#Pattipie Biz Lessons: You’re On Your Own

Toni V. Martin
Nov 20, 2015 · 3 min read

I love the fervor surrounding Patti Labelle’s Sweet Potato Pie line that’s occurred over the past few weeks. Not many people were aware that Patti’s pies were being sold in Walmarts until James Wright Chanel, a singer with a hilarious YouTube channel made a couple videos of him reviewing the pie that went viral. As the video passed along, the word got out. First James’ own fans began buying pies 5 at a time, and then the rest of the world. Filled with James’ rapturous enjoyment of the pie, spot-on Patti Labelle impersonations and authentically amazing sanging, James captured social media timelines and caused a frenzy for the pies.

Haters gonna hate though, and I’ve seen quite a few memes and statuses implying that people should support the small businesses and entrepreneurs in their circles to the same degree people supported these pies. I am both an entrepreneur with a small business AND I went out and bought a pie (early, while you could still find them and not on Ebay for $100). Here’s why I say you can’t compare the two.

  1. Availability: Almost everyone in America, even those in rural areas, can get to a Walmart within 15 minutes. The night I secured my pie, I was already planning to go to Walmart for other items, so it wasn’t out of my way. When I got there, the pies were right by the door, easy to grab. If your product doesn’t have mass distribution, people will have to click a link, add to their shopping cart and pay online, then wait for delivery. The availability of the product made it easy to grab and go.

How can you deliver immediately so people can grab your product then and there?

2. Affordability: I saw pies advertised for $4.99, I got mine for $3.48 (gotta love weird Walmart pricing). That rate is a no-brainer. Even though I told friends they could skip the pie, it wasn’t life changing, people said they’d still spend $5 bucks just to try it. With a price that low it’s an impulse buy that fits within every budget.

Is there a low cost item you can sell that’s a “no-brainer” to get people to try your product?

3. Exclusivity: If you were able to nab a pie, you joined an elite club with few members as demand grew. People were curious to know what it tasted like, and only a few could say they’d experienced it (it wasn’t as good as James made it seem). As such, it had the air of an exclusive club — people who’ve had The Pie — and everyone wants to be part of something exclusive. The fact that they were available at Walmart means that it’s not so exclusive you feel it’s unobtainable.

How can you create a “red-velvet rope” policy to make your business more exclusive?

4. Broad Marketing: Almost everyone likes pie. We’re in the midst of fall and a spicy sweet potato pie to enjoy with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream is NOT a hard sell. As much as entrepreneurs want to believe their product appeals to everyone, most products don’t. This is actually a great thing, because we don’t have to stock a warehouse full of items that everyone needs, like Walmart.

How can you capture a niche market so you don’t have to compete with all the other businesses in the world?

I love this case study, and rather than using it to berate people and shame them into shopping small, I’d rather take the lessons I can and use them to do better business!

Toni V. Martin

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Toni V. Martin is a seasoned Atlanta-based consultant who weighs in on small business, marketing and technology.