard, he fully understands why he has lines and a profitable business.
  2. He understands his priorities. I am sure he likes money but he hasn’t let it overwhelm his direction.

Once again, having worked with dozens of companies and expansion, I don’t doubt for one minute all those companies who expanded beyond what now seems unreasonable fully understood #1. In fact I think they sometimes fool themselves a little into believing that expanding is a formula (at one or a small group of locations) that can be easily replicated (replicating quality is a tricky thing too).

It is number 2 that really gets people in trouble. Money is an evil thing. Greed is good (for the economy). Greed is bad for a great business guy’s head. It leads thinking astray.

What Gorilla has going for him is he isn’t greedy. And he likes to like his stuff (and won’t compromise that).

Will he be a millionaire? Maybe. I doubt it.

Will he make money? Sure. No, let me take that back and say, absolutely.

Will he be happy? In no uncertain terms. Unequivocally. Yes.

What more could you ask for?

Written by Bruce