November 22, 2016
You’re Never Too Old for a Field Trip
By Tracy Coates
I remember very well how excited my three daughters would get when they got to take a school field trip. In grade school they were genuinely excited to go to the zoo, or Magic House. But of course when they got older, the best part for them was getting out of class.
As the Agency Mom at UPBrand, I coordinate the field trips we occasionally take. These excursions are meant to inspire, inform, build camaraderie, and, yes, a chance to “get out of class” for a few hours!
Our latest trip was fun, informative and delicious. Our founder, Jeff Insco arranged a tour of St. Louis’s own Billy Goat Chip factory—given personally by the company’s founder and Jeff’s college buddy, Brian Roth. (I’ve heard there are stories).
During the tour we learned a lot about making artisan potato chips. We learned even more about what it takes to build a successful business from the ground up, and the importance of having a clear mission and staying true to yourself. Built into all this was a General Business 101 class that touched on things like inventory, supply chain management, customer relations and scale. Who knew there was so much to learn from a salty snack?
Billy Goat chips were first made and served at the Billy Goat Restaurant and Bar in the Tower Grove neighborhood. Brian Roth, who had been a chef at Old Warson Country Club, and his college friend Rob Lyons fulfilled a dream and opened this popular establishment in 2002. The menu was simple, made-to-order fare, and their seasoned, house-made chips were one of the most popular items. After several years of operating Billy Goat, Brian and Rob made the gutsy decision to close their thriving restaurant and venture into the world of packaged foods. Billy Goat Chip Company started in 2009, with the mission to create a chip that tasted better and fresher than anything else in the snack aisle. They wanted to each bag to deliver the same quality they served in the restaurant, only in a bag instead of on a plate. This meant using the best potatoes and maintaining the optimum cooking techniques—even if it resulted in higher raw material costs, slower processing and shorter shelf life. It also meant they selected their retailers as carefully as their Idaho Russets. They sell only to folks who care as much about selling a good product as they do about making a good product.
Not surprisingly, we heard there were many hard lessons and missteps for Billy Goat along the way. They could be a case study for the importance of failing fast and being agile and iterative. Brian cited the two cornerstones of their business—selling the best possible product and providing outstanding customer service. Pretty basic—that’s exactly how we like to do things at UPBrand.
My teammates were as happy as any school group at the end of the tour, as we donned the requisite hair nets and filled our own bags of still-hot Billy Goat chips. We learned from Brian that a thirst for knowledge is critical for any entrepreneur. This field trip helped quench our own thirst for knowledge—though admittedly it did leave us a thirsty for a beverage after the tour.