Wouldn’t it be amazing to know whether your business idea is going to be a success before you spend any resources pursuing it? In 1998 Dianne Krejci approached Roy H. Williams with a proposal for him to sponsor one of 3 different events for the Buda Lions Club’s annual festival. Instantly a superpower that resides within his brain said “this wiener dog race is going to be huge.” Within a few years it drew hundreds of contestants and thousands of spectators from all over North America. The other two events were forgotten.
I interviewed Roy and Dianne to figure out the secrets that turn business ideas into growing piles of money. The result of those interviews is the book, Wiener Dog Marketing, which will be available in a couple weeks. Over the next 14 weeks, I’ll be posting a chapter each week.
I’m inviting you to see your business from a new perspective, remember what helped you start it in the first place, and perhaps discover what’s been holding you back from the success you know is possible.
Warning: This book uses the phrase “wiener dog” exactly 400 times. If you take issue with books that are entertaining, use metaphors and will challenge the way you think about marketing, you should stop reading right now and go read a college textbook on marketing. If you love the thought of knowing what will actually work, please read on. It’s gonna be fun.
A Wiener Dog Tale
The Story of Roy H. Williams and the Buda Lions Club Wiener Dog Races
Peter: “I want to know the original story of the Buda Lions Club Wiener Dog Races. There were two other contenders they had to choose from. How did you know to pick wiener dogs? How did you know it would become hugely successful before any of them had ever been tried? You recognized the big idea amongst two other losers… or let’s just say two other not as good choices.”
Roy: So here’s what happened. We’re living in Buda. It had about 1700 people living in the city limits at that time. It hadn’t gotten any subdivisions. It hadn’t expanded. And the Buda Lions club couldn’t have had, oh, I don’t know, it couldn’t have been more than 12, if it was that many. They had this idea that they were going to do this festival for this little town of 1700 people.
They came to Williams Marketing and knocked on the door. We had a pretty successful advertising business in the city limits. They said, “You guys are a major employer. You have like, 8 employees.”
Peter: Ha, ha, ha. You’re big time!
Roy: Yep, “you have eight employees. Would you be interested in participating?” And I said, “Well, what are you asking for?”
They said, “We want you to sponsor… and you have your choice between
1) The precision lawn chair drill team, so like synchronized swimming…”
Peter: Now I know why I didn’t remember it.
Roy: “You’re going to have your choice between that and…
2) The riding lawn mower races – that are jet powered with an actual jet engine.
It was enough years ago that, remember Tim the Tool Man Taylor was doing Tool Time? There was an episode where he had a jet powered riding lawn mower. Now the Buda Lions Club had gotten that actual jet powered riding lawnmower from Home Improvement.
And I said, “No, what else ya got?”
They said, “Well, we’ve got…
3) The wiener dog races, but they’re already being sponsored by Truck City, a new car dealer, maybe a Ford dealer. I can’t remember. They’ve already got the wiener dog races.”
But I said, “Here’s the thing. I think these riding lawnmower races make more sense for Truck City. I think they need to support the riding lawnmower thing. Cause I get the wiener dogs, or I don’t want to play.
They said, “Well that’s not very civic minded.” I said, “I never pretended to be civic minded.”
Peter: (hearty laughter).
Roy: They said, “Well don’t you care about the community?” I said, “No.”
Peter: (more hearty laughter).
Roy: “I don’t live here. And I don’t care about the community. You knocked on my door. You wanted to know if I wanted to support the lawn chair thing or the lawnmower thing, and I said No.”
Peter: …to jet power.
Roy: Now listen, the lawnmower races were actually exciting. They had bails of hay, and these lawnmowers were flippin’ through the air.
Peter: That is kind of cool.
Roy: It was…
Peter: Bigger noise…
Roy: It was like NASCAR…
Peter: Bigger excitement…
Roy: Indy 500
Peter: …seemingly than a wiener dog.
Roy: They said, “Well aren’t you willing to, don’t you wanna be a partici…?” And I said, “No. It’s a lot of money. I’m happy to give you that money, but I get the wiener dogs. Go tell Truck City if they’re so civic minded, they can support the riding lawnmower thing.” So they went and convinced Truck City to support the riding lawnmower thing. And that was very…
Peter: Truck City doesn’t look as smart as they originally seemed to be.
