Hot Stuff in Gatlinburg

fed_beagleOK, I’ll admit it.  I’m a hot sauce addict.  I have two shelves in the fridge and a cabinet under the sink full of the stuff.  Like one of those beagles in the green blazers that sniff out contraband at the airport, I can smell a hot sauce shop a block away.

It’s a good thing, because the Pepper Palace in Gatlinburg, TN isn’t easy to find.  It’s on the third floor of an enclosed “mall” on the town’s main street.  But we did find it and I’m glad we did.  What the store lacks in walk-by traffic it more than makes up for in selection and service.  pepper_palaceThe picture displays just a small percentage of the products the store offers.  There are the familiar national brands like Tobasco, but much of the merchandise is private label, produced locally by Pepper Palace.

To sell a product like hot sauce, you really have to let people sample it.  This store does sampling right.  There are dozens of things for you to try with the appropriate tool for transporting the sauce from the sample container to the mouth.  Mostly tortilla chips.  Not tiny pieces of chips, mind you, but actual chips.

That would be reason enough to check out the store, but the lady behind the counter knows every sauce, how it’s made, what kind of peppers it contains, and how to use it.  She was like a wine steward of salsa.  She greeted us as we came in with the current special, “Buy four and get the fifth one free.”  Naturally I bought five and even went back the next day to buy a sixth item that I had originally passed on.

You might think of condiments, especially exotic ones, to be something that might be off most people’s budgets in a recession.  But pepper-heads must have their fix and this is a company that’s more than ready to provide it.  They’ve grown from one store to three and are looking for franchisees to expand even further.

Rhonda, the lady who waited on us is the company’s “Marketing Manager”, an unusual position in a small retail business.  Obviously she’s doing a good job marketing the company and taking care of customers.  You can see her in action in the video which is one of seventeen Pepper Palace has posted on You Tube.  Of course they have a web site.

Watch the video and ask yourself, “How can I use instructional videos to promote my business?” Don’t say you don’t have the capability to do it.  As you can see from Pepper Palace’s videos, big-buck production isn’t required.  If you have an interesting or entertaining story to tell, you should be sharing it on You Tube.

I Love Capitalism

gatlinburgI don’t want to go off on a political rant but I love capitalism. With the debate about government take-overs of this and that and whether we’re rushing headlong into a socialist state, I can’t help but worry that capitalism is in danger.

My wife and I just came back from a short vacation.  We attended a wedding in Atlanta and visited our son and daughter-in-law in Huntsville, AL.  In between, we spent a few days in the Great Smokey Mountains. If you want to see capitalism and entrepreneurship at their best I recommend a visit to the Smokeys, particularly to the town of Gatlinburg where small, local business reigns supreme.

There are some national chains in this small Tennessee town but the majority of businesses are of the locally-owned variety, including motels, restaurants, gift shops, mini golf, and other tourist-related businesses.  Just a few miles outside town is an arts and crafts community made up exclusively of independent business men and women who enjoy the life style of producing their own products and selling them directly to the consumer.

There is no question that this has been a tough summer for most businesses, particularly in the tourist related industries, but the independent business people in the Gatlinburg area seem to be holding their own and some are doing quite nicely.

The thing is that while I was supposed to be on vacation, I couldn’t help but look at so many small businesses and appreciate the value of capitalism.  It’s what’s made our country great.  People who are willing to invest their own time and money in a business, knowing that they might succeed or fail demonstrate the same  pioneer spirit that brought people to this country in the first place.  It’s what made them move away from the east coast and eventually go all the way to the Pacific ocean.  You and I can’t let that spirit be crushed by self-serving politicians or by the big box chains.

Not only do we have to support organizations like the 3/50 project , our local chambers of commerce, and other local business organizations, we have to get involved in other things as well.  When small-business-damaging laws are being considered at the national and local level, we have to speak out.

Being an entrepreneur is a noble profession.  Profit is not a four letter word. We should be proud of our role as the engine of commerce in this country.  We should offer our customers the best service we possibly can and not be afraid to ask them for a fair price.

In the next few days I’ll be introducing you to a couple of people I met on the trip whose stories I hope you find as interesting as I did.