Tuesday, March 17, 2015

BBQ Event Wrap Up: National Barbecue Assocation 2015 National Conference - Nashville, TN

I have been wanting to attend an NBBQA National Conference and Trade Show for several years but it was always too far away and cost a little too much for my budget.  But this year the conference was nearby in Nashville and I knew that I had to attend.  

The tagline "Where Barbecue Means Business" is not just a slogan. This is not just some BBQ party that is an excuse to get away from the office for a few days. This is a serious gathering with high power, business oriented information to help the BBQ business person learn to increase revenue, bring down costs, and share a voice.

I'd love to share everything that I learned but I have over 10 pages of notes.  I'll just share one takeaway from each of the general or breakout sessions to give you just a tiny taste of the immense amount of information and resources available at this annual event.

The one downside to the event was that a small sleet/snow storm hit early Thursday morning, shutting down the Nashville Airport and actually preventing some attendees and presenters from making it. I was staying at the conference hotel so while some folks faced this while driving in...

Picture blatantly stolen from Clint Cantwell's Facebook page.  He's got a brand new BBQ website hitting the interwebs soon.
I just peeked out the window and saw this...

and decided to just do room service.  I only mention this because the staff at the Sheraton Music City Hotel did a great job in general and the Heuvos Rancheros they made on Thursday was one of the best room service breakfasts I've ever had.

Keynote Speech
The conference wasted no time in setting the business tone.  Myron Mixon, world's biggest fan of "getting paid", introduced Larry Winget. Winget is known as the Pitbull of Personal Development but don't lump him in with "self help gurus".  He is more of a "pity party shutter downer".

Excuse potato quality, I had to mix in mobile phone pics.
Takeaway:  He tore down any excuses you could have about not succeeding or not pursuing your dream.  He tore down the mystique of the archetypical weathered old pitmaster just doing the job because he is passionate about it. Sure we are passionate about BBQ but Larry bluntly pointed out...

"If you don't get paid at it, it's your passion.  If you get paid for it, it's your business!"

And that's what we were all there for.  Whether we are restauranteurs, competitors, rub/sauce makers, or authors, we are in the business of BBQThat doesn't make it evil or corrupted.  We still love BBQ but I can love BBQ alone in my backyard.  We all do what we do because we want to make money at it.  If BBQ is your business, treat it like a business.

Breakout Session: Marketing, PR, and Promotion
The ins and outs of how to get your business out there and in front of potential customers.  The session also used the recent flag controversy as a learning moment for handling a media crisis.
This was a panel session including Mike McCloud (promoter behind Sam's Club tour, World Food Championships), Paul Schatte (VP at Head Country), and Dominick of Sonny's BBQ.
Paul discussing how Head Country utilizes marketing in their ventures.
Takeaway:  Avoid a fragmented approach to social media.  Whether using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or the next book thing, all social media should be managed by an overall plan and story.

Paul Kirk, Baron of BBQ
Renowned Chef, Paul Kirk, aka The Baron of BBQ, did a breakout session on developing your own rubs.

Breakout Session: Competition to Catering - Taking That First Step Into Business
Randy Twyford of Twyford BBQ & Catering discussed their experiences and his advice for someone ready to make that leap to catering.  This was a great session for anyone even considering catering as Randy discussed tools, ideas, and even software that has helped them.
Randy Twyford

Takeaway:  Jump on the growing trend of Home Replacement Meals as a caterer.  Sell HMR packages from a set location once a week to generate revenue and spread awareness of your catering services.

Awards of Excellence 
Awards were given in several categories of commercially available BBQ sauces, marinades, and rubs.

Takeaway:  Smoky Jon's and Victory Lane BBQ both won in multiple categories. Heck, Victory Lane took first, second, fourth, and sixth in ONE category alone!  I am ordering some of both.

Breakout Session:  Social Media and Content Marketing
Malcom Reed and Danielle Dimovski rocked this session.  There was something for everyone in this class, from the beginner to someone like myself who is already versed in social media.

