Sunday, September 11, 2005

Suck and Blow versus The Swamp Fox Model of High-Impact Companies

Two Greenville entrepreneurs, Doug Hamer and Brian Higgins, created an extreme product - a gelatin bar drink called Suck & Blow, which is featured as the cover story in the business section of Sunday's Greenville News. They have created a high-impact company to move from "early stages of the rollout... [where they] are currently selling their product in South Carolina, Tennessee, Massachusetts and Nevada ... to distributing shortly in other states and internationally in Canada, Mexico and Asia."

In Swamp Fox Insights, I describe a systematic, risk managed process for commercializing innovations. Does Hamer's and Higgins' experience match the Swamp Fox Model?

Visualize A Significant Opportunity: "Inspiration does not magically appear out of the ether of the universe but comes from very human leaders."
Doug Hamer was spending a July afternoon on Port Royal Sound near Beaufort in 2001 [and] ... having a grand time when he simultaneously spied a woman slurping a Jell-O shooter from a plastic cup and a guy doing the old frat-house rendition of "funneling" a beer from a long plastic tube." I immediately thought it would be really neat to put the two ideas together," Hamer recalled.
Assemble Outstanding Leadership: "Serial entrepreneurship is one of the most important elements of a highly innovative culture."
Hamer's first job was delivering the old Greenville Piedmont in his neighborhood near Greenville Country Club when he was 11... He learned from two of Greenville's best-known entrepreneurs Charlie Houser and Leighton Cubbage as an employee of Corporate Telemanagement Group, a long distance company that was sold to LCI International in 1995.
Articulate A Compelling Strategy: "Most successful high-growth companies are built not by introducing radical technical innovations but by using existing components and technologies to create products that precisely meet the evolving needs of a new and emerging base of customers. "
First came the experiments with ingredients and the delivery system. They would buy tubing from Lowe's and mix their gelatin cocktail using Kraft's Extreme Jell-O, vodka and water. "We had to experiment to get the texture just exactly right," Hamer said...

Locally, Suck & Blow is carried by many of the liquor and party stores and is sold at numerous bars, including Wild Wing Cafe in downtown Greenville. "We like it because it goes along with our party atmosphere," said Josh Pair, a manager at Wild Wing. "Wild Wing has a menu that is based on sharing, and these things fit right in. Plus, they're good sellers. Once you see one go out, it's not long before another 10 go out."
Execute A Focused Plan:"Commercializing disruptive innovations is inheriently a learning process, and the most successful strategies usually identify incremental milestones, attract resources necessary to achieve those milestones, and then adjust based on what is learned about the developing market."
They would make upwards of 250 tubes of the concoction and take it with them on trips to the beach, tailgating parties and the like. After a Fourth of July party in 2003, they decided it was time to go into business. "We had made 500 of them for the party, and people went straight through them," Higgins said. "We figured it was time to start selling them."

To make the leap from party curiosities to a marketable product took several steps. First, they would need a way to manufacture the tubes. They would also need a recipe that would be approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Tobacco Trade Bureau, a bottling company and a distribution network.

And there was another crucial component: money. Neither Hamer nor Higgins had much of that, and they made what would prove to be a tough decision. Rather than seek out investors with deep pockets who might want to control their destiny, they financed SAB Enterprises on small investments and loans from friends and family and on their own credit cards. It was a model that has led to sleepless nights, many highs and lows, but it has also kept them firmly in charge.

They took Suck & Blow to the Night Club & Bar Show in Las Vegas in March 2004 and were voted one of the top five booths among 2,000 vendors. "We left that show as high as we could be. We knew we had a hit." Hamer said.
The acid test of any model is can it be used to accurately predict reality. The experience of Harner and Higgins in commercializing Suck and Blow matches up pretty well with The Swamp Fox Model's description of how successful high-impact companies are actually created.

Swamp Fox Insights: Innovation and Entrepreneurship in a Time of Profound Change at


Mike Myers said...

