Truett: Bar owners should play chess, not checkers

Truett: Bar owners should play chess, not checkers

December 22nd, 2013 By Travis Truett in Opinion Columns

  • • Why cancel an event that draws thousands of people downtown and could be used as a recruiting tool?

I was compelled to write this after reading a recent article in the Times Free Press noting that it's possible the Barrel Drop was canceled due to pressure from local restaurants. As someone constantly evangelizing on Chattanooga's behalf I find this extremely frustrating.

Full Disclosure: Chattanooga Whiskey and my current company share an investor in the Lamp Post Group. With that being said, I can assure you that the following is of my own personal opinion, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Three years ago I relocated my company here from California. I've since dedicated substantial time and effort toward convincing people (and companies) to follow in my footsteps.

I sell them a movement, an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a city reinventing itself. A community of passionate individuals who sacrifice their time, money, and sanity to build something special. I sell them Chattanooga.

It was unfortunate to read Chattanooga Whiskey's email apologizing for the cancellation of the Barrel Drop as it would have made a fantastic recruiting event. Slightly confused, I assumed the event simply became too overwhelming.

Several days later an article caught my eye which painted a different picture. Below is a quote from the Times Free Press article I would like to address:

"A group of downtown bar owners met and decided to ask Chattanooga Whiskey not to hold the event at all. Chattanooga Whiskey's series of increasingly successful block parties, which have brought thousands of attendees to downtown events, have been cannibalizing sales at traditional bars and restaurants, some restaurant owners say."

Restaurant owners involved, this is incredibly short-sighted. Do you honestly believe your establishment will be better off long-term without an event drawing thousands of people downtown? An annual event primed to build momentum adjacent to where you operate? An event inspired enough to keep locals from leaving for Nashville or Atlanta while simultaneously drawing new visitors from across the region?

Unsolicited Advice: Stop playing checkers and start playing chess.

I use local events like this to convince potential transplants all the time. Is one night's revenue greater than the lifetime value of a new customer? What about customers with great salaries who work late and eat out every night? Those looking to live and work downtown? I hire these people, people who think it's pretty cool to see an up-and-coming city drop a whiskey barrel at midnight.

According to the article: "Bar owners have discussed setting up their own multi-block party similar to Spoleto in Charleston, S.C., which would focus on patronizing existing businesses, but the group hasn't yet figured out a way to make it work."

You're telling me that we can pull off Riverbend but not a block party? Speaking of block parties didn't we just have one called Mainx24? You can claim apples and oranges but it's not like you're in uncharted waters. If only there was an existing template to use ... Wait, there are hundreds of them across the nation. Incapable of taking action yourself, it was decided to strong-arm a local start-up in the name of "existing business."

Another quote from the story from a local restaurant owner: "They were definitely getting in the way of people with brick-and-mortar establishments doing business."

This is the antithesis of progress and innovation. By this logic Amazon should shutter its doors tomorrow. This directly opposes the vision local leaders champion every day as Chattanooga edges closer and closer to breaking out as the most promising city of this decade. While I don't think Chattanooga Whiskey will pack up and leave (they would have a minor branding problem if they did) what example does this set for the entrepreneurs either living here or looking to relocate? How big is this opportunity cost?

To most people this is simply a canceled party, a missed opportunity to stand outside in the cold and drink too much. Maybe they're right and I'm overreacting. Maybe, however, this was something bigger ... a symbol of our progress, a city rallying around one of it's newest and most promising companies and brands. I guess we'll never know.

Travis Truett is a 27-year-old entrepreneur and downtown resident. He splits time between Chattanooga and San Francisco offices while working on his latest venture, Ambition.