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2021 Case Study - Kiolbassa Smoked Meats

San Antonio, TX

2020 Revenues:
$90.4 million

Employees: 320

Critical Numbers™: EBITDA


Organization Background

The company is a fast-growing food brand known for authentic, premium smoked meat products. The company’s sausages, which are often described as “the best sausage I’ve ever had in my life,” are sold across the U.S. and Mexico.


Back in 2014, extreme fluctuations in the prices of commodities created havoc at Kiolbassa—especially for its president, Michael Kiolbassa, whose grandfather started the business in 1949. While he had members of his team clamoring to invest in more facilities and operations, Kiolbassa knew that the business needed something even more important: cash.


That crisis led Kiolbassa to The Great Game of Business® (GGOB)—which he saw as a tool that could help bring everyone on his team together. They began by implementing financial literacy training and then rolled out MiniGames™ and A Stake in the Outcome® program to get the firm’s team members working toward a common goal—to increase the company’s margins.


The company started with a top-down management strategy with executives dictating every step. That culture has since disappeared. Over the past eight years,  GGOB has had  a significant impact on Kiolbassa’s financials. “Kiolbassa strives to maintain a culture focused on transparency, teamwork, ownership, and continuous improvement,” says Matthew Gutting, Database Analyst, and member of Kiolbassa’s GGOB Committee. He adds that GGOB has dramatically helped with all these objectives by focusing on one central aspect of The Game, communication. “Playing The Game has significantly improved our ability to communicate across all departments,” he says.

“Our team members now have a greater sense of ownership in their work. They know exactly how they affect our ‘bottom line.’ GGOB has also shown me that being more transparent does not necessarily mean being vulnerable. Being more transparent can inspire others to do the same.”

~ Mike Garcia, Warehouse Manager

Spotlight on the Pandemic

Kiolbassa faced an incredibly challenging situation in 2020—and it wasn’t the pandemic. One of their largest customers, one that accounted for about 40% of their sales, was asking to sell Kiolbassa’s product under their own white label. “We had to make a strategic decision about whether to do that or lose that business,” says Josie Schell, Retail Manager, and member of the GGOB Committee. “In the end, we decided it wasn’t something that was right for our brand. In true GGOB fashion, Michael and the leadership team engaged the whole company in making that decision.” Then the pandemic hit—and demand for sausage products like Kiolbassa soared. But while other suppliers cut corners in quality or simply couldn’t keep up, Kiolbassa ramped up its production. Wouldn’t you know it, but that customer they had turned down came back and wanted to place new orders—with plans to sell it under the Kiolbassa brand. “If Michael hadn’t embraced GGOB, I don’t think we would have been able to grow the way we have,” says Schell. “We all feel like owners and members of the family.”

MiniGame™ Spotlight

After Kiolbassa lost its biggest customer, it launched a companywide MiniGame to help cut costs across the board and another aimed at improving their production efficiency and reducing their giveaway percentages. “But no one could have expected what came next,” says Gutting. The company somehow hits its sales budget and, because of all the cost savings the teams generated, they dropped an extra $1.7 million to the company’s bottom line.

“GGOB has helped me understand our overall goals as a company and how to read about our financial standing. I was very surprised at how transparent everything was when I first came on board. And how everyone was very willing to take my questions and teach me.”

~ Gabriela Rivera, Graphic Designer

What’s Next

While the Kiolbassa team has spent the past few years laying the groundwork to get buy-in from all departments, they plan to double down on that investment in the coming year by refocusing on teaching the fundamentals of GGOB.  “This year, we will start with the Huddle sheet and transform it so that it still has all the important information the employees need but presented in a way that is easy for all to understand immediately even from across the room,” says Gutting, adding that the team has also invested in the GGOB Community website as a way to provide content and training for their associates. “We really want to encourage everyone, especially our new associates to take the time to learn and ask questions,” says Schell. “We want them to know that the stronger they are, the stronger we all are.”


“The entire organization is becoming more financially literate - words like gross profit used to be a foreign language and now it's part of our vocabulary. Employees aren't afraid or embarrassed to ask questions to better understand ‘the books’ because our culture creates a safe atmosphere.”

~ Sarah Christenbury, Associate Market Analyst, Customer Service





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