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« Should I stay or should I go now? | Main | The Slaughterhouse – A Follow-Up »

The Slaughterhouse – A Modern Fable

I’ve seriously debated writing this one for some time now… ever since InBev purchased A-B.  I often think about it when I read certain things in the press or hear things… not just from ABI, but from MillerCoors, other suppliers, large retailers, and even some owners.  This thought didn’t start with this acquisition; it just crystallized this analogy in my mind.  If you think this has anything to do with Dave or anyone else you are missing the point. 


This is a morality play which has insights for all, regardless of our suppliers or where we are in the distribution channel.  This analogy gets close to the line, in fact it might even cross the line… one wholesaler friend who got an early preview stated his take this way; if you’re a supplier you’ll likely consider it over the line but if you’re a distributor it is simply the truth… and the truth often hurts.  Well, I only work with wholesalers so what the heck, here goes…


I think about Dave Peacock in this example just because he’s the one who first came to mind as I watched (and continue to watch) the merger of InBev and Anheuser-Busch… although there are plenty of others out there who might fill the same role.  In fact another wholesaler who got a preview, a MillerCoors guy, strongly suggested a couple MillerCoors names that should replace Dave’s in the analogy.


I don’t know Dave… shook his hand a couple of times but that’s about it.  I hear he’s a pretty good fella and without a doubt he’s a smart fella.  But whenever I hear him talking to distributors trying to calm this or that fear, I think about this (sorry Dave)…


Some of you might know of places called among other things, slaughterhouses.  The places where cattle are taken to be butchered.  Now obviously the cattle aren’t real happy about this prospect and thus there is a certain tension in the air.  But wild and fearful cattle make for serious problems - and lead to a decrease in value for the cattle due to damages done in this anxious time. 


Although other techniques are used now, in the past a simple goat was found to be a low-cost solution to this situation.  For some reason a goat can have a calming effect on the cattle - don’t ask me, I’m not cattle ;-)  So once the cattle were brought to the pens outside the slaughterhouse, a nice goat was added to the herd.  This would help calm the cattle. 


In addition, this wasn’t just any old goat… no sirree… this was a trained goat.  It had another more important goal, to peacefully get the cattle to voluntarily move into what is descriptively called the killing floor.  The goat would lead the cattle down a chute and onto the killing floor… where unbeknownst to the cattle, a “secret” door awaited… but only for the goat.  The goat goes out the door to safety and the cattle learn the reason that room is called what it is.


The goat has a good munch of hay, then circles back for the next load of cattle.  Sounds tough but what can you do?  You really can’t blame the goat in this situation… what choice does it have?  Either do the job or meet the same fate as the cattle… and of course if this goat doesn’t want the job, there are plenty who do.  And the cattle?  Well what choice do they have?  That floor has been their destiny for quite some time, whether they happen to know it or not.


Now beer wholesalers aren’t cattle, and Dave isn’t a goat… but you might want to keep this general process in mind as you listen to this or that happy talk about what may or may not be coming your way… the goat might only be doing what it has to do… but that doesn’t mean we should just happily follow it up the chute to whatever future may await us… we may not like how the story ends! 


Make certain you work to ensure the future you want is the one which actually happens… and plan ahead, this is a long-term game where action or inaction today could set you on a path of walking up that chute sometime in the future.  The chute might be years in length but once you’re heading in that door it will be far too late to do anything about it… just ask the cattle. 


And also remember it doesn’t change a thing just because you can position yourself to be the last in line… your fate is tied to all those other cattle.  For a refresher, read my recent post on the changing nature of competition here.  Now is not the time for attempting some short-term gain at another distributor’s expense… now is the time to hang together.  To mix analogies even one more time, remember Benjamin Franklin’s words of wisdom at the signing of the Declaration of Independence


We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately


Those cattle know what he was talking about. 


Is this analogy over the line?  Heck if I know.  Just remember, look after yourself, your business, AND your industry at all times and take a lot of talk with a big grain of salt… people might just be doing what they have to do (and they might even believe what they say) but don’t ever forget, that floor has earned that name.


And my sincerest apologizes to Dave for my rough treatment in this analogy.  I’m certain he doesn’t deserve it.  MillerCoors (Just sign the contract!  Just sell your business!)… other suppliers… retailers (Costco and 7-11 come to mind… “Noooooo, our plans won’t hurt your business”)… state and federal government and even some short-sighted wholesalers all have their share of possible goats too.  Hopefully this won’t end my mooching at ABI hospitality rooms across the country ;-) 




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