Pork Barrel BBQ Campaigned For Their Sauce And Won The Support of 6,000 Stores Nationwide

Everyone knows the secret’s in the sauce, and for the owners of Pork Barrel BBQ, this couldn’t be more true. The start-up of two friends and colleagues, Pork Barrel BBQ quickly grew from a risky idea into a successful business, despite the challenges the company faced. Brett Thompson and Heath Hall founded their barbecue sauce company after they found themselves out of job at the height of the 2008 recession. Great time to start a business, right? But the duo didn’t care – they wanted a piece of the American Dream, so they combined their love of barbecue and their ability to “do all things pig” and became entrepreneurs. Little did they know, their experience working together on political campaigns would help them get in front of investors on the hit show Shark Tank, and into 6,000 stores nationwide.

The story starts in failure. Thompson and Hall’s candidate for reelection to the U.S. Senate lost the race, leaving the pair unemployed. The country was at the height of a recession and businesses were failing left and right, yet the pair still saw opportunity. Thompson knew there was a place for the sauce he and Hall would create. In politics, jumping on a bandwagon can carry you far in the race, which is the exact knowledge the founders applied to their new venture – hopping onto the gluten-free bandwagon with their idea for a barbecue sauce that everyone could enjoy – including those with a gluten sensitivity like Thompson’s son, Sawyer.

“None of the gluten free barbecue sauces on the market at the time were very good, and twice as expensive as the regular sauces.  We wanted to create a product that we could serve in our home and at a price that everyone could afford,” Thompson said.

While the campaign Thompson and Hall worked on failed, their business idea succeeded. They saw an opportunity, they believed in themselves, they worked hard, and they built something from the ground up.

“When you start a company, you really have to have belief in yourself and in your product.  We started Pork Barrel at the peak of the recession, and even though we were launching at one of the worst economic times in our country, we wanted to create a business and get a piece of the American dream,” Thompson said.

Politics isn’t for everyone, and neither is entrepreneurship. Running a business can be just as grueling, time-consuming and risky as running for office. When deciding to do either one, there are a few things you should consider first. In politics you’ll need money, experience and a stand. In business, you’ll need, well, most likely the same things. Thompson and Hall had their stand – make a great-tasting, gluten-free barbecue sauce that was still affordable – and they had their experience, too. Both founders were competitive barbecuers and had traveled around the country competing in professional competitions. Hall even confessed that he regretted going to law school instead of culinary school. In many ways, Pork Barrel was a way to embrace his culinary passion that had for so long been a hobby.

All Thompson and Hall really needed to get their business going was money, and if there’s one thing you’ll learn while working on a political campaign, it’s how to raise funds. The pair started with what they knew: campaigning, and turned it into a way to get the backing they’d need to help grow their business.

“We realized a lot of those skills were the same that entrepreneurs used to build and grow companies,” Thompson said. “So, in many ways, when we launched the company, we treated it like a political campaign. Only this time, the barbecue sauce was the candidate.”

Using their experience marketing political candidates, Thompson and Hall put all their efforts into establishing a solid brand, and Pork Barrel BBQ quickly became the world’s largest barbecue brand twitter account. They had seemingly beat the recession, and their product had already made it into three retail stores, when the duo received an email offering them the opportunity of a lifetime.

“One day out of the blue, we received an email from the TV show Shark Tank, asking if we would submit a video to be considered for the show,” Thompson said. “We quickly got to work and just six weeks later we were in Hollywood pitching before the sharks. At that time we were only in three stores, and now six years later we are in over 6,000 stores nationwide.”

Pitching to the sharks turned out to be a winning strategy – you could say Pork Barrel BBQ had won its campaign. With the backing of Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank, the company began growing much faster than it would have without an investor. Just as being elected is a victory for a politician, going on Shark Tank was a major win for the company. But while Pork Barrel had overcome their financing obstacle, they were about to encounter a new one. After you win the election, you have to face all the challenges that come with being an elected official. And after you find an investor, you have to face all the challenges that come with growing your business.

“Our biggest challenge has just been making sure that we grow smartly and take advantage of the best opportunities,” Thompson said. “It sounds strange, but sometimes quick growth forces an entrepreneur to have to work even harder to be at your best in order to take advantage of all opportunities while growing at a pace that makes sense for your business.”

One of the challenges a growing business, and a politician, faces is credibility. Just as politics is strewn with scandal, businesses can be subject to bad credit, and both politicians and businesses need to save face. A politician has a vicious public relations team to manage their credibility, but a new business probably doesn’t have the budget or the time for that. Thompson and Hall quickly realized that as their business grew and they began working with bigger retailers, they needed to convey their business as credible to their partners, so they sought the help of a Concierge Manager with Dun & Bradstreet.

“Just like your personal credit score matters when you’re trying to buy a house, your D&B® business credit scores and ratings can be an important sign of the strength of your company to these large retailers,” Thompson said. “Our relationship with our Concierge Manager has really become a key partner in the continued growth of our company. We even call our Concierge a key employee. Having a strong D&B business credit profile and having someone who understands how to help us grow our company with this service has been an invaluable resource.”

Another invaluable service for new and growing businesses is great advice. For Thompson and Hall, it’s all about taking risks and finding great partners. A running mate can make or break an election, so it’s key to choose a solid partner, both in business and in politics. And when it comes to taking risks, playing it safe probably hasn’t helped business owners or politicians very much at all. Thompson and Hall like to challenge each other and form partnerships with people who fuel their growth.

“Our motto is ‘reward lives in the house of risk,’”  Thompson said. “Heath and I like to challenge each other every day.  As a small business owner, you have to be able to put yourself out of your comfort zone in order to succeed. Ultimately, the only way you’re able to grow and succeed is with partnership with others. Choose partners that fuel your growth and understand that each and every day is a chance to take a step forward.”

Pork Barrel will definitely be taking a step forward in 2015: the company has already launched and successfully funded its first Kickstarter campaign for a bacon jerky line they hope to create. Thompson and Hall’s big goal for 2015 is to brand bacon jerky throughout the world, and overall, they want to build a brand and a company that they can pass on to their kids.

After a certain amount of time in office, a politician is faced with reelection, just like the candidate Thompson and Hall were working for when they had the idea for Pork Barrel BBQ. Looking back on all that has happened, and all the work that it took, a politician has to decide if he or she would do it all again. Would Pork Barrel BBQ run for reelection, so to speak? Absolutely.

“It’s been a tremendous ride so far, and at times we’ve just felt like we’re along for the journey. Not taking ourselves too seriously and tackling each day with a sense of humor has made it a really fun ride though.”

Can you relate to Pork Barrel’s journey? We’d love to hear about it. Share your story with us by emailing Lauren Simpson at lsimpson@dandb.com and your business could be featured too.

Photo Credit: Pork Barrel BBQ