If someone walks into McDonald’s and asks for a curry, chances are McDonald’s will not make them curry. I’m not talking about adding curry spices to a burger, I’m talking about a full blown Vindaloo. My bet is even if you paid them and brought the ingredients yourself, the store manager is going to say, “Sorry, we can’t accept your money because we just don’t make curry“.
Why is that? McDonald’s probably could make the curry. They have all the cooking implements to do so. Let’s say you brought the ingredients yourself, is there a reason why they couldn’t make the curry? Maybe, maybe not. However, I believe there are several reasons why they won’t do it. This article discusses a few of them, in particular the importance for a business to stay focused on their objectives and send a consistent message to consumers about who they are and what they do.
Recently, I wrote about the Top 14 stumbling blocks for new businesses. In that list, one of the things small businesses have to be mindful of is not chasing any and every sale. Why not? When you’re starting out or simply operating in the small business space, in the most likely scenario your resources are already stretched. If you diversify your energies and focus on too many initiatives, projects and clients at the same time, chances are you won’t be able to give any the attention it rightfully deserves.
Instead of doing a single job well, what you end up with is a number of mildly satisfied clients and a mediocre track record. For small businesses, especially those that operate on word of mouth advertising and testimonials, doing things in a mediocre fashion can be poisonous to their ongoing survival. Maybe this is a little extreme, but in many cases, the reality is one might as well not bother being in business at all.
Sending out a consistent message
One of the things that make McDonald’s successful is their branding. I’m not sure about you, but of all the burger joints out there, I would hardly classify McDonald’s as the best in terms of taste and overall quality. However, that doesn’t stop me from dropping in every now and then when I’m famished or after a boozy night out with some friends.
Now ask yourself, why is that? Given that McDonald’s isn’t the best tasting burger joint and certainly not the best thing for you healthwise, why do so many people all over the world flock to the Golden arches? I believe it has a lot to do with their branding, messaging and customer expectations. People go to McDonald’s because when they think of having satisfying fast food, they think of McDonald’s. They go there expecting a certain thing and they always get it.
How would all that change if McDonald’s started serving you, alongside their traditional Big Macs and Coke, a gourmet inspired Indian curry? The message just doesn’t gel, does it? It doesn’t matter how cheaply they can do it or how nice the curry would taste. The bottom line is, companies need to spread a consistent message about who they are, what they do and what customers can expect to get when they hand over their money.
Concentrate on the core business
So far I’ve used McDonald’s and curry in a useful metaphorical sense. From a literal sense, what if you did go up to the counter and offer $500 for a curry. Should McDonald’s take you up on that offer and make the curry for you just this once?
For McDonald’s, I think the answer is no. For small businesses, I think the answer is it depends. McDonald’s shouldn’t do it even though it’s tempting because they need to stick to their strategy. Making curry just once, earns them some money and kudos now but does nothing for the company in the long run. That move is not consistent with their overall strategy. It sends mix signals to the market place and within their own team. Doing adhoc requests just once, sets a precedence for more. What happens when someone else comes along and ask for curry? Or Mexican food? At what point do you say no, and how would you select who you say yes and no to?
I think many small businesses often face a similar problem. It’s often tempting to accept a piece of work even though it is not that company’s core business. If a piece of work gives your company another 6 months of income, then it’s worth considering. After all, that could mean you stay operating for another half year vs closing down for good. For smaller jobs, I think it is a definite no. The strain on the resources for the company would mean less time, money and brain cycles on the things that matter. In a competitive environment, taking your eye off the ball just for a split second could spell death for your fledgling business.
From a branding perspective, I think doing things that are not core to your business can take away the thing that make you special in the market place. In order to be special, small businesses have to focus on doing one or two things really well, instead of bits of lots of things. What you want to be known for is being special at one or two of those things.
Specialisation and streamlined processes
Being focused isn’t just important for small businesses. For big businesses, like McDonald’s, being focused allow them to specialise, refine what they do and how they do it. Instead of hiring 10 people and training half of them to be good at flipping burgers and the other half to be good at making curries, McDonald’s consolidate all its resources and create a single unified workforce, aligned to a common goal.
It’s been widely written that specialisation leads to a more effective workforce – employees only need to concentrate on doing one thing and do it well. In McDonald’s case, anyone can come off the streets and become an employee. If one person leaves, another can easily replace them. The point here is the effectiveness of a McDonald’s store isn’t tied to any single person. In every aspect, McDonald’s operations are turn key – that means what they do is repeatable and consistent, irrespective of the people involved in doing the actual work. As a result, you can be fairly certain a McDonald’s store in one neighbourhood produces burgers that taste the same and the overall quality is consistent with another store.
In that sense, if you walked up to the counter and asked for curry, chances are they won’t be able to do it. Their equipment and staff are trained to be efficient burger producers and only that.
Spreading overheads and economies of scale
Overheads are things that exist in a business which must be present in order for the business to operate. Different businesses have different overheads. For McDonald’s their overheads are things like electricity, real estate, fixtures and fittings, cash registers, cooking equipment and burger grills. Without any of these, a McDonald’s store cannot possibly continue producing.
However, McDonald’s also utilise specialised equipment to ensure overall quality and consistency. These equipment are essential ingredients in the burger production process. It allows McDonald’s to do what they do cheaply and efficiently.
Let’s imagine, McDonald’s started making curries for the curry lovers out there. What’s going to happen? In order for them to be able to make curries as cheaply and efficiently as they can make burgers, McDonald’s is going to have to invest in and then utilise specialised curry making equipment. In order to be commercially successful on a global scale at both, they’re going to need two sets of specialised equipments at every store. It doesn’t take much to see that this is going to cause all sorts of logistical problems including shop layout, equipment maintenance, staff training etc.
What does this mean to small business owners?
Why would you not be able to get curry at McDonald’s? You won’t because even though you pay them, it is not in their best interest to make and sell you curry. As metaphor, it is useful for remembering the importance of being focused on doing a few things right, sending consistent messages to the market place and employees as well as the efficiencies that you can get by concentrating on doing a few things effectively.