Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A simple successful business model: The In-N-Out Burger Story

I received this book from my oldest son as a gift.  Over the years we've become part of the "In-N-Out Burger Cult" during our periodic visits to my wife's family in Southern California.  Both my son and I became fascinated with how In-N-Out burger created the cult-like devotion among it's customers.(Including us I might add)  I'd become convinced it's appeal lay in it's scarcity....until very recently they only operated in California, Las Vegas and a couple of sites in Arizona.  Stacy Perman's book uncovers a much more nuanced explanation.  One theme in the book is their rigorous adherence to the business model, a second theme is how they chose to differentiate that model when their competition chose a different route and a third theme is the difficulty of succession in a family owned business.

She outlines the history of how Harry and Esther Snyder created the brand and the underlying values that form their business model.  The model included rigorously adherence to three principles....simplicity, quality products in a clean environment and quality people.

With regard to simplicity, the principle was "do one thing and do it well"...their menu has never varied....hamburger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, french fries, milk shakes.  Devotion to quality products meant fresh ingredients , never-frozen-no-additives meat, fresh buns from local bakers, fresh potatoes cut to fries in the store, fresh lettuce, use of only only the middle five slices of a tomato or onions.  This devotion to fresh ingredients dictated they could never be more than 300 miles from the distribution center...this driving their limited geographical reach.  When it came to quality people their selection process is rigorous, they have always paid $2-$3 more per hour than competitors and offer generous benefits to part-time employees.  Most employees start out picking up trash and work their way up to servers, food preparers and cooks.  Training is thorough and conducted in "In-N-Out University".  A new store is opened by an "all-star" experienced crew to insure flawless start-up. The most experienced person in the store isn't the manager but it is the person on the grill preparing the burgers.

Their company has chosen to remain private with low to no debt, and allows no franchising.  This in contrast with almost every other name fast food provider...McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Carl's Jr, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell.  Over and again Perman reemphasizes how adherence to the business model drove these choices.....simplicity, control over quality and quality people. 

The last part of the book outlines challenges in succession in family owned businesses.  They are just embarking on the third generation of family leadership and the open question is whether or not they will adhere to the core model that has driven their success.

It's a fascinating read on a unique and successful approach to creating, building, growing and sustaining a business.

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