S. Truett Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s founder and CEO, created the top fast-food restaurant in America in regards to revenue per store according to Forbes. From a customer’s perspective, the chain restaurant has risen to the top due to its delicious food, exceptional customer service, and clean stores; but this article explores how Chick-fil-A became #1 from a management perspective. Start-ups, you might want to take note.
Truett Cathy built Chick-fil-A from the ground up following his “Five-Step Recipe for Business Success.”
1. Climb with care and confidence
2. Create a “loyalty effect”
3. Never lose a customer
4. Put principles and people ahead of profits
5. Closed on Sunday
Climb with care and confidence
Chick-fil-A has steadily grown from a grill in the suburbs of Atlanta into a chain of over 1,700 stores. Cathy built a strong and dependable brand by expanding cautiously, ensuring his business grew in the areas and with the operators he chose. Even now, with the brand well established, Chick-fil-A only chooses 75-80 new franchised operators a year out of the approximately 20,000 inquiries. Rather than exploding with short-term profits, Cathy protects the Chick-fil-A brand ferociously, allowing the company to continue growing for decades to come.
Lessons learned: Focus on building a strong brand, and then fiercely protect it as you expand. Don’t let the dollar signs of short-term rapid growth muddle your vision of an enduring brand and company. If your vision is to be like McDonald’s and only be known for being cheap and quick then ignore this step; but, if you envision building a brand known for high quality, affordable products and service, then expand with care and confidence.
Create a “loyalty effect”
Chick-fil-A invests considerable time and resources into choosing the best operators and hiring the right employees. While talking with a local store manager, I was amazed to learn of the trust and respect the corporate office places in its store operators. From the consistent high quality of meals and service at the different Chick-fil-A’s I’ve ate at around the country, I expected there to be some kind of established training program for store operators and managers, as well as a set criteria for training employees. However, it’s quite the opposite. Operators run their stores with almost complete autonomy. Instead of a long list of mandates in franchise contracts, Chick-fil-A simply provides operators with expectations and a consultant, who acts strictly in an advisory role. Operators are responsible for the hiring, training, and paying of their employees as well as the management of their store. As employees are always happily serving and kindly helping customers, one must assume Chick-fil-A takes care of its own. Last time I checked, Chick-fil-A workers hadn’t joined in any McDonald’s employee strike.
Lessons learned: Respect and trust your employees. Provide strong expectations, but empower them to do their jobs as they see fit. If you do so, they’ll gladly return the favor by honoring your expectations, and faithfully carry your brand’s banner for years to come.
Never lose a customer
Chick-fil-A’s reputation for customer service is well known. Cathy has firmly established the doctrine of “taking care of the customer” into his business’s DNA. Walk into a Chick-fil-A, and they’ll make you feel like a million bucks. That feeling has extraordinary effects on customers and their affinity for the restaurant.
Lessons learned: “Be kind to people. Courtesy is very cheap but brings great dividends.” -Truett Cathy
Put principles and people ahead of profits
Chick-fil-A champions several charities and strives to keep the truly important things in life at the top of its priority list. Cathy has stated that Chick-fil-A “should be about more than just selling chicken” and promotes active participation in the lives and communities of its customers.
Lessons learned: Remember money can’t buy a reputation. Do the right thing. Take care of the community and the community will take care of you.
Closed on Sunday
Closing on Sundays gives all employees a set day each week to rest and worship if they choose. It also provides a weekly reminder that there’s more to life than just profits. But even while maintaining shorter hours of operation and being closed 54 less days a year (Sundays plus Thanksgiving and Christmas) than competitors, Chick-fil-A still leads the industry in average annual sales per store–amazing!
Lessons Learned: Give people time to rest. Respect religious observance. Close on Sundays.
Cathy’s recipe for success has certainly worked for Chick-fil-A as the company has grown for 45 consecutive years. By applying these principles from inception, Chick-fil-A has developed into one of the largest quick-service restaurant chains in the US and one of the most respected companies in America. So start-ups, apply these principles early and often to build a great brand and business. Remember, you can’t change the cookies after you’ve made them; but, following a proven recipe from the start will result in a delectable outcome!
(Sources: All information taken from the quoted article by Cathy, chickfila.com, and interviews with store employees.)