How Duncan Hines Ate His Way To Wealth!

"I've run less risk driving my way across country, than eating my way across it” - Duncan Hines

Sometimes it is interesting to note how much has NOT changed over the years. People have always needed good solutions to their problems. We want answers that are easy to find, that are accurate and provide quality solutions, and that save time, money, and effort. We’ve always sought out experts who can cut through all the ambiguity and give us straight answers. Because we put such a high premium on quality information, the people that provide it can leverage that into real financial success for themselves.

Today, we have floods of information available at our fingertips on any subject. The problem in the 1930s and 1940s was that there were relatively few sources of information available. Consider vacation planning. Today, there are many resources such as AAA, Travelocity, or to help you find the best travel values. However, in the 1930s where could you go for guidance in finding the best vacation deals?

Duncan Hines wasn’t a baker, he was an eater!
Duncan Hines, best known today for his name on cake mix boxes, didn’t build his business on baked goods or recipes. It was the information that Duncan Hines provided that made him a business success. Duncan Hines’ story is a great example of a person who started with no money, but by providing quality information that answered traveler’s questions, he was able to build a fortune for himself.

As a young man Duncan Hines was in a unique position that ended up giving him a lot of first hand travel experience. Extensive travel was part of his job as a salesman, but traveling was rare for many people because roads were just beginning to be built. As roads were built Americans began to travel more and the demand grew for information on where you could go for a good meal and place to stay. The experiences he gained while eating and staying at various establishments across the country were insights other people, new to travel, could greatly benefit from.

Duncan Hines’ first attempt at self-employment.
Hines had the idea to share his experiences with others, so they could also visit places where that provided good values, as well as, avoid the places he considered substandard. In order to get started he published a list of all the places he had enjoyed over the years and gave the list to many friends for a Christmas gift. His friends loved it and asked for updated lists when new ones were available, so they could share the information as well. Based on his friends’ positive feedback he published his first guide in 1935 called Adventures In Good Eating. It was a hit and he continued to publish updated editions of the guide for years in addition to other books he wrote.

It is not uncommon for many new business ventures to struggle during their first few years. In Hines’ case it was no different. It turned out he made a good decision to continue working for someone else while trying to get his small business venture running. Even though he sold every copy of his new book, he actually generated a $1,500.00 loss after paying for the printing costs! Dan Miller, host of the “48 Days To The Work You Love” podcast, often advises budding entrepreneurs to follow that model: build momentum in your business venture before you walk off the job.

At one point he had 475 restaurants listed in his guide. Can you imagine having eaten at that many different restaurants across the country? He may not have realized it at the time, but all those plates of mashed potatoes, chicken and vegetables would do much more for him than quell his appetite.

The value of a good name.
Many years later he had built a reputation for providing honest, helpful information. By continuing to provide answers to travelers’ questions on where to eat and stay, his name became his greatest asset. Restaurants that displayed the “Recommended by Duncan Hines” sign, rented to them by Hines, could expect increased business because of their association with his name. Seeing the value of this led him to sell the rights to his name, which was then placed on consumer food products. Hines had become a very wealthy businessman.

How can you apply the lesson from Duncan Hines’ success story to your own life? He was able to turn information and reputation into wealth. Those two intangible assets are critically important to customers and employers who want value for their time and money. Information that solves problems and a reputation of integrity and honesty bring business success. As an employee or as an entrepreneur what information do you have that can solve someone’s problem? Do you have the kind of reputation that draws paying customers or employers to you before your competition? How will you work on acquiring these two things today?

From the July / August 2011 edition of The Quarter Roll

More stories: Henry Ford   George Washington   Thomas Jefferson   Benjamin Franklin   James Garfield   Harry Truman   Alexander Hamilton

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