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Chick-fil-A put all of its eggs in one basket and it is paying off. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the chicken-forward fast food chain will likely become the third top-selling restaurant chain in the U.S. this year.
Between 2007 to 2018, Chick-fil-A more than tripled its annual sales, from $2.64 billion to $10.18 billion, equating to a 32.9% market share by relying on a slow and steady strategy to devour its competitors.
From the beginning, Chick-fil-A decided not to be all things to all people. It decided to be one thing: a fast, courteous, healthy-leaning chicken sandwich purveyor.
Some say Chick-fil-A’s success is a matter of simplicity or their customer service. Their advertising is usually spot on with those inescapable cows, or one of my favorite commercials of all time; their take on deep-rooted Heartland college football rivalries in their Rivalry Restaurant spot.
I say it has more to do with values. Chick-fil-A is more than its Original Chicken Sandwich; the brand is completely aligned with its customers and employee’s values and lifestyle.
The brand doesn’t hop on trends expecting them to be sure-fire, fast tracks to growth. Instead, it stands by the values it started with over five decades ago.
Truett Cathy founded Chick-fil-A as a small diner in Atlanta, Georgia. After working in the food service industry for a while and noticing the impact of 24/7 work schedules, he required his restaurants to be closed on Sundays.
Seems like a lot of people agreed with his direction, as the company now franchises 2,370 stores across the nation, up from 1,340 in 2007.
Scandal didn’t halt Chick-fil-A’s unprecedented growth either. Boycotts and debate erupted in 2012 after then-president Dan Cathy expressed his opposition to gay marriage (his apology here). But still, the restaurants kept slinging their breaded chicken and buttered buns to larger and larger crowds.
Why is this?
Chick-fil-A has always stayed true to its Heartland values such as faith (not religion), community, family and patriotism, and has been rewarded with loyal advocates. Since the beginning, Chick-fil-A understood it couldn’t just be different. It had to think and act different, too. So it solidified its reputation as not only an openly faith-rooted, privately-held company, but also as a healthier fast food option for families.
The brand has also been big supporters of the military as illustrated this past Memorial Day. At many Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country, one seat was empty over the weekend.
To honor soldiers who died while serving in the Armed Forces, the fast food chain set up “Missing Man Tables” at many locations for Memorial Day weekend. Missing Man Tables are memorials set up in military dining facilities to honor dead, missing or imprisoned service members and are full of symbolic items.
“This table is reserved to honor our missing comrades in arms,” a framed statement that accompanied Chick-fil-A’s tables read.
When its competitors expanded their product lines and sacrificed quality for speed, Chick-fil-A shifted its attention to health and convenience.
After introducing mobile payments and mobile ordering in 2014, it added Mom Valet to simplify meal time for parents. To further its nutritional legacy, it swapped its staple side, coleslaw, with a nutrient-packed super foods salad.
Outside of its mission and products, Chick-fil-A offers a brand experience that’s second to none. The Southern-born institution knows that its initial and most loyal audience, Heartlanders, share a common bond in fanatical fan support for their favorite college sports teams. It demonstrated that knowledge by strategically locating the Chick-fil-A Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. On top of a permanent physical imprint, the brand also advertises at a variety of sports events with “fowl poles” and “fowl shot” promotions at baseball and basketball games.
Inside of its stores, the brand manages customer expectations and exceeds them almost every time: Chick-fil-A holds onto its lead atop all fast food restaurants, with a score of 87. This is well above the industry average and head and shoulders above the next major competitor.
Owners hire managers to train store staff around personal goals for their positions. The increased buy-in results in happier employees who provide a pleasant dining experience that keeps consumers coming back.
Efforts like Chick-fil-A’s the Chicken Wire, which features local stories and insight into store ownership and management, help to build emotional attachments between the brand, its franchise owners, and their diners. Chick-fil-A even has a brand museum in Atlanta that explains its heritage and “the core values of the company” as the website reads.
A high level of customer service, streamlined menu, quality product, and clever advertising certainly make Chick-fil-A a successful business. But, a strong commitment to core values are what make it a brand inspiring the type of loyalty that generates sales rivaling McDonald’s. By all accounts, Chick-fil-A hasn’t reached its peak position in the race for fast food dominance.
May 30, 2019 at 09:55AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs