Big business doesn’t typically start as a big business, it starts as a small business that’s been able to adapt and grow. Look around you, there are numerous businesses that have found ways to thrive over the years despite economic downturns, consumer preference shifts and technological advancements.
One notable example of this is actually a fast food company, In-N-Out, the iconic California burger chain.
In-N-Out was founded back in 1948 in Los Angeles, and while other Southern California burger chains like McDonald’s grew big, opening locations around the world, In-N-Out did things a little different. Yet it was still able to grow from a small business to a large food chain. There are some lessons from its history that you can apply to your business, no matter what you do.
Have a vision for your business.
In-N-Out founder Harry Snyder was driven by one goal: To allow people to order and receive their meals without leaving their cars, according to In-N-Out. This drove many of In-N-Out’s early decisions, including the first stand, which was California’s first drive-thru burger stand. It may have been small at only 10 square feet in LA’s Baldwin Park, but it was a part of his vision.
A vision isn’t enough, however, as Snyder combined that vision with hard work. Every morning he would wake up and go pick the freshest possible ingredients at the local market, then spend the day serving burgers. After work, he would retreat to his garage to tinker on something to help deliver on his vision.
Snyder built a two-way intercom to help customers better order food from their cars. The drive-thru experience at In-N-Out was set: Customers would drive up, order through an intercom and then receive their fresh burgers.
Many of Snyder’s early moves were all based around his vision. Even the name In-N-Out is inspired by his desire to want customers to drive up, order food quickly and then get eating. His first location was built around the idea, and his first additions to the business were all about delivering on that promise.
Quality first, growth second.
In-N-Out remains a California treat. While the burger chain is well known around the country, it hasn’t expanded at a rapid pace across the country. In fact, it’s taken its time. One of the reasons is down to quality.
In-N-Out makes all its patties fresh and hand delivers them to its restaurant with its own delivery vehicles from its own manufacturing and distribution locations, according to Business Insider. In-n-Out’s expansions must take into consideration the distance from those manufacturing and distribution locations before anything else.
If In-N-Out can’t reliably deliver its fresh patties to a location, it doesn’t pursue it, In-N-Out vice president of planning and development Carl Van Fleet told Business Insider. It has a strong dedication to quality, and it maintains that in the face of the temptation of rapid growth and easy money.
In-N-Out understands that if you don’t have the basics right, expanding is not necessarily going to help you in the long term. Keep that in mind with your own business. Have you perfected the basics of your industry, doing them to the best of your ability? Focus on that before adding layers on top of that.
Keep it simple.
Take a look at In-N-Out’s menu. What you’ll notice, right off the bat, is how simple it is. There’s the Double-Double, cheeseburger, hamburger, fries and drinks. That’s it. No special bacon burger, no chicken, no limited menu items to entice customers to come back. In-N-Out focuses on a few things and focuses on them intently.
This simplicity allows In-N-Out to hone in on what it does best. It’s not distracted by chasing food fads and making things more complicated for its employees. It just keeps focus on what people love it for, burgers.
In-N-Out has added two items to its menu in the last 15 years, according to the company. It’s added lemonade and hot chocolate, and the latter was actually a menu item it brought back from its early days.
When you focus in on a few things, on what you’re good at, you can better attack a couple of things, based on your business. If you’re a restaurant, you can focus in on the quality of your food. If you’re a retail business, you can better focus on your niche.
Get your customers invested.
Just because In-N-Out has a simple menu doesn’t mean it limits what its customers can do. On the contrary, In-N-Out is also famous for two things: It’s secret menu and the ability to customize its burgers.
In-N-Out fosters a community around its brand with its secret menu, adding in a sort of exclusive in-game. The menu is so simple that a secret menu makes us feel like we’ve unlocked some magical ability, and then we tell our friends and family about it.
It certainly makes us feel like a part of something special, and based on the customers we’ve talked to, it makes them feel special too.
In-N-Out goes a step further though, allowing customers to completely customize their simple burger. Want a burger with no bun? You can do that. Want jalapenos? You can do that. Want an extra crispy bun, no lettuce, keep the tomato and two patties? Sure, it can be done.
With a secret menu and customization options, In-N-Out lets customers feel more invested. Customers are making the best choices for them, and that makes them feel like a part of a larger community.
You can certainly do this, too. Look out for opportunities to make your customers feel a part of your business, whether it’s a reward program or personalization.
Invest in your employees.
As a business owner, you can make all the plans and focus on all the quality you want, but at the end of the day you need your employees to deliver on your company values.
On employer review site Glassdoor, In-N-Out has been considered one of the top places to work in America for seven straight years. 95% of employees who use Glassdoor approve of In-N-Out CEO Lynsi Snyder and 89% would recommend working there to a friend.
How do they do this? In an interview with Glassdoor, Snyder elaborated that it was down to selecting leaders who fostered a community atmosphere, and enabling employees to have fun and nurture an upbeat work environment.
She went on to point out that the company has a lot of procedures and policies in place to ensure quality, but that those only work if employees are committing to practicing them.
Your employees are the lifeblood of your company, whether it’s the receptionist at your law office, your grill cook at a restaurant or associates in your retail staff. The happier and more enthusiastic they are about working, the better position you put yourself in.