If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly

2022 will be the 23rd running of the Buda Lions Club wiener dog races. Every year hundreds of people from all over the country have brought their dogs to race for a $500 prize, a big trophy and the honor of being named a wiener dog champion. It’s inspired national news stories, spawned wiener dog races across the country and helped grow the town of Buda from 2500 to more than 15,000. It even inspired a “dachumentary” that won film festival awards. But it didn’t start that way. It almost didn’t start at all…

Diane: My daughter, Susie, and her husband were stationed in Savannah, Georgia, in 1996. As a teacher I had always wanted to own a floral and gift shop. but I got a bit in over my head when I opened one in Buda after getting my Texas master florist. Susie called me, and she said, “Mom, this is the cutest thing you have ever seen. Scarlett (her dog’s name was Scarlett) was in wiener dog races here in Savannah on the riverfront.” It was for Octoberfest. This was in October.

Peter: Ok.

Diane: Well at Christmas we had BudaFest here in Buda, and I was on Main Street in my floral shop. I would open it up, and people would come through. That was the big event in Buda, was BudaFest.

Peter: Right.

Diane: I had worked all weekend, so I told my employees, about 2 or 3 o’clock, that I wanted to walk through and see who was there, the vendors and everything. It was up on the greenbelt, in town by the gazebo, and the library was up there. I said I just needed a break and wanted to walk around before everybody goes home.

Peter: Right.

Diane: There was a booth, and I knew Justin. He was in the Lions club. He had actually been in my class when he was four. He went to high school with my daughters. He was telling the vendors, “We’re going to have an event at the end of April. We’re taking names trying to get vendors to come to this event. It’s going to be Buda Country Fair and Cookoff. Included in the events will be a barbecue event, a bakery contest and blah, blah, blah.

He stepped away, and I said, “Justin.” He said hi to me, and I said, “Susie called me and said they have wiener dog races on the riverfront there in Savannah.” I’ve always had wiener dogs. Ever since my husband came back from Vietnam in 1969 we’ve had wiener dogs. “Justin, if you’ll let me piggy back it with the country fair, I’ll do everything.”

He said, “Oh, Diane, umm, I don’t know. You’ll have to come to a meeting. This is our first year. We don’t have time for that.” I said, “that’s ok, I’ll do everything.”

Peter: (laughing) that’s great.

Diane: I went to the Buda Lions Club meeting and presented my idea about the races. Most of the men laughed and said, “Sure, Diane, weenie dog races.” I said, “Yeah, Susie says it’s really neat. The television came out. It was on the radio. It’s a big event. And they all said, “Yeah, sure Diane. We don’t have time. And we don’t have room up on the greenbelt, because we’re going to have vendors, and we’re going to have a cookoff, and in downtown Buda with the railroad tracks, there’s just no room.”

Peter: Hmmm.

Diane: I said, “if I can find a place, and I underwrite the cost of it, and I design the t-shirts, and I sell them in my floral shop on main street, will y’all let me piggy back it on the county fair?” They said, “sure, go for it, but we can’t help you.”

Peter: (laughs) Right.

Diane: Right away I called the chamber in Savannah, Georgia, and called around until I found the guy that organized it. He said, “Yeah, it’s a really big event here. In fact, Oscar Meyer Jr. is one of the people who support us.”

Peter: Wow.

Diane: Now there weren’t that many wiener dog races at the time. They had started in San Diego after Miller Lite had run a cute, little commercial about wiener dogs drag racing. That was the first thing that started wiener dog races.

Peter: Interesting. I didn’t know that.

Diane: Back to the story: The organizer of the Savannah races walked me through their procedures on the phone. He told me how many feet. I said, “How do you start it?” He said, “well, with a pistol.” Then he said, “now the main thing is get a dog rescue, an animal shelter or somebody involved so that people don’t think you’re betting on races, and there’s cruelty to animals.

Peter: Right, right, right.

Diane: Later on I drove around town thinking, “where in the world can I do this, you know, close?” Then I looked at Buda City Park. One of the things my daughter had said was, “Mom, whatever you do, do something about crowd control.” She said when they were racing, Scarlettt (that’s her dog) was on the outside lane, and she was winning. They didn’t have barriers or crowd control, and a woman got pushed into her lane, and (Scarlett) lost sight of Susie. That kept her from winning the race.

Peter: Yes.

Diane: That first year we decided to only have one race at 10:00 on Saturday morning. I didn’t take any floral orders that Saturday, but my gift shop was open. We had paid for a newspaper article. I had covered my bases, designed a t-shirt and was selling ‘em in there. Made a big sign that said, “Wiener Dog headquarters.” Some of my employees also helped me with registration at the park.

Peter: Ok, right.

Diane: The Lions Club has taken it over now, and I’m just so happy that they’ve done such a good job. But in the beginning I really put myself out there over the line.

Peter: Sure.

Diane: I went around to a few businesses in Buda, begging for donations. I promised to put their company name on the back of the t-shirt. My biggest donations came from Home Sweet Home and a barbecue restaurant in the area. There wasn’t much at the time, you have to remember, in Buda.

