Lessons from a Hamburger

Lessons from a hamburgerCan you imagine taking a $30 cab ride for a $5 hamburger?  I’ve made that investment…on several occasions.  I’d do it tomorrow if I could.

My pilgrimage and loyalty is to an absolute mecca of fast food, In N Out Burger.   Founded in California in 1948, the 300+ location, family-owned enterprise, now has footprints in California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Texas.  They invented the drive-through window.  The firm’s customer loyalty is legendary, with their brand having developed into a near cult.  They even have their own language.

The firm is known for fresh ingredients.  Since inception, they’ve never frozen a burger and have always provided hand-leafed lettuce and fresh-cut potatoes.  Their milkshakes are memorable.  And while they’ve developed a following for their food, they’ve also developed team loyalty with policies that include paying their employees above the minimum wage and extensive philanthropic activities.  And they do so with prices less than those of McDonalds.

What has this got to do with optometry?

The burger business is competitive.  With over 50 national chains and thousands of local purveyors delivering billions of burgers a year, can you think of a business with more competition?  There’s a hamburger joint on virtually every corner.  And yet, in a national ranking by Foursquare’ customers, In N Out Burger was ranked the highest of any national competitor (the others didn’t even make the list) and number thirteen overall!  They even beat out Gordon Ramsey’s BurGR by 10 positions!  Hold that thought.

As I observe the seemingly hand-to-hand combat in our own industry, what jumps out at me is that optometrists are dashing to add specialties.  You’ve read about it.  Perhaps you’ve engaged in it.  You’ve added dry eye, ortho-k, low vision, pediatrics, developmental vision, nutrition, lasik co-management, and dozens of other options to your practice.  Just go to a conference and you’ll hear about a plethora of opportunities for ECPs to add sub-specialties.  For many, this results is an endless supply of “solutions.”  No patient will go unserved, regardless of need.  One can almost see the strategy evolving as “we specialize in everything.”

What has this got to do with hamburgers?

McDonalds, grand-daddy of all hamburger purveyors, has 145 items on their menu.  They don’t even rank on the Foursquare’ Top 50.  Estimated per store sales are about $2.4mm.  And if you don’t like the price at McDonalds, wait a minute.  They’ll throw a special at you.

In N Out Burger, on the other hand, has 5 items on their menu.  That’s right, 5!  Hamburgers, Cheeseburgers, French Fries, Milkshakes and Sodas.  And their menu hasn’t changed in over 25 years!  The last product they added was Diet Coke.  Now, of course, if you’re a student of the firm, you’ll know that there’s a “secret menu” with scores of hamburger iterations for those of us with specific gastronomical ideas.  But with just 5 products, with absolute focus, they generate close to $2mm per store.  With likely lower per store operating costs and higher profits.  And I’ve never heard of an In N Out price promotion.

In N Out is focused.  They limit their offerings and deliver them exceptionally well. They’ve built their brand on doing so…and doing so with a smile.  Their consistency is genius.  They don’t have to apologize for delivering excellent food of real value.  They have one price.

Is there a lesson here?

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