February 3, 2023

Sales and Marketing Advice

3 things I learned selling hamburgers

Ron Stein | 3/18/2019

While I was in high school, our neighbor managed to snag the first McDonald’s franchise in the Tampa Bay area. He approached my dad about investing — never did and that’s story for another time — and asked me if I’d like a job as a counter server when the first store opened in South Tampa.

Although burgers started at around 20 cents, and a chocolate milkshake was about 25, they would allow me to have all the food and drinks I wanted for free and pay me too! I thought this would be a sweet gig.

They said there was no “selling” involved. Only asking if there was anything else the customer wanted before we rang up the sale — such as, “Would you like fries with that?” Plus, it was drilled into us that we were on the front lines and great customer service was expected.

Free food, a regular part-time salary, and a job at the newest cool place in town. It was like dream come true for a high school kid.

But, it turned out to provide plenty of business lessons along the way. That’s what happens when you face the buying public everyday and the management team is focused on providing a great product and making money.

It was pretty obvious that my neighbor knew a thing or two about business. And I learned a thing or two along the way.

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Sell your value, because everyone wants a deal. It seemed like my friends always knew when I was on shift. It didn’t take me long to figure out that my buds were standing in line at my register because they expected me to slip them a bag of fries or even an extra cheeseburger without ringing it up. At first I didn’t know what to do and I asked my dad about it. He said it was simple. McDonald’s is special and there was no place like in town — good food that is fast and affordable. Plus team members like me that genuinely care about customers. Don’t be shy about reminding buyers and my friends about how good and different you are, a value like nowhere else. The smart buyers will understand this, eagerly eating it up and coming back for more. The people who still want deals aren’t your friends — they don’t value you and your offering. Who cares if they get mad?

Stick to what you know and do it differently from everyone else. On the surface back then, McDonald’s looked like other fast food restaurants that were popping up at the time. However, McDonald’s had a focused formula and stuck to it. From the beginning they adopted a cost leadership strategy coupled with a perceived differentiation by customers. They kept the menu limited and fairly basic, built around the hamburger, which hardly changed over time — while many competitors were creating larger operations and served all kinds of food offerings. The McDonald’s strategy held costs down. Just as important, McDonald’s differentiation created a barrier to entry as no other restaurant could match their laser beam focus — well, except for Waffle House. But everyone knows that waffles and burgers are totally different.

You can’t make money selling hamburgers. The first day I walked into the new McDonald’s for training it struck me how much money they must have spent. The cost of the land, building, and the grand opening festivities they were planning. I thought, how are they going to sell enough 20 cent burgers to pay for all of this? The answer was that they decisively established the burger as the center of the universe, yet up-sold customers on the idea that burgers without cheese, fries, a shake, and even bacon was unthinkable. Margins and gross profits went up. Their uniqueness and quality attracted a large loyal following. Volume increased. The limited menu was the key and it was that easy.

When a business does not do exactly the same things as its competitors, it will be financially successful. Plus, showing that your business and its people genuinely care will keep its customers coming back for more. And focus, then focus some more.

Looking back to my burger selling days I now realize it was more than just flipping burgers. It was all about ringing the cash register.

Ron Stein is founder of More Customers Academy, helping business leaders build strategic messaging and positioning that cuts through the competitive noise to grow revenue. Ron has developed his own highly successful 5-step Stand Out & Sell More approach to winning new customers as a result of his twenty-five years of business development, marketing, and selling experiences. He works with a range of businesses, from startups to large corporations across industries including technology and healthcare, manufacturing, and financial services and banking. Ron conducts workshops, leads company meetings, offers keynote talks, and consults. He can be reached at 727-398-1855 or by email.

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