02 July 2012

We all need a little Voodoo…

I have heard about Voodoo Doughnuts, I have read about them and seen them featured on numerous television shows in the past few years. So when I happened to be in Portland, Oregon recently, I figured I had to go and see what all of this talk was about.

The first thing I found was a very long line. To just get a look at a doughnut I had to be prepared to wait at least 30 minutes and I was. Now I was there on a nice day, but I have been reliably informed that nice days can be few and far between in Portland, but apparently the line never gets any shorter, regardless of rain, hail or snow (and their three stores are open 24/7).

When you get to the head of the line, you are ushered to a serving station where a Voodoo Doughnut Expert runs through the seemingly endless display of fairly bizarre donuts, from bacon and peanut butter  to fruit loop to the signature Voodoo Doll. This namesake pastry is a pretty straight forward little number, in the shape of a doll, covered in chocolate and filled with jam, with a pretzel through its evil little heart. Before you know it, you are once again being ushered out the door with your special pink box filled with our own weird, wonderful and shameful purchase, gripped tightly in sweaty hands.

Now lets go back a step. In Australia, doughnuts are not an indigenous food source. Most of us had our first taste when Krispy Kreme arrived in the country. From the first taste we were then tasked with bringing giant boxes of doughnuts back to our salivating family and friends whenever we ventured anywhere near a Krispy Kreme outlet.

But in America, doughnuts are a staple, almost the sixth food group. So how on earth can a relative newcomer to the doughnut scene create such a cult like following, all from the relatively small city of Portland?

Well they have done a number of very smart things and I think we can all learn a thing or two from their black magic –

  1. They have a great name. Lets be honest doesn’t the name Voodoo Doughnuts conjur a host of wonderful images that can’t help but get people talking?
  2. They have a lot of fun with their doughnuts – and NOTHING is off limits. Ask them about their weirdest doughnut inventions and you had better make yourself comfortable because it is a very long and very weird list.
  3. They have very distinctive packaging – their pink boxes (see below) can be seen all over Portland, being clutched tightly by some lucky purchaser. A friend of mine who is a flight attendant on JetBlue says they get a heap of passengers carrying their pink boxes on every single flight from Portland. These boxes have almost become a status symbol amongst travellers but getting the box through security is a problem with many a security guard feeling they are a security risk that simply must be confiscated!
  4. They think outside the box (the pink box of course) with a host of fun products and services on offer. You can get married at a Voodoo Doughnuts store – yes married. The service is performed by an ordained minister, beneath the Holy Doughnut. It is legal and very much in demand. And if that isn’t enough, they now have a beer called the Bacon Maple Ale, produced in conjunction with a local brewer, Rogue Ales. Really?
  5. They make it easy – each store is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So whenever the evil urge is upon you – you can be satisfied quickly, assuming you are lucky enough to live in Portland.
  6. They are masters of public relations. They have created something a little crazy and fun, and that has made it very easy for the media to latch onto and buy into the entire concept. Check out their website and see just how much FREE publicity they have received. Not to mention their “Portland Creme”  has been decreed the official doughnut of Portland by the Lord Mayor.
  7. Clearly the owners of this business are a little strange, but they are very, very smart. They obviously have a lot of fun doing what they do and it shows. Too many businesses take themselves way too seriously.

I am sure there are lots of other lessons that we could all learn from the Voodoo Doughnuts phenomenon, but at a time when everyone is finding all the reasons why businesses are really struggling, especially retailers, this is a very good example to reinforce one of my strongest beliefs, if you run a “beige business” one that simply blends into the background, your future is uncertain. Voodoo Doughnuts is the exact opposite of a beige business in every way.

I think we all need a little Voodoo in what we do. Enjoy (and here is a link to their website if you want to check them out – CLICK HERE).

4 thoughts on “We all need a little Voodoo…”

  1. Lenore says:

    Love this post Andrew. I am always amazed at the businesses people create and make successful.
    Who would have thoughts getting married at the donut store would be a happening thing! Or maybe or warrants the comment – only in the US.


  2. Hey Lenore – yeah I do think it warrants a “only in the USA” statement. I love that about America.

    Thanks for the comment,

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