Are you seriously proposing that we study and learn from "Suck & Blow?" This is the model for entrepreneurship in South Carolina?
Gee, why don't we just import the gambling and drinking and other damaged "fun" industries of the devastated Gulf Coast! ...And maybe we could get ready for the inevitable hurricane damage to Daytona Beach and move the "capitol" of spring break to our own Hilton Head or Grand Strand! Between gambling, spring break and "Suck & Blow" we can really rev up the SC economy and make entrepreneur's everywhere jealous.
Seriously, folks; is this why we're investing millions in the state infrastructure, and ICAR, and other "information corridor" and automotive ambitions? I hope we're not headed for the day when "Suck & Blow" has its headquarters building next to Clemson and BMW at the new technology campus.
On the other hand, if THE GREENVILLE TIMES and John Warner offered "Suck & Blow" as a role model as a joke, then let me join the laughter with relief. Sorry, I took you seriously for a moment! MM

Steve Shelby said...

Please remove me from your emailing list. The primary reason for this request is because of your decision to use the example of Suck & Blow in your recent emailing for a analogy of a company that was founded on concepts similar to those you promote.

The national moral fiber of this country is being undermined by the
excessive use of sex, drugs and alcohol in our youth and young adult population. This along with the politically correctness of when and where we can today use God ­certainly not in our schools, courtrooms, newspapers, is leading us in a harrowing spiral toward self destruction.

Somewhere, someone with a wit of responsibility needs to step up and not promote this kind of recklessness. Anyone past the age of 25 ­ which presumably you are - knows that you can¹t forever hide behind the "Drink Responsibly", "Practice Safe Sex" and "Just Say No" slogans as our telling them that this could be bad for them and they should make the appropriate decision.

I can say this because IF you are past the age of 25, you have already been 17 ­ 23 years old and you know darned well these slogans are totally meaningless when measured against the titillating and enticing draw of the self gratification provided by sex, drugs and alcohol.

From my perspective, you have placed yourself at the opposite end of this spectrum. Having recklessly instead chosen to highlight (and glorify) this Suck & Blow (in itself a sexually enticing name) company as one who is being successful by using The Swamp Fox model.

Good grief. Are you telling me this never entered your mind? Did you not think at all about this? If the answers are No and No, then you know why your newsletters are no longer welcome in my world. And if either of your honest) answers were Yes, then I must ask you this question, "Who do you think put those thoughts in your mind?" And finally, "Why didn¹t you listen?

Hopefully this will help you in your future business ventures.

Please remove me from any future emailings.

If you have any additional questions, or if I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you for this opportunity to serve you.

Swamp Fox said...

Mike and Steve

Thanks for your notes.

I made the point that it was an "an extreme product." Neither I nor the Greenville News held the product up as a role model.

Innovation is neither good nor bad from a moral perspective, and I did not make a moral judgment one way or the other about Suck and Blow. I tend to agree with your assessments, but other people will strongly disagree with us. Freedom to choose makes America great.

Steve, I spent the last four years at major manufacturing company. Thousands of Americans there have lost their jobs to globalization. These people are upset that innovations in connectivity, facilitated by products like those at your company, are destroying the world as they knew it. There are people who routinely protest World Trade Organization meetings and the like. Maybe Swamp Fox shouldn't promote connectivity.

Mike, Suck and Blow successfully launched an innovation in their marketplace. I am seriously proposing that we can study and learn from Suck & Blow, even if we disapprove of the product. The question is not whether it is advisable to use the product. The illustration is how two resourceful entrepreneurs went about commercializing their innovation in a systematic, risk-managed way. If we study what they did we will find that other successful innovations have been commercialized in a similar way, including those in field we feel add more value to society.

John Warner

kamran said...

right on John! these stoics need to lighten up and see innovation for what it is, innovation. I wonder if they are as upset with advance america, or disney, or wal mart, or blockbuster video. they all could have cases made against their products. if you don't like it, don't buy it.
I personally would be delighted to see sab have thousands of well paid employees and a great hq right next to bmw and clemson. we need people who think out of the box, and the founders of sab do just that. hats off to them!

Anonymous said...

For the next damage hurricane katrina ; the easy way to keep going.