Why David Lee Roth and M&Ms are crucial to your business

Enough of the current economic crisis, long term planning, customer service… Put the CD in, turn up the volume and let’s rock. In particular, let’s talk about a band that has sold 80 million albums worldwide and has had the most #1 hits on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome on stage…Van Halen. Featuring Eddie Van Halen on guitar … and lead vocalist … Mister – David – Lee – Roth.

OK, I’ve calmed down now. You know I like to draw business lessons from unlikely sources – so let me quote from David Lee Roth’s book ‘Crazy from the Heat’:

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third level markets. We’d pull up with nine 18-wheeler trucks where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors – whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through…

Like all bands, Van Halen had a long list of contractual demands – according to Roth it was like the Chinese Yellow Pages – and buried in the middle of that list was a clause some of you may be familiar with: no brown M&Ms.

Yep, in the middle of all the gallons of chocolate milk, potato chips with assorted dips and everything else a rock band requires, was a simple clause. Each of the five required dressing rooms was to come with a large bowl of M&Ms: but crucially, there were to be no brown ones.

Why? Fuelled on vintage champagne, rare beef hamburgers and goodness knows what else, would you even notice a brown M&M? Neither would I. But the no-brown-M&Ms clause was there for a reason.

David Lee Roth again:

When I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl, well, we’d line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.

…Because if the local promoters couldn’t be bothered to get the M&Ms right, what else couldn’t they bothered to get right? And sure enough, in Colorado, the promoters hadn’t bothered to check the weight requirements. The staging would have fallen through the arena. Hundreds could have been killed.

To the best of my knowledge, no-one sitting round The Alternative Board table is planning to promote a rock gig. But the message holds good. We are going through uniquely challenging times. Only the very best businesses will survive and prosper. And those businesses will do whatever it takes to get it right. They’ll deliver an outstanding product and outstanding customer service. They’ll make damn sure there are no brown M&Ms in the bowl.

If, as Thomas Carlyle said, “genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains” then over the next 12 months we all need to be geniuses. But the good news is, it’s not that difficult. After all – it takes 90% of your time to do something, and the other 10% to make it perfect.

But there’s even better news – because in my experience, the bigger the business, the less they care about getting it right. And I genuinely believe that more and more people are coming to recognise that. Increasingly, consumers want to deal with smaller, local businesses where they know that someone accountable is in charge and someone truly cares.

So while times are tough, there are serious opportunities out there and when the smoke clears on the battlefield, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of small, nimble, local businesses still standing and more than a few household names in the hands of the receivers.

And now if you’ll excuse me, Dav and the boys are out. Time for some air guitar. Let the weekend rock!



  1. Andy Douse · January 27, 2012

    Hi Ed. I’ve got nothing to add, but just thought I’d say how much I enjoyed reading this blog. It’s a cracker.

    • edreidyork · January 27, 2012

      Thanks Andy – that’s very kind. Hope to see you soon

  2. Andy Wilson · January 27, 2012

    Nice Blog Ed! As a musician I love the analogy and especially interesting as the myth surrounding the brown M&M’s is that it’s a case of over inflated Rock Band ego so good to put the record straight.

    I couldn’t agree more that small, local businesses have an opportunity to prosper in these challenging times – if they really focus on getting the delivery absolutely right and exceed expectations.

    • edreidyork · January 27, 2012

      Thanks Andy – always good to have a music legend’s perspective!

  3. Dick Jennings · January 27, 2012

    Strange. I demand caviar in all my meetings personally, but draw a different lesson altogether from the fact that they’re never ever provided.

    • edreidyork · January 27, 2012

      And super-premium chilled vodka as well, Dick? It’s frustrating when people just don’t understand how important these things are?!

  4. Allison Thompson · January 27, 2012

    Hi Ed. I met Nick Howcroft yesterday and we had a bit of a chat about blogs. He forwarded me this this morning and it’s put a real smile on my face. Looking forward to reading more! Have a great weekend.

    • edreidyork · January 27, 2012

      Hi Allison – that’s very kind of you to say so – thanks! Enjoy your weekend too, Ed

  5. Steven Partridge · January 27, 2012

    A fun blog, Ed, but with a serious message. I’m convinced there’s still a place for smaller businesses who go the extra mile.

    • edreidyork · January 27, 2012

      Thanks Steven – you’re right; all the evidence is that those small businesses who are prepared to put in the extra effort and delight their customers will do well

  6. donald · January 27, 2012

    In my limited experience, if you think about the profit in a client you are almost doomed to fail. If you concentrate on doing your best for the client, that is all that matters. I have had on a number of occasions clients wanting a bill, or wanting to pay me more. Why, because I am a small business and keep that personal level. Too big, too corporate and that goes.

    • edreidyork · January 30, 2012

      Hi Donald – delayed reply from me; thanks as ever for your comments. Doing your best for your client is a terrific mantra!

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