For Wes King, entrepreneurship started with his great grandfather, and selling a bar out of the back of his car. Tahoe Trail Bar, that is.
When Wes bought the company from its original founders, even his dad thought the idea was crazy. At the time, Tahoe Trail Bar was experiencing financial difficulties, only had about 20 dedicated customers, and made virtually no profit. (Okay, so maybe buying the company was a little crazy.)
So how exactly did Wes turn a struggling back-of-the-car company into the bar that represents Lake Tahoe? I found out from Wes himself:
From ski bum to business owner
“My background as an entrepreneur was a completely rocky road. I grew up in Nashville Tennessee. It was an entrepreneurial household in my family. My great grandfather sold flour in 100 pound bags with Martha White Foods. There was a spirit of Let’s Try This, What If We Did It Like That or Know Your Customer. There were always these old adages flying around our house that I kind of absorbed.”
“Before Tahoe Trail Bar, I was a ski bum. Even though I loved that lifestyle, there was not a lot of soul to being retired at 25 with no money. I needed something to do, accomplish, live for.”
“When Tahoe Trail Bar came along, that was the first time that I was behind it, there was an ability to help and change people’s lives, and also build something that captured my own passion. I would always rather be outside, and that’s a great thing if your ideal customer thinks like you think. More importantly, it becomes authentic as a result of having a tie with your customer like that.”
A company culture inspired by Tahoe
“Our company culture centers around freedom. I have very clear expectations of what needs to get done, and then my employees have the freedom to leave, go get outside, go connect to why we do what we do. It’s to the point where you don’t feel like you’re trading your work and your play.”
“If you keep your employees feeling like they’re adding value but they’re allowed to have some freedom, you’re going to get more out of your employees while they’re there. I don’t rule at all. I feel like we’re creating something together.”
Let’s talk about the four letter elephant in the room (C-L-I-F)
“To be honest with you, there are ways to compete with big name bars in their home court. Know why you do what you do, and you will connect with your customers authentically. Get more efficient at connecting with your customers on their level and continue listening to them. Customer loyalty is the real crux of competing with a brand like Clif.”
“We just show up at all the local events and tell them how awesome it is to be a part of these things. We look for how can we get involved and give back to communities. Athletes help legitimize our brand. Clif will always have Tough Mudder or Iron Man and you can’t afford to be part of those events, but you can definitely go to the local bike ride. And suddenly you’re on the shelf next to Clif.”
“Our bar tastes better- it’s more moist, you can taste all the ingredients in the bar, you can taste each chocolate chunk. People say the chocolate chunk costs too much but I’m like, no, I’m leaving the chocolate chunk in! Our bar is gluten free, plant based, and vegan, which we do because we prioritize minimizing our environmental impact as much as possible.”
“It’s a bar that tastes really good, represents the most kickass outdoor place on the earth, and it’s a totally real, authentic story.”
Thanks to Wes for coming in and talking to my MBA class. And I’m happy to verify that you CAN taste each chocolate chunk in his bars!
Until next time, Saludos Caminantes!