power of not changingOn a recent visit to Tennessee (where I went to college back in the 1970’s), I was struck by the power (at times) of NOT changing.

We are told that businesses need to be open to innovation, and that is true: some sectors, like technology, demand it. But change is not necessarily needed in every case.

Example 1: Loveless Café.

I wrote some years ago about my long experience with Loveless Café, going back now over three decades. A couple of years back, I brought two of my sons there for the Loveless experience, which involves down-home southern cooking, a very traditional setting, and some of the friendliest service you’ll ever experience.

It was the same experience again this year (with another one of my sons). Loveless Café has expanded its menu, its marketing and its event programming, but when I bit into that fried chicken and biscuit, it may just as well have been 1978.

The food, the vibe, the service – nothing has changed. And the place packs them in every day. And, yes, they’re quite active on social media – but the core remains as it always has been. Why would you change an institution?

Example 2: Jack Daniel distillery

When you pull into Lynchburg, TN, you’re there for one reason: Jack Daniel. Specifically, a tour of the distillery. And at Jack Daniel, tradition rules.

The tour, a masterful display of storytelling marketing, emphasizes repeatedly how the very core of the company is its adherence to tradition. While the company has scaled up dramatically over the decades to meet demand, you feel like you’re walking through every decade of the last century when you go through the buildings and view the equipment and methods. Because that is what you’re seeing.

  1. Same limestone spring supplying water for the mash
  2. Same time-proven filtering process (through 10 feet of charcoal!)
  3. Same mash ingredients and distilling methods
  4. Same barrel-making and aging process
  5. Same bottle and little-altered label
  6. Same singular focus as old Gentleman Jack himself

It’s a big business, with huge buildings erected for aging the whiskey, but when you’re walking through the place, it feels small. Traditional. Rooted in the past. Change comes slowly to these parts.

A few years back, Maker’s Mark decided to alter their bourbon recipe in order to try to increase supply to meet growing demand. No matter how much they tried to paint the change as insignificant, a rebellion ensued among Maker’s rabid fan base. And the company quickly backed down. Change wasn’t welcome. Of course, the Coca-Cola Company found that out pretty quickly, too, with its ill-fated “New Coke” introduction.

If you have a winner and legion of loyal fans, think long and hard about altering the recipe. The grass may look greener on the other side of change, but a whole lot more greenbacks may well be embedded in your tradition.