In my 20-plus year career working within the consumer product, retail and restaurant sectors for companies like Procter & Gamble, The Clorox Company, Anheuser-Busch InBev and, now, Big Chicken, I’ve had to solve some fairly large problems. I’ve learned that if you can solve them effectively, and, of course, without causing another issue to pop up, you’ll have a pathway to consistently delivering a winning experience for your guests, franchisees, suppliers, and your business.
One of the biggest problems I faced in the food service area was when I was responsible for the retail national accounts for Reckitt Benckiser’s (since sold to McCormick’s) food division, makers of French’s Mustard, Frank’s Red Hot (Frank’s) and Cattlemen’s.
There were dozens of national grocery and convenience store chains running food service chicken wing programs out of their delis, but almost none were using Frank’s on their wings, even though it was the number one hot sauce sold in their aisles. I pitched account after account, and not a single one switched over to Frank’s. After a long, sleepless night of contemplation, it fi nally clicked – I was focusing on the sauce when, for the retailer, it was all about the wing.
The grocer’s pain was in creating a product that matched or exceeded a restaurant’s quality, and I could solve that issue by helping them create the best chicken wing. If I could do that, perhaps they would ask me if I could become their wing sauce supplier? With that framework, I began closing the majority of the accounts that we pitched, solidifying my theory that it wasn’t about my product, it was about solving the retailer’s pain.
Addressing shared concerns
After my time at Reckitt Benckiser, I moved to Anheuser-Busch InBev. My first day ever in the restaurant business was working on On-Premise (bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and non-traditional venues) for their U.S. business unit nationwide. I was tasked with helping a company that had over a decade of market share decline, low industry involvement, and a negative reputation among most restaurant groups.
So, I thought back on what I learned from Frank’s, and began asking our restaurant partners: “What are the three things that keep you up at night?” 97 per cent of respondents shared the same five pain points – they wanted to grow traffic, increase average check size, become more innovative, enhance staff engagement, and manage commodity costs.
I knew I couldn’t solve one pain point by creating another one (what I call “no whac-a-mole games”), so I took those pain point insights and began to build insights and programs designed to drive down multiple concerns concurrently. The long and the short of it is that those programs helped us grow volume, revenue, EBITDA, and market share. The programs helped our customers too, with many of our top customers awarding us vendor of the year! This experience helped lay the groundwork for the strategy I utilize every day for Big Chicken – five pain points and four wins.
Ways of winning
Once you recognize that the key to an amazing partnership is the reduction or elimination of your partner’s pain through no whac-a-mole games, you quickly realize that there are multiple parties that are a part of your ecosystem, and all need to win. Zero-sum games quickly erode trust – I can’t win while my franchisees lose and our guests can’t lose, so our suppliers can win. Ultimately, you need to go after four wins simultaneously every day.
The first is the need to win the guest. A critical component is catering your guest experience to the different generations that visit your restaurant, order online or through an app, or consume your brand in any other way. Gen Z, Gen Y, Gen X and Gen Alpha each have dramatically different expectations on how they think about brands, brand loyalty and values.
To effectively hit each generation, you need to acquire consumer data and use it meaningfully. Each generation needs to know that your brand is in alignment with their own personal brand – and they need to know what you stand for, and why they should care about you. You win over your guests when you recognize the differences between them and work to provide an experience – both culinary and service-based – that’s catered to each preference. And, when you win with your guests, it’s a win for everyone.
The second win is for our franchisee. These incredibly talented entrepreneurs are choosing to take their own personal brands and merge them with ours, so in order for them to win, we need to create a clear, capable and transparent ecosystem built around the principle of continuous improvement. Perfection is never possible, but you should work with your franchise owners to get as close as you can to your shared goals. This only happens with full transparency and two-way communication. Healthy tension can build unbelievable results, and unhealthy tension is typically caused by a lack of candor.
The third win is for our suppliers. You need to offer partnership with your suppliers in forecasting, innovation pipeline and feedback so they can provide both you and your franchisees with the tools they need to service your guests. Suppliers need to help you unlock growth, not just provide a rebate check.
If your guests, franchisees, and suppliers are all winning, you’ll get the fourth win for your brand…which is the ultimate prize, the win for you. Your brand, your people, your culture, your ways of working, your prototypes, your research and development, your plans – all of it. You’ll win because you created an incredible ecosystem built to succeed.
Keep it simple
You just need to be able to trust your instincts, verify those instincts with data, and follow your founder’s mentality, while driving meaningful and rewarding partnerships. Asking basic questions keeps things real, and solving your partners’ pain points can create powerful loyalty, while fostering a culture of simplicity. When we all work together to mitigate our pain points, we can all win together. We just need to come together as a team and as a community. No zero-sum games, no playing whac-a-mole – just five pain points and four wins. Every single day.
Josh Halpern is CEO of Big Chicken, the star-powered fast casual chicken concept founded by Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal