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Sharing Success – Tom Cortopassi

February 2023

The Basement Rule!

One of my favorite days each winter is when many of my family members gather to make homemade salami and sausage. This family tradition started in Italy many generations ago and thankfully came to America with my Nonno (grandfather) Amerigo and his closest relatives.

We stick to our traditional family recipe – of course! Each recipe was perfected over decades into an exact blend of premium lean meats, seasonings, and other ingredients (all precisely measured by weight) all mixed together and then filled into natural casings. We are even particular about using the exact right type of twine to tie each and every salami. Once filled and tied, our salami is then hung and cured where we control the environment (humidity and temperature) in a special aging cellar that was designed and built solely for that purpose.

Our family and close friends really like our salami and sausage the way it is, so changing the recipe is not going to happen.

From time to time, we have someone new involved in the special day (a new in-law, a cousin that comes for the first time, etc.). Invariably, the “newbie” will suggest how to improve the sausage. While making sausage in Cousin Raymond Avansino’s basement, a first-time participant suggested adding more chili powder to give it a little more spiciness.

In a very polite “Italian way,” but at a volume in which everyone in the basement could hear, Raymond explained why the recipe was not going to change. “This is my basement. When we make sausage in my basement, we follow my family recipe. If you make sausage in your basement,Iwillgladlyhelpyouandhappilyfollowyourrecipe.” After this short, but highly impactful speech, there was no more talk about recipe changes!

I think there is a business lesson in Cousin Raymond’s Basement Rule.

In today’s business climate, many progressive companies pride themselves on being “category disruptors” or “change agents.” It is not uncommon to see popular, well-established products/brands undergo changes touted as “new and improved” or “reformulated.” Those business leaders today who are focused on doing things differently would disagree with Cousin Raymond. But here is why I wholeheartedly endorse the “Basement Rule!”

    • Customers crave consistency! Once a product has earned popularity with a group of consumers, repeat purchases occur because the buyer has expectations. In the case of food, if a customer buys your product and it tastes different from the last time, she will be unhappy. For example, there is a food truck near my house that serves authentic Mexican food. My first couple of visits turned me into a huge fan! But the next few stops yielded food
      beyond my spice tolerance, so, sadly, I stopped going.
    • You can’t be all things to all people! Businesspeople need to understand that a product cannot satisfy every consumer. If 70 out of 100 people strongly approve of a product, it makes no sense to make adjustments hoping to win the other 30. You risk losing the majority in pursuit of the minority.
    • Improvement isn’t “change.” Sticking to traditional recipes does not mean you are avoiding improvement or averse to change. Raymond has never avoided purchasing modern equipment, better supplies, or higher quality ingredients in the pursuit of further enhancing the quality and/or consistency of the sausage and salami. Although Raymond is not interested in increasing the spiciness of our sausage, he has never missed an opportunity to further improve the quality.
    • R&D is always an option! If you have an established product with a loyal customer base but see an untapped market opportunity (like a spicier sausage), don’t mess with the original. Instead consider offering a SECOND unique product with its own name and positioning!

The bottom line is that “change for change’s sake” is never a good strategy. Conversely, rejecting all change will lead to missed opportunities for further improvement.

I can tell you from experience that while we have never changed our original recipe, our family’s sausage and salami has grown even better and more consistent over time.

For that we can thank Cousin Raymond’s Basement Rule AND our family’s stubborn insistence on always seeking ways to further improve quality!

Until next time,

Tom Cortopassi,
President and Co-Owner