Peter: Yeah, that’s right.

Diane: With the $100 in donations for the races and my donated funds I was able to have t-shirts made, buy small trophies, and have some prize money. The trophies, t-shirts and posters were nothing compared to what Roy does now.

Peter: Right.

Diane: The money wasn’t five hundred dollars. And there were no posters the first year.

Peter: Right

Diane: The morning of the race, it was pouring. My husband Joe and I had gone down there Friday night and spray painted the lanes. I had a friend who got some old orange cones. Where she got ‘em from I don’t know. The people stood on the hill. I put the orange cones on each side of the lanes. Then people started calling, ‘cause it was pouring down rain. People were calling, ‘cause they wanted a refund.

Peter: Oh, right, right.

Diane: So Jerry Raines walked into my shop about that time. I said, “Jerry, what are we going to do? People are calling my shop, ‘cause they want a refund.” Jerry said, “Diane, there are no refunds. There’s no refunds.”

Peter: Ok.

Diane: I said, “well what are we gonna do?” There were people in my shop ready to race their dogs. He said, “we’re going to wait an hour, and if it doesn’t stop raining, we’re just going to have to call it off.” I said, “oh, no, no, no!” But the skies parted, the rain stopped and the sun came out, and we had the race. Of course the starter pistol didn’t work, you know, because the dogs ran everywhere.” After Jerry Raines made the original chutes, we didn’t have that problem anymore. He did such a great job, they’re only now replacing them.

Peter: Right.

Diane: Would you believe that all the people that had been up on the greenbelt and the vendors and the barbecue and all that… well they wanted to go down to the park where the wiener dog races were?

Peter: (laughing)

Diane: So the next year they moved the vendors down to where the wiener dog races and all the people were. The guy that was the president of the Lions club that year said, “Diane, we need to talk about this. We gotta get more advertising.”

Peter: Now how many wiener dogs came that first year?

Diane: It was only about 36 that first year, and I have the list of names.

Peter: That’s actually pretty impressive for first year doing it all yourself, nobody helping you. That’s pretty awesome.

Diane: It was very impressive, ‘cause it was pouring down rain.

Peter: Yeah, that too.

Diane: The second year of the races my floral & gift shop had become too busy for me to design the t-shirt and do all the registrations. Once again, I went around town asking for donations. I decided to have a contest for someone other than myself to design the t-shirt. I put an ad in the Free Press and asked the art teacher at Hays High School to ask her students to participate. I just didn’t have time to do anything, but I went around town asking for donations, and I got a little better at it. The manager at Ford Truck City…

Peter: That’s right.

Diane: …he was going to give me $1000. I was just beside myself. Well the day before I contacted Williams Marketing. I had said I only needed $100. That’s all I needed to underwrite the cost of the wiener dog races that year. The next day Corrine called me and said, “Roy said he wants the wiener dog races, but he wants to design the t-shirt and write the ads and blah, blah, blah.” Right away I talked to the Lions club president that year, who was an attorney and said, “what are we going to do?” He said, “we’re going to go down to Truck City and convince them to put their money toward t-shirts and the lawnmower races.” I said, “do you really think we can do that?” He said, “sure we can.” So that’s what we did. Truck City agreed, Roy got the wiener dog races, and, well, the results speak for themselves.

The Breakdown

Man, you have to admire Diane’s spunk. Two lessons jump out at me that are valuable for any business owner…

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. Diane didn’t have help. She got laughed at by the guys in the Lions club who first heard her idea. She had to fund it herself. It was pouring rain. She had to spray paint the lines and find some orange cones from somewhere to mark where people could stand. It wasn’t a professional job that first year. But she didn’t give up. She knew it was a great idea. She sensed that people would want to race their funny little dogs. And look what happened. Thirty-six people entered their wiener dogs. She stole all the attention from the barbecue cookoff. She made believers of everyone. And that was just the first year.

Every year they improved how they ran the wiener dog races. They built stands, got rid of the starter’s pistol, built a better opening mechanism for the dog boxes, etc… Word spread about this funny little event. Eventually 600 people were entering their wiener dogs from all over America in a race for a tiny prize in a tiny, little Texas town.

1. What idea have you thought of doing, but haven’t quite had the courage to do it, for fear that you might not do it well enough? What’s the worst that would happen if you tried it?

Diane’s idea changed an entire community. She’s since handed over running the wiener dog races to the Buda Lions Club. But not before she transferred her passion and dedication to putting on the best wiener dog event possible to them. Which brings me to my next point…

An idea without someone to make it happen is just an idea. Sticking with it when no one else will is absolutely essential for success. Isn’t that how your business started? FedEx started with a college proposal that got a D+. Apple started out of a garage. Amazon did too. Pick a list of just about any huge company. They had very little to start with but an idea and a lot of time and energy. And they found a way. Dreams are wonderful. But they must be accompanied by action to ever become a reality.

2. How did your business start (write a 4-sentence, specific story)? How many fewer resources did you have than now?

 

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