We frequently talk about what it takes to make a company do well.
Chick-fil-A has become the largest chicken-focused fast food chain by doing a few simple things. One of those is that they opened their business back in 1967 with the intent to sell their signature item, breaded chicken breast sandwiches. And, even though the company now sells breakfasts and salads, it has maintained a relatively simple menu that provides the customer with the reassurance that when they come in for chicken sandwiches, that’s what they’ll get. Based on that track record, the Chick-fil-A chain is poised to become the third largest U.S, restaurant chain, just behind McDonald’s and Starbucks. The growth is the result of expansion over the past decade as well as customers’ growing preference for chicken. One of the company’s senior directors has said, “We’ve been pretty consistent in how, over multiple decades, we’re going to take it slow and steady; it’s paid off for us.” I’ll say – Sales for the restaurant chain have tripled over the past decade. Of course, there’s another element in the mix that makes the company successful: customer service. And, that excellent service is offered no matter where the restaurants are located – across the South, where they began, and, now, from Manhattan to Hollywood. The company faced adverse publicity in 2012, sparking boycotts and protests in some locations. It’s just possible that the out-sized publicity actually served to advertise Chick-fil-A and its offerings to a wider range of customers. In response to the earlier complaints, a company spokesman says that the company focuses on ensuring that all customers, employees, restaurant operators and other partners are treated with care and respect. Each year, since 2015, Chick-fil-A has been the top-rated fast food restaurant on the American Customer Satisfaction Index which takes into account factors such as staff courtesy and restaurant cleanliness (ref. WSJ). One diner commented that the service at the restaurant was always efficient: “The wait is never long; my order is never wrong.” And, surprisingly, young diners – the teenage crowd – listed Chick-fil-A as their favorite restaurant in a recent survey. But, the success of Chick-fil-A isn’t simply about the fact that there is a rising interest in chicken fast food products – Chick-fil-A’s market share among chicken-serving restaurants in the U.S. rose 33% last year, from 18% in 2009; KFC’s market share fell to 15%, from 29%. So, it’s about the quality of service as much as about the chicken products – the company says that its operators, most of whom run just one restaurant help assure both good food quality and good service. One of the operators says, “It’s almost a calling.” How fortunate to have those who run the restaurants feel that way – Clearly, this approach is showing up in the company’s sales returns. But, trust me, it hasn’t happened by accident – there’s been a lot of work that went into selecting the good people to run the restaurants and training and supporting them along the way.