Roy: Well, that was very small of me. If I had been a better person, I would have done the right thing and just supported whatever they asked me to support.
Roy: But, Peter, I said, “wiener dogs are guaranteed to capture the imagination of the public.”
Roy: Listen, wiener dogs are hysterical. The very idea of racing wiener dogs, the idea is funny. You don’t have to see the race for it to be funny.
Peter: It’s not cool, it’s funny.
Roy: It’s hysterical. It’s like the word “duck.”
Peter: Right. Right, right Right.
Roy: Every comedian knows there’s nothing funnier than a duck. Ducks, they waddle. They’re a weird shape. Ducks are funny.
Roy: It’s the funniest animal.
Peter: Yep, yeah, yeah.
Roy: And so I said, “you know what, a wiener dog is like a duck. It’s a funny animal.”
Roy: And I said, “wiener dogs are winners. Wiener dogs, wiener dog races, just the idea of wiener dog races.
Peter: Did you say wiener dogs are wieners?
Roy: No, I didn’t.
Roy: And I said, no, wiener dog racing is just fundamentally funny. Just the very idea of wiener dog races is funny. And I said people will be attracted to the wiener dog races. So I said, “I get the wiener dogs.” So guess what, it was like they did the riding lawnmower and the precision lawn chair thing for exactly one year…
Peter: So they did those things?
Roy: They did.
Peter: Even though you knew…
Roy: No, no, They had sponsors. I sponsored the wiener dogs.
Peter: Ok, alright.
Roy: I sponsored the wiener dogs, and they got other sponsors for these other two things. And as I expected, nobody was interested in the other two things. The wiener dogs grew to be a national phenomenon.
Peter: How many applicants would they have?
Roy: I don’t know. You can check into that. Now, listen, the Buda Lions club a number of years ago gave me the Melvin Jones award.
Roy: Did you know that nobody’s ever been given the Melvin Jones Award in the history of the (Buda) Lions Club?
Peter: I don’t even know who Melvin…
Roy: He was the founder of the Lions Club.
Peter: Oh, wow, so this is a big deal.
Roy: No, listen, you talk to anybody in the Lions Club.
Peter: You are MJ. You are number 23.
Roy: Listen, whenever they say Melvin Jones award, people take a deep breath. It’s like a Nobel Prize. It’s like they’ve never met anybody that won the Melvin Jones award. You have to be the most dedicated, most amazing, most miracle working… you have to be like a saint.
Peter: That’s not you.
Roy: No. I’ve never been a member of the Lions Club. I’ve never, ever done anything good. And here’s what happened. They got the board of directors to change the rules so that somebody who isn’t even a member of the Lions Club could win, and then they gave me the Melvin Jones Award because of all the millions of dollars we’ve brought into the Lions Club in a little town of 1700 people. And it’s only because I had the wit to understand, wiener dogs will get attention. This other stuff will not get attention.
Roy: You can’t get attention with precision lawn chairs. You can’t get attention racing riding lawnmowers. But wiener dogs will win.
Peter: Now let me… that’s a great point. I want to go over this in just a little bit of detail… just for all of us dumb people out here. Ok? Why do precision… why do precision lawnmowers not get attention…? Why do lawn chair drill teams not get attention, but wiener dogs do?
Roy: Ok, now here’s the deal. If you’ve ever watched… umm… synchronized swimming in the Olympics, you have seen people doing things in precision, timing… like if you’ve ever seen a marching band…
Peter: Like, it’s the best they can ever be in the Olympics.
Roy: Exactly. If you’ve ever seen a marching band at halftime in a college football game. If you’re old enough to remember, in college football games when the marching band came out at halftime, and they’re high stepping, double time, and they’re doing these amazing patterns all over the field…
Peter: It’s amazing, and as Donald Trump would say, the ratings are ‘UUUGE!
Roy: ‘UUUGE! They’re ‘uuuge! And so here’s the thing. Whenever you say, “ok, so if a bunch of people in a coordinated effort are doing breathtaking, precision, organized, fractal type movements…
Roy: …in perfect synchronization. Ok, we’ve seen that.
Peter: It’s nice, but…
Roy: Here’s the deal. Listen, you’re not going to have a bunch of local nosepickers with lawn chairs…
Peter: They’re never going to get that good…
Roy: …blowing your mind. You’ve seen better than this before. Ok.
