The Schlitz Mistake and What Beer Can Teach Us About Excellence

Pastor Mark Jeske in Milwaukee told me a great local beer story recently. He said that in the 1970s, Robert Uihlein, CEO of Schlitz Brewing instituted a string of cost-saving measures that gradually changed (and many would say cheapened) the taste of their flagship beer. He apparently thought the American public was just too ignorant to notice. It worked for awhile, but his strategy was eventually outed, and the word of mouth from angry customers caused a free fall in sales. In about 15 years the company lost 90% of its market cap and was finally sold to Stroh’s. One of America’s most popular beer brands crumbled, largely because they thought cutting corners was worth doing. To this day, to destroy your reputation by sacrificing quality is called “The Schlitz Mistake.”

Has your business, nonprofit, or church made “The Schlitz Mistake?” In a well intentioned effort to reach more people, sell more product, or increase donations, have you crossed a bridge too far? Brand equity takes years or decades to build and a very short time to destroy.

Never forget that excellence matters.  You may be a low budget operation, but doing your best with what you have is the key to building trust and influence.

Mark went on to say that at a Rotary Club talk given by Craig Culver, co-founder of the restaurant “Culver’s” he said that the butterfat content in their frozen custard (high-end ice cream) is what gave it its taste and distinctiveness. If their margins ever got so compressed that something had to give, he promised that they would raise prices rather than diminish quality.

Craig Culver got it. Do you?  In a digital world where word travels fast, whatever you do, don’t make “The Schlitz Mistake.”

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