Published on: January 5, 2017
This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.
Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
One of the nicest things that happened over the holidays in my town was the opening, over New Year's weekend, of a new Shake Shack. Now I love it for lots of reasons - I'm a big fan of Danny Meyer, the restaurateur whose company launched this still relatively small chain of burger joints; I love the burgers and especially the new chicken sandwich; they serve craft beer; and now they have an app that allows me to order in advance, choose a pickup time, pay for the order and just show up and skip all the lines. And, I can walk to Shake Shack from my house and my office.
But the business lesson has to be more than it is important to keep the Content Guy happy.
The fact is that this space was occupied until recently by a Chuck's Steakhouse, which had a vibe that seemed like it was right out of the fifties. And not in a retro way. Just in an old way. In fact, the salad bar often looked like it was offering vegetables that were harvested in the fifties. Which is pretty amazing, since it actually was opened in 1968.
in other words, Chuck's was a steakhouse that was way, way past its prime. (Pun intended.)
Now, there are some here in town who argued against the opening of Shake Shack, saying that Chuck's was a kind of landmark that deserved to stay in business. And even when Shake Shack opened, people could be heard saying that they missed Chuck's. I suspect that many of the folks who said that actually liked the idea of Chuck's more than the restaurant itself, and that they probably didn't go there very much. And their comments ignored the fact that Chuck's didn't sell the real estate because business was cooking.
(To be fair, this is not a town that would ever be described as progressive. It is the town that was featured in the film Gentleman's Agreement, and while things have moved forward a little bit, there still are a lot of people here who think the town should look just like it did when Eisenhower was president.)
To me, the change from Chuck's to Shake Shack is a business lesson. Because when a business - any business - is past it its prime, it is because that business has made a choice.
When companies drift into irrelevance and mediocrity, the word "drift" only describes the pace of change...or rather, lack of pace of change. It is because the people in charge have made a choice not to wake up each morning like their hair is on fire, not to face each day by saying, "what are we going to do today to make sure we are as relevant and vibrant as we possibly can be."
Chuck's is gone now, and from my perspective, good riddance. But the folks at Shake Shack have to understand that if their restaurant is the same ten years from now as it is today, they will probably be going down the same road as Chuck's. They can't make that mistake. They can't breathe their own exhaust or rest on their laurels. They have to compete every day, and compete is a verb.
My daughter, by the way, had a really smart observation about this Shake Shack - that its proximity to I-95 should not allow management to believe they don't have to worry as much about return customers because so many people are in transit. They have to be vigilant about maintaining community support and repeat business - because that becomes the foundation upon which a sustainable business is built.
My sense is that they'll probably be really smart about this. When I went in the other day, I was greeted by a fellow named Jerry - who not only managed a local Baskin-Robbins for years, but also was a popular umpire of local Little League games. It seemed like most of the people who walked through the front door knew Jerry, and were excited to see him. That's a good move on Shake Shack's part.
It is like a line from the great Vin Scully that I am adopting as my personal mantra for 2017. I am going to keep it in mind every morning as I write MNB, and so much so that I've constructed a new presentation around it:
Good is not good when better is expected.
The opening of Shake Shack is a great for our town. Whether it continues to be a great - serving great food, and offering terrific service - is entirely up to them.
As it is up to each of us in our own businesses.
That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: