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Maple Syrup Festival is Entrepreneurship in Action

Tomorrow’s the day!! The annual Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival is here!! What began as a joke for Suzanne and I 15 years ago (she told me that she could never marry a man who ate Log Cabin “syrup” on his pancakes) has turned into an annual obsession.

To get to Vermontville, Michigan from Detroit, you just head out past Lansing a bit and turn right at Potterville (no kidding).

""Entrepreneurship will be in full bloom in this small town where the main intersection (stop sign only) is Main Street and Main Street. Seriously, North Main & South Main intersect with East Main & West Main. The church is on the northwest corner of Main & Main.

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This weekend slice of Americana provides terrific examples of entrepreneurs in action:

Head to head competing pancake breakfasts
The American Legion & Nashville Lions team up in a seemingly unbeatably formidable powerhouse to garner the higher market share, but the Band Boosters Pancake breakfast (at the Fire Barn) has the corner on the emotional “support the kids” marketing strategy. And in a slick move, they start serving cakes & sausage & hot coffee a half hour earlier (6:30am) than the Legion/Lions. I can’t remember which of the two serves sausage patties and which sausage links, but we’ll probably go with patties as the differentiator.

Arts & Crafts at Maplewood School
Dozens of home based small businesses compete for shelf space and table location in the elementary school turned marketplace for the weekend. It’s fascinating and wonderful to watch these entrepreneurs in action – proudly boasting of their handmade wares. There is also a Flea Market near Maple Manor.

The Maple Syrup entrepreneurs
Sadly, several years ago all of the maple syrup farmers agreed to a price fix on syrup sold at the festival. Very non-free market of them. But you can still find market driven prices on the country road into town at roadside stands and at the Amish farmhouses, which also supplement their product offering with homemade baked goods. I know we’ll come home with Amish donuts.

Of course, there is the roast beef dinner at the congregational church, festival rides and food stands along West Main that all compete for customers as well.

""But the single most attractive aspect of the festival for me is the Maple Syrup Queen and her Court. This provides a fascinating study in branding strategy that entrepreneurs can ponder and learn from.

Check out the photo of the 1994 Queen. Actually, take a look at the 2nd place girl. Now, I would think that her sash would say something like “Maple Syrup Princess”. But for decades, the runner-up in the Queen competition has sported a sash that displays “Alternate” across her beautiful gown. This totally cracks me up. What kind of branding is that??

Here’s the interesting thing though. I’m certain that I have spent much more time virally spreading the word of the Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival over the years because of the Alternate sash. If her sash said Princess, I might not even mention it at all to others. So here’s the marketing question?

Is it more effective at times to be a little wacky in your branding?

I’ll consider that small business strategy question as I load up my car with gallons of maple syrup for personal consumption and thoughtful gifts for family & friends.

About the Author: Joel Welsh

Joel Welsh, Chief Community Officer, is also the CEO of a new startup company ... Showcase U. Joel shares behind the scenes key decisions being made in the "Birth of a Startup" and knocks it out of the park to [...]

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