Kit Kerley spent an entire career as a police officer in Augusta, Ga., enforcing the laws of the land. When he retired in 2009, he relocated to the High Country to enforce another set of laws – the laws of barbecue.
Kerley’s new business, Kit’s in the Pit BBQ Co., has been up and running since January, providing authentic hickory smoked meats, traditional scratch-made side dishes and signature desserts for events and meetings of all sizes. And while Kerley is a master of pits, he knew he’d need help when it came to getting a new business off the ground. Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute’s Small Business Center was able to provide the resources he needed to do just that and keep the tradition of authentic wood-smoked barbecue alive and well.
Kerley has family ties to Watauga County dating back more than 125 years. When he retired, he said it seemed only natural to move back to the cooler climates of the mountains that his family had called home for so many generations. Kerley said it was in these mountains where he grew up in the smoke of an open pit barbecue, that he learned the low and slow barbecue process from some of the area’s best and most-experienced pit masters.
When he returned home, Kerley says he was disappointed to find that many barbecue operations had gotten away from the traditional methods that make local barbecue so appealing to so many. “A lot of these places had gone to propane or electric cooking systems with flavor pellets. That’s not authentic,” said Kerley. “I do it the hard way, the old-fashioned way, the way its been done for more than 100 years. The difference in quality is noticeable and I wanted to bring that back to the High Country.”
After a couple small events, Kerley said he received an overwhelmingly positive response from those who tried his authentic barbecue. “I got such a warm reception when I provided food for some of the locals, it really helped me make the decision to move forward with my business idea.”
Kerley says he knew that taking his passion and skills to the next level with his own barbecue catering business would require some help. At the recommendation of a friend, Kerley sought out the assistance of CCC&TI’s Small Business Center for guidance on bringing his idea to fruition. “It started with just some basic information and guidelines,” said Kerley. “Ben [Willis, Director of CCC&TI’s Small Business Center] helped me tremendously from that point and helped me establish a solid platform for building my company.”
Kerley says that through the SBC, he was able to establish a relationship with a local bank, learn how to set up an online payment system for festivals and other point-of-sale events. Kerley said he also learned more about how to utilize social media and web-based marketing to spread the word about the business and advertise his services. “That exposure has been very valuable. Ben’s helped me with posting and tagging photos from events. Those photos get inquiries that have turned into contracts for future events. It’s been huge!”
Kerley says he owes his success to a few factors. In addition to the free information and resources he received through the Small Business Center, Kerley says his experience as a law enforcement officer has helped him be the salesman he needs to be to get people interested in his product and then ‘seal the deal.’ “I’ve interacted with people from every walk of life and I know how to approach people and how to get them interested in my product,” said Kerley. “What also helps is that my product is the best. When you’re selling the best, the product speaks for itself.”
Kerley says he highly recommends the services of the Small Business Center to anyone who is interested in starting their own business or any other aspect of entrepreneurship. “I wouldn’t suggest going forward without their assistance,” he said of the Center. “Use the resources that are available to build a solid platform and you stand a much better chance of being a success.”
For more information on Kit’s in the Pit BBQ Co., contact owner and pitmaster, Kit Kerley at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kitsinthepitbbbq
For more information on CCC&TI’s Small Business Center, contact Director Ben Willis at email@example.com or 828-726-2615 or visit www.cccti.edu/smallbusiness.