What’s your Special Sauce?


This past week we took the kids on a college visit trip to check out some places they were interested in. This trip happened to be to the state of Indiana where we checked out Purdue and Indiana University.

As we do with most of our family trips, we took some extra time to see if we could find cool local places to eat that are unique to the area – and in West Lafayette Indiana (where Purdue is located) we found the Triple XXX Family Restaurant – and despite the redundant, odd name of the restaurant, it was a hit.

Triple XXX is a diner / drive-in / burger place that proudly proclaims that it’s been around ‘Since before your mother was born’…which is gives them some credibility for staying power, but doesn’t really make them stand out all that much. However they do have several unique features that make it memorable and compelling:

  • Triple XXX Root Beer (the restaurant is the only remaining Triple XXX Root Beer Thirst Station…serving a special root beer formula that’s been around since the early 1900’s).triple-xxx-root-beer
  • Unique burgers – I didn’t try it, but their most famous and unique burger is the Duane Purvis All-American burger made with Peanut Butter. (Purvis was a famous Purdue football player from the 30’s)
  • Local Ties – in fact they have 1/2 dozen sandwiches or entrees named (and designed?) after local Purdue stars – the most recent is The Boudia…a sandwich named after Purdue Alum and gold medal diver David Boudia.

On top of that, the overall experience was good – they had a fantastic marshmallow – cinnamon sauce for the sweet potato fries and the burgers we had were all very good.

Triple XXX definitely has special sauce…which is why they’ve been around forever and have created a huge fan base.

Life without special sauce…

Contrast that with another meal we had later in the trip – a local sub shop.  This wasn’t one we had researched ahead of time, it was just a convenient spot that worked for our schedule. Overall the sandwiches we had there were fine…but definitely nothing remarkable. In fact my son pointed out the he could make the exact same sandwiches at home and probably make them better. Other than location and timing, there was absolutely no reason to go to this restaurant.

When you don’t have any special sauce, you compete on price and hope to find enough customers who happen to be in the right place at the right time for you.  It’s not a recipe for long term success.

What makes you stand out?

Here’s the uncomfortable part of this post – what’s the special sauce in your business? Have you purposely cultivated one? Is it something your best customers truly appreciate?

It’s okay not to have a unique offer (your version of a peanut butter burger) but you better have something that makes you stand out. Maybe it’s your dedication to service and friendliness (think Quik Trip). Maybe it’s your efficiency (think freaky fast delivery from Jimmy Johns). Maybe it’s your convenience (think Amazon or McDonalds). Maybe it’s what you stand for (think Life is Good).

Whatever it is, it has to be the focus for your entire team, every day of the week and every week of the year. If everyone isn’t continually working on making that special sauce even better all the time, it’s going to slip away and you’ll end up being just like everyone else – which is a tough place to be.

What about you? When’s the last time you gave any thought to what makes you stand out? Is it a regular discussion with your employees? Are you writing about it? Do you agree it’s important? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach