Dan Cathy, president and CEO of Chick-fil-A, told the annual meeting of the National Chicken Council that creativity and innovation are the keys to the fast food chain's success. He describes Chick-fil-A as a 66-year-old family business, and he said that the only way a relatively old family business can grow is through innovation.
"Innovation and creativity is essential as the innovation curve begins to slow down after years of success," said Cathy. When the rate of external change exceeds the rate of internal change, disaster is imminent. Watch a video of Cathy speaking at the conference: President and CEO of Chick-fil-A talks food innovation
He demonstrated several areas where Chick-fil-A has developed its own path. The most visible is its advertising campaign, featuring cows in improbable scenes encouraging people to eat more chicken.
"The cow campaign is creative," said Cathy. "We have to be creative in our advertising to stand out from the competition." He said the cow campaign is still fresh in advertising standards; people still wonder why cows want people to eat more chicken.
Cathy said one of the biggest areas of Chick-fil-A's innovation is in the way they treat customers. He said their model is simple. "If someone pays you $6 for a sandwich, treat them as if they are at Houston's or Macaroni Grill," he said. "Give them same service of a $30 restaurant at the $6 restaurant."
He said Chick-fil-A's goal is to try to create a remarkable experience. "We call it ‘tweetable experience’ –something the customer will tweet about in the parking lot," he said. "We began to study the experience of nice restaurants and figuring out how we can apply that to our fast food restaurants.
He cited several examples of this, such as a common scene of a mother with twins being helped to her table with her tray of food, then being told she will be checked back on to see if she needs anything else. If it is raining, a Chick-fil-A employee will meet people at their car with an umbrella and escort the customer inside. Employees also offer fresh ground pepper to anyone with a salad.
"These are little things, but they make a big impact on customer perceptions," said Cathy. "Our philosophy can be summarized with ‘2m2n’: make going the second mile second nature."
The National Chicken Council held its 58th annual conference in Washington D.C. October 10-11.