Takeaway:  When developing content for your social media, keep in mind that "how" content is more interesting and draws more views than "what" content.  Instead of showing a plated steak, maybe show a tip on how you created that steak.

Breakout Session:  Protecting Your Brand - Legal Nirvana
The attorney that was supposed to conduct this session didn't get in before the airport shut down.  Fortunately, Jenn Kovalcik of Stites and Harbison, was in attendance.  Jenn is an intellectual property attorney who represents several BBQ entities and she stepped up to conduct the session without notice.  She nailed it and gave exceptional guidance.

Takeaway:  Trademark actions in the US are based on the date commercial use began, not who registers first.  So even if you don't plan to register a trademark soon, you should start a folder documenting any and all commercial uses of your trademark.

General Session:  Driving Growth in Dynamic Times
Todd Hale covered a treasure trove of data from Nielsen about what people have been spending their money on since the 2008 crash and where the growth trends are.  This detailed data alone could be worth the price of the conference. There are niche opportunities for growth. The amazing thing was how many people missed this session.

Takeaway:  The real growth markets are Latino, Asian, and African-American markets.

Breakout Session:  Recipes - Development, Formatting, Publishing, and Content Distribution
This session wasn't about creating recipes, flavor profiles, or things like that.  It was specifically about the mechanics of recipes for publishing.  Who better to cover that than Chris Lilly and Ray Lampe?

Takeaway:  When writing instructions, use multiple descriptors to describe what they should see, smell, and hear during the individual steps.

General Session:  Meet The Masters
What a line up.  That's all I can say.

L to R: Ray Lampe, Myron Mixon, Lee Ann Whippen, Chris Lilly, Paul Kirk, Mike Mills, Brad Orrison
Takeaway:  When they were asked about the best BBQ they ever had at a restaurant, none of them named restaurants that are on the common "Top 10 BBQ Restaurants" lists that are floated around.

Trade Show
There were several "friends of BBQ" type companies like Tones, Badia, Compart, and Sam's had booths set up to help attendees learn new ways to improve their bottom line without sacrificing quality.  There were also BBQ advocacy organizations there to help raise their collective voice.

Steak Cookoff Association Celebrity Steak Cookoff
This up and coming sanctioning body for steak cookoffs staged a celebrity challenge with all of these high powered pitmasters.  It was a blast watching everyone put their best steak forward.
Firing up the grills.

Ray Dr. BBQ Lampe and Lee Ann Whippen work on their steak dish on a pair of BGE Mini-Maxes.

Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson's BBQ getting perfect sear marks on a set of GrillGrates on a PK Grill.  Almost every team used these.

Takeaway:  The Steak Cookoff Association is going places, I think it might be the "next big thing".  I will have a post coming up shortly about the SCA.
The NBBQA National Conference was everything that I expected and more.  If you have a BBQ business, and I don't mean "if you own a BBQ restaurant", you should be attending this conference.  Sauce and rub makers, equipment manufactures, BBQ media, and any company supporting those endeavors should put the NBBQA 2016 conference on their agenda. Yes, it is a bit of an investment but there is so much free flowing information here that you will get a return on that investment.

[FTC Standard Disclaimer:  I paid full price for this conference and received no compensation from any of the mentioned companies.]


  1. great recap. Sounds like the conference gave you some really good information!

    1. I agree with Stephanie - well done recap of the whole event.
      Great presentation too. You gave us all the bullet points and some good pics too.

      I should mention all of the links you included are a treasure trove of info and products!

      I'll be shopping at Smoky Jon's and Victory Lane BBQ too! Thanks Chris!

  2. Really enjoyed following this with you and being with Nibblemesis at her demo Saturday. Don't look back, she may be catching up. Your book got some good comments also. Hamburgers at Melvin's next week.

  3. I've been to more than my share of trade shows and this one looked very interesting. It's a shame the weather was bad, but all in all it appears the show was a success. That might be the nicest room service breakfast I've seen in a long time.