Friday, May 25, 2018
Business

President Dan Cathy talks about Chick-fil-A's unusual keys to success

Running a company that put "glorify God" in its mission statement meant not opening Sundays. Yet the average Chick-fil-A store sold more in six days a week in 2011 than any other fast-food chain did in seven.

Its industry leading $2.7 million per store was $300,000 more than the average McDonald's, and its $4 billion in annual sales put the Atlanta company on track to pass KFC as the nation's ninth biggest.

At 91, founder Truett Cathy is chief executive, but son Dan Cathy is the savvy marketer calling the shots day in and day out. A champion collegiate wrestler who almost became a professional trumpet player, the younger Cathy feels right at home playing reveille camped overnight in a Chick-fil-A parking lot filled with fans hoping to win a year of free meals for being one of the first 100 in a new store.

Cathy, 59, spoke to the Tampa Bay Times about how the secret ingredient to the company's success is more than food.

What is the glue that made Chick-fil-A a chain?

Every bit of the DNA we learned from my father's first store, the Dwarf House Grill, a tiny restaurant he opened near the Ford plant in Hapeville, Ga., after World War II. It's all about knowing how to please the customer. You keep reinventing things to keep up with their lifestyle. But real hospitality remains timeless.

How do you maintain the corporate purpose of "glorifying God by being a faithful steward of all that has been entrusted to us"?

We run the business based on Christian family values. But we serve and employ everybody. We don't wear religion on our sleeve. We serve it in the cup.

How did your dad go from burgers to pressure-fried breaded chicken sandwiches?

A poultry supplier for the airlines was selling a boneless chicken breast that was too big for the trays. My father used our family fried chicken seasoning and, coming from a burger background, pickle slices and a burger bun. By 1967 we dropped the burgers and refined our business model to put Chick-fil-A in malls, then free-standing stores with drive-throughs.

You're highly rated for service by everyone from Zagat to Consumer Reports. How?

Training. It took us 10 years to teach teen employees to say "My pleasure" when someone thanks them (instead of "not a problem"). But we owe a lot to our operators. Last year we had 22,000 apply for about 90 positions. Two-thirds of them were our own employees.

Most similar chains sell franchises and keep a percentage of revenue. Instead, you own the stores, then charge $5,000 to an independent operator to run one for half the profits. The average operator earned $190,000 last year. Why does that business model work?

It puts our interest on the same side of the table as theirs. And by charging up front, we attract more entrepreneurs.

Gay rights groups protest your charitable foundation donation to Exodus International, a religious nonprofit that counsels people who believe they are gay to become heterosexual.

We believe in marriage regardless of definition. We are not in the politics of same-sex marriage. This is about preserving marriages about to be torn apart.

You put fresh flowers on the tables, give girls plastic princess tiaras and boys pirate swords and stage petting zoos and pony rides. What's next?

We're creating remarkable experiences unexpected in fast food. We offer to grind fresh pepper table side. When it rains, we'll get someone to your car with an umbrella to escort you. We're staging mom-and-son and dad-and-daughter date nights. We decorate and have limo rides, a violinist, flower stems and table service dining.

Why should business owners put their kids to work?

That's how I learned valuable lessons. At 6, I developed confidence singing at tables to total strangers and a few years later using a big knife to debone ribs. When dad counted the cash at home, my job was to make all the Lincoln heads face the same way. I created my own imaginary business. In my teens I almost became a professional musician but chose to follow my father.

How is he doing?

He is still the chief executive and reviews the payroll. He says he comes in so we cannot take him off the payroll for missing a day. In my 20s, when we were first business partners, I started calling him Truett, and we'd shake hands when we said goodbye. I quickly saw that's not how a family works. Now he's Dad and we hug and kiss on the cheek.

Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8252.

Comments
An American Airlines passenger was refused beer - so he screamed, fought and spit blood, FBI says

An American Airlines passenger was refused beer - so he screamed, fought and spit blood, FBI says

It began, as so many plane debacles seem to, with strange sounds in the bathroom.They were the noises of Jason Felix, one of the passengers on Wednesday’s American Airlines flight out of Saint Croix, according to a FBI affidavit recounting events lea...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Is the Lightning’s Jeff Vinik the best owner in professional sports?

Is the Lightning’s Jeff Vinik the best owner in professional sports?

Hope of another Stanley Cup has dissolved, and soon the ice will follow. Yet even if sorrow is the price of devotion, the true hockey fans will still buy in when the next season comes around.That concept may not be unique to Tampa Bay, but it does se...
Published: 05/26/18
Five members of 69ers motorcycle gang indicted on federal charges

Five members of 69ers motorcycle gang indicted on federal charges

Last year three members of the 69ers Motorcycle Club gang were implicated in the execution of a rival gang leader in the middle of rush hour traffic in Pasco County.Now those three and two other 69ers members have been indicted on federal charges tha...
Published: 05/25/18
With makeover, ZooTampa at Lowry Park takes a page from the theme parks

With makeover, ZooTampa at Lowry Park takes a page from the theme parks

TAMPA — Behind the construction walls near the carousel at ZooTampa at Lowry Park, hammers, saws and power drills made a racket in the blazing Friday heat. A raft full of 100-pound water jugs took test trips on the new Roaring Springs ride set ...
Published: 05/25/18
U.S. news outlets block European readers over new privacy rules

U.S. news outlets block European readers over new privacy rules

LONDON — U.S. news outlets including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Orlando Sentinel and The Arizona Daily Star abruptly blocked access to their websites from Europe on Friday, choosing to black out readers rather than comply with a ...
Published: 05/25/18
Tampa Electric appeals OSHA findings for October accident

Tampa Electric appeals OSHA findings for October accident

TAMPA — Tampa Electric Co. is appealing a recent citation by federal regulators. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration hit the utility with a $76,050 fine and a "serious" violation in April following its investigation into an accident in ...
Published: 05/25/18
Fiat Chrysler recalls 4.8 million cars, warning owners: Don’t use the cruise control

Fiat Chrysler recalls 4.8 million cars, warning owners: Don’t use the cruise control

Associated PressDETROIT — Fiat Chrysler is recalling 4.8 million vehicles in the U.S. because in rare but terrifying circumstances, drivers may not be able to turn off the cruise control. The company is warning owners not to use cruise control until...
Published: 05/25/18
Federal Reserve chairman warns his agency must be free from political pressure

Federal Reserve chairman warns his agency must be free from political pressure

Associated PressFederal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned Friday that the Fed’s independence from political pressure must be respected if it is to succeed in controlling inflation, maximizing employment and regulating the financial system. His re...
Published: 05/25/18
Restaurants like Ford’s Garage use the experience to get you in the door

Restaurants like Ford’s Garage use the experience to get you in the door

Tim Butler’s first car was a Ford Model A pick-up truck — a pearl fawn and cherry red pick-up he got his senior year in high school from his dad, who renovates antique cars. That’s why as Butler waited for a table at the Ford’...
Published: 05/25/18
St. Petersburg man fined $507,513 in penny stock scheme

St. Petersburg man fined $507,513 in penny stock scheme

TAMPA — A St. Petersburg man was fined $507,513 and permanently barred from participating in the offering of a penny stock in a case involving a scheme to manipulate the price of Aureus, a penny stock company incorporated in Nevada, officials said Fr...
Published: 05/25/18