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A Tale of Two Burger Chains

September 19th, 2006

In 1948, two hamburger chains started their respective businesses in California. Almost 50 years later, one has almost 32,000 locations around the world, while the other is concentrated in California, Arizona and Nevada with 200-plus restaurants. The former is McDonald’s and the latter is In-N-Out Burger.

These two business models offer interesting perspectives on running a successful operation. Among the many things, McDonald’s can be credited for its economies of scale, strategic marketing and branding, franchising, and continuous product innovations. Going global and expanding to more than 100 countries has been critical to their continued success.

In contrast, In-N-Out Burger is small when measured by its number of locations, but huge with respect to the bond it shares with customers. I recently visited Irvine, CA on business and enjoyed my first In-N-Out Burger experience.

During my three-day trip I nonchalantly mentioned the burger establishment to clients and the name “In-N-Out Burger” was consistently met with euphoric smiles, followed by the person’s favorite menu item, such as “Double-Double.”

Maybe it’s because the burgers are made-to-order and with only the freshest ingredients and the employees are extremely friendly and energetic — from the time they greet you until your order is delivered. One thing is abundantly clear: In-N-Out Burger is extremely focused on doing what they do best — delivering great burgers. This is reinforced by their menu which is very simple and has only a handful of items to choose from.

Both McDonald’s and In-N-Out Burger offer contrasting, yet equally successful approaches to the fast food business, both of which can be applied to any industry or vocation. Bigger can sometimes be better, but staying true to yourself may offer the competitive edge and formula to building a loyal customer base that truly takes pride in consuming your goods or services.

Domenick Cilea

Domenick founded Springboard in 1995. When he is not working on marketing, PR, branding or content strategy, Domenick can be found in a gym, on the road or pool training to survive his next triathlon.

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