Peter: They’re not going to converge into a 3-D Origami space shuttle…that takes off.
Roy: Here’s the other problem. And this is the one thing. This is the one thing that maybe is the secret sauce. Now, Peter, are you ready for the secret sauce?
Peter: No. but I want it!
Roy: You want the secret sauce?
Peter: I’m not ready, but I want it!
Roy: This is the secret sauce: I knew in my heart that nobody was going to enter that idiotic lawn chair competition and give it enough effort, enough practice and enough energy and enough genius to do even a passable bad job. It’s going to be a bunch of people doing an amateur, bad, laughable job that was just horrible, an absolute waste of time. And I said, “there’s not enough on the line. There’s not enough reward. There’s not enough at stake.
Peter: What was the reward to win?
Roy: And so what I’m saying is nobody’s going to put in the effort… And, and… riding lawnmowers… you’re not going to see anything in a riding lawnmower race that you don’t see with monster trucks and…
Peter: it’s not going to blow your mind.
Roy: How is it, do you think? How is it that riding lawnmowers, no matter how crazy, no matter how fast, no matter how reckless. How is it they’re more exciting than monster trucks, or Formula 1 or NASCAR or the Indy 500? And I’m going, “I’m sorry, but it’s a song that’s already been sung. So I’m saying riding lawnmowers doing reckless and crazy things around a track, that’s been done before”
Peter: How much performance can you get out of an engine?
Roy: And I’m saying, so, there’s nothing new to explore.
Peter: Shoot, Formula 1, or the Bonneville Salt Flats can take you 750 mph.
Roy: Exactly. But wiener dogs. When have you ever seen something seriously raced that is not a racing animal. It’s like turtles but they’re funnier than turtles.
Peter: It’s like toads, but you can control ‘em more than toads.
Roy: Exactly. Thank you. It’s like, wiener dogs are funnier than frogs. Funnier than turtles. Funnier than crabs.
Roy: You can race crabs, or turtles or frogs… Wiener dogs are funnier than that, and they can actually be motivated. These other things can’t be motivated.
Peter: No, right.
Roy: But a wiener dog runs for love. The wiener dog is working its heart out… to get to its owner at the other end of that dash. And it sees its owner, the owner is calling, the owner is calling, the owner is frantically calling it. And all these other wiener dogs go bolting out of the starting gate when it’s lifted. And one of them gets there quicker than the others. And I’m going, “wiener dogs can be tricked. Human beings with lawn chairs cannot be tricked.” And I said to myself, “The wiener dogs are going to be a gigantic success. This other stuff is stupid.”
Wow. Hilarious and eye opening story. You probably already caught these but here are the first two principles I heard Roy say are essential for success…
If you want the public’s money, you first have to get their attention. You can’t do that with an amateur version (lawn chair drill teams) of something that doesn’t get much attention when professionals do it (synchronized swimming, marching bands, etc…). You can’t do that with a less powerful version (lawnmower racing) of something that is very popular (NASCAR, the Indy 500, etc…).
You need a better answer to a question the public is already asking or a reinvention of something that’s always been popular. Wiener dogs by themselves are lovable, adorable and funny. Seeing little wiener dogs race while their owners do silly things is just hysterical. It will always get attention and always be entertaining.
1. List the top 2 ways your product/service gets the public’s attention. What can you do to improve this?
Your motivation and character as a business/owner is just as important, if not more so, as the service or product you provide. Even if someone forced people to attend the folding chair drill team competition, that event would still fail. There was no prize to win, and nothing else to motivate large numbers of amateurs from a small town to invest the hours needed to even do a passable job. Spectators would end up watching a poor display and spread the word that it’s lame.
Similarly with jet-powered lawnmowers, there’s not enough of a prize and not enough power to inspire the level of dedication found in monster truck or car racing teams. Yes, they’re louder and perhaps even faster than wiener dogs. But they will forever be considered the JV team of the racing world. Souping up lawnmowers inspires hobby, not lifelong passion.
A wiener dog finds all the motivation it needs when it hears its owner and sees it calling. It’s born with wiener dog personality. It will always do wiener dog things when asked to race, which will always be entertaining for an audience to watch. If you and your employees have that same wiener dog heart and dependability in the way you treat your customers and each other, you can’t help but be successful.
2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how aligned are you and your team with your promise of service and/or products to the public? What’s one thing you can do to improve that?