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In-N-Out Burger: Masterpiece Burger, Masterpiece Business

I really, really like In-N-Out Burger.

In fact, my opinion? In-N-Out delivers the very best fast food burger available.

This blog post isn’t a restaurant review however. Or least not really.

And here’s why…  In-N-Out doesn’t just produce a masterpiece burger. I think they’ve built a masterpiece business that small businesses may want to copy.

Specifically, I spot half a dozen things they’ve done which are just super-clever. And which you and I want to consider adopting as tactics. See if you agree…

Clever Thing #1: A Great Product as the Firm Foundation

The first and fundamental thing In-N-Out showcases? The way a great product becomes just a superb blocking block for a small business.

Just so you understand (because lots of people don’t live in a part of the country where In-N-Out operates), here’s how good In-N-Out’s burger is. The burger is their only entree. Their burger, in other words, is enough to attract customers.

A quick clarification. You can get a side order of French fries. You can order a soft drink. The chain also serves up delicious chocolate, strawberry and vanilla milkshakes.

But the only entree option? A burger with a beef patty on a toasted bun with a slice of cheese, lettuce, tomato and then a thousand-island-y sauce.

For McDonald’s to resemble In-N-Out, they’d need to cut their entree offerings to a single item. Like their filet-o-fish sandwich.

For a CPA firm to resemble In-N-Out, they’d need to prepare only a single tax return. Like only S corporation tax returns.

In any case, this masterpiece product ripples through their business in all sorts of healthy ways.

Clever Thing #2: Extreme Product Discipline

For example, one of the first ways a single “great product” helps? Having a single great product helps In-N-Out show extreme discipline about their menu of offerings.

They offer you a burger.

Options for other entries (tacos, wraps and salads) simply don’t exist.

Further, while you’d totally understand a firm letting its sandwich options expand (chicken, fish, vegetarian), In-N-Out hasn’t done that.

They built a better mousetrap. And then they focused on building a business based just on that better mousetrap.

By the way? In-N-Out operates more than 300 locations. People estimate they generate roughly a billion dollars of revenue.

Clever Things #3 and #4: Easier Inventory Management and Easier Employee Training

The single excellent product and associated menu discipline deliver other follow-on benefits, too.

For example, think about how much more easily and more successfully In-N-Out manages its inventory.

The firm basically needs five ingredients to make its burgers: beef patty, bun, cheese slice, lettuce, tomato and the “sauce.”

And then consider, too, an operation that only needs to train someone how to make a short, short list of items: a burger, fries, and milkshake.

I don’t want to brag. But I am pretty sure I could learn to make fries in an afternoon. Or at least the standard fries.

Note: Alas, I would not be able to test this hypothesis. In-N-Out has a very formal employee development approach.

Clever Thing #5: Customer Options Creativity

Of course, customers and clients want options. They sometimes like things a bit different.

But it’s not like you don’t have options at In-N-Out… of course you do.

Don’t like cheese? Remove the slice of cheddar.

Need a little larger meal? No problem. You can double, triple or quadruple the number of beef patties or cheese slices.

Want something a little lighter? They will create a grilled cheese sandwich for you by removing the beef patty from a cheeseburger.

Finally, do you need to dial down the carbs? Skip the bun and wrap the sandwich with lettuce.

I haven’t done the math, but it’s almost as if In-N-Out will sell you any permutation of its five burger ingredients.

That’s clever, man…

You ask “where’s the beef?” In-N-Out answers, “it’s not a burger, it’s a grilled cheese sandwich.”

Clever Thing #6: Courage to Cede Some Niches

Yet another clever decision. By limiting its menu choices, In-N-Out cedes many food niches to other fast food operators.

If anybody in your party wants something other than a straight burger or cheese burger, you don’t go to In-N-Out.

Chicken nuggets, hot dogs, tacos, salads, a vegetarian option, breakfast food? … All options some people want. But none appear on the In-N-Out menu.

They surely lose some business as a result of not offering a longer list of menu options.

But they surely also gain customers by serving up a better burger. A better burger they’re able to deliver because burgers are their art form.

Segmenting the market should work for many small businesses. Especially in those early months and years of operation.

Summing Up

Next time you’re someplace where In-N-Out operates? Drop by and grab a burger. Maybe a side of fries. And a beverage too.

But as you’re waiting for your meal, take an extra minute to ponder what a business based on essentially a single great product can look like.

Reflect maybe on what extreme discipline does to the menu of products or services you and I offer.

Consider how that discipline ripples in a good way through other areas of the business: inventory management, employee training, fixture and equipment requirements and so on.

Finally, mull over the courage required to cede chunks of the larger market so a firm can better best serve its core customers.

And here I need to end. It’s lunch time. And I am way, way too hungry to write one more word.

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