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A unique business strategy

Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built… by Steve Robinson, Thomas Nelson, US $26.99, Pp 226, June 2019 ISBN 978-1400213160

Many of you who eat out, particularly at fast-food restaurants, will agree that Chick-Fil-A food is far more delicious than other fast-food brands. Why fewer people eat at Chick-Fil-A restaurants is that the Chick-Fil-A restaurants are not as numerous and accessible as some other fast-food restaurants. You eat at a fast-food restaurant because you want to save time. You don’t go looking for a fast-food restaurant when you are in a hurry. If given the same number of restaurants, Chick-Fil-A restaurants will probably leave their competitors behind. In Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A, Steve Robinson tells the story of the Chick-Fil-A brand and how it became an iconic brand.

Steve Robinson tells us that, by 2014, the chain had grown to 1887 restaurants with $5.7 billion in sales. 2014 was the year when Truett Cathy, Chick-Fil-A, passed away. In the following two years, sales grew by another billion dollars per year, and the culture he created allowed people to continue to thrive. Today, nearly one hundred thousand people work throughout the Chick-Fil-A chain, serving more than three million customers every day, or 1.1 billion per year – most people come to eat at Chick-Fil-A restaurants multiple times. Its tremendous popularity is evident when a new store opens: people camp outside the night before to be the first one hundred customers of a new restaurant because they receive free Chick-Fil-A for a year.

Steve Robinson says that Truett Cathy had a desire to honor God and have a positive influence on every person he interacted with. Before the product and profits came relationships with people and with God. When Truett Cathy felt that he had a biblical insight on an issue, whether it related to people or money or leadership, he tried to humbly and quietly apply that insight – prudence, patience, hard work, love, forgiveness, and generosity. Through the years, the Chick-Fil-A leadership team established guiding principles that shaped how they made decisions — the principles that were the ingredients of the culture. These provide the framework for the brand itself, and that framework begins with the Chick-Fil-A Corporate Purpose which says, “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-Fil-A.”

Steve Robinson says that the Corporate Purpose statement, created in 1982, grew out of a time of financial crisis when the national economy was in the middle of a serious recession and same-store sales fell for the first time ever. “Capturing it in writing and disseminating it around the company kept our focus on why we were in business and on the deeply held beliefs that fed our culture.” Steve Robinson says that Truett Cathy often talked about stewardship of talent, money, and influence, which belong to God who entrusts them to us. Serving as a steward rather than an owner of the assets gave Truett Cathy a freedom to express his generosity by sharing God’s gift with his associates and neighbors. He impacted many lives. His mission can be described in two words: “Be Remarkable.”

To achieve this mission, Truett Cathy created the Raving Fan Strategy which executed Operational Excellence, delivered Second-Mile Service, and activated Emotional Connections Marketing. These three major strategic pillars represent the operating strategy of the Chick-Fil-A brand, and they are all designed to undergird restaurant operators as they express and build the brand. And that last phrase is key — singular in the fast-food industry. Chick-Fil-A restaurant operators serve as the primary expression of the brand as they meet customers at the front line. Only they can deliver the total Raving Fan experience. In short, Steve Robinson describes the Chick-Fil-A strategy for success as follows, “Other brands rely on marketing and advertising to drive customers to restaurants while Chick-Fil-A relies on the restaurant operators and the teams they build to attract customers into their restaurants. Others drive; we attract.”

Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A is a fascinating and inspiring story of an iconic food brand. Steve Robinson shows that Truett Cathy had quite a different vision for his fast-food chain. He tells us that Truett Cathy believed that the inspiration for Chick-Fil-A came from the Bible and he was acting only as a trustee of God. The secret of the huge success of Chick-Fil-A is its unique business strategy. Unlike other businesses, Chick-Fil-A relies on restaurant operators instead of marketing and advertising. As the former executive vice president of the brand (1981-2015), Steve Robinson is the right person to tell this amazing story. If you are a business owner, Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A will teach you a lot how to run and grow your business. This is a must-read for all Chick-Fil-A fans.

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