We recently had a Chick-fil-a open just a couple minutes away from our house. I’ve been a huge fan of Chick-fil-a for many years, ever since trying it out and reading “Eat Mor Chikin, Insprire More People” by S. Truett Cathy, their founder, so I watched the new store being built with much anticipation. In the three days since they opened, I’ve eaten there twice. I wanted to share a couple lessons learned from watching the process.

The brand. You can’t beat the brand name recognition and goodwill that is generated just from having the Chick-fil-a name on the sign out front. If it had been Roy’s Chicken and Biscuits, I wouldn’t have been nearly as excited. I realize most small businesses do not have a national name to capitalize on when they get started. However, owners must realize that from day one, you are creating a brand image with every customer you come in contact with. Over time, with continued dedication to your ideals (be that customer service, product quality, community involvement, etc) your brand will become more well known within your geographic footprint and will become an asset to you much like the Chick-fil-a name has become to them.

The Build Up. Prior to opening, their were several signs on the property indicating that a new Chick-fil-a was being built. The signs were what originally clued me in. I know that many places put up signs, but generally they don’t do it as well as Chick-fil-a. Here’s why: This store had a big sign telling everyone that a Chick-fil-a was on the way. Most places do that, and that’s where they stop. But a week or two before opening, a new sign went up with a countdown to opening day. They also had a sign up advertising job openings they needed to fill and a sign pointing people to their facebook page.

I’m don’t use facebook a whole lot, but a quick check shows that their page has over 3,500 “likes”. That’s not a general Chick-fil-a company page, but the page for this specific location. That is very impressive to me, especially since they’ve been open less than a week. The page also has information about the grand opening and other events. Seems like they are using this very well to get the message out about their restaurant. My takeaways for small businesses are to work to get the word out about your business. Wither it’s signs on the building with more useful information than just a company name, or it’s connecting with people through social media, small businesses must learn where their customers are and find ways to reach them there.

The opening. I took my wife to experience opening night and it was quite a show. The first thing that jumped out was the sheer number of people that were there. There were two lines of cars around the building for the drive-thru. Every table inside was taken. There were people in line and waiting to order. People everywhere. Fortunately, the Chick-fil-a team expected this and they were ready. They had police outside directing traffic. They had a kitchen full of staff making chicken, fries, milkshakes, and everything else. They had employees walking through the store getting refills, busing trays, and checking to make sure their customers were having a good first experience. (Almost to a fault, I had 3 people try to take my tray within 2 or 3 minutes) Even though they were inundated with customers, their level of customer service did not drop in my experience. Obviously, not every small business will have the resources to hire and train staff like Chick-fil-a and gear up for a huge opening event, but every effort should be made that your customers have a great first experience and first impression of dealing with your company. How that needs to happen will depend on the type of business you have, but the principle remains the same.

Another clever thing they did at the opening, on the way out the door they had a lady to greet everyone, thank them for coming, make sure they had a good experience, and offer a coupon for a free breakfast item when they come back. The coupon was the above and beyond genius to me. Most places will be friendly and ask how your visit was. Chick-fil-a also did that, but then they gave you a hook on the way out the door to make sure you had a compelling reason to come back a second time, which I did two days later. By my very unofficial count, roughly 25-30% of the traffic that came in on my second visit, came with coupon in hand. I would love to know their actual redemption rate, but I am sure it will be enough to make the promotion worth it. Not only are they increasing their breakfast business, which I would think is a relatively slower time of the day for them, and not only are they probably at least breaking even on the promotion by also selling drinks and sides, but they are also increasing awareness in their customer’s minds that there is a new Chick-fil-a in town and that it is a great suggestion next time they are trying to decide what to get to eat. Small businesses can also come up with ways (like coupons good on their next visit) to give their customers a compelling reason to come back to visit. Perhaps a follow-up service or add-on product or accessory, again it all depends on the business you are in.

I know Chick-fil-a isn’t that unique. I’m sure you can find other businesses and probably even other restaurants that do some of the same things that I noticed above. But the combination of all of the above efforts and the excellent food and service I received during my 2 visits have guaranteed them at least one loyal customer for their work.

Disclaimer: The link to the book is not an affiliate link. I don’t make any money if you buy it. I just think it’s an excellent book and recommend it to anyone that would read it.