In the early 1980s, my advertising client convinced me that when a restaurant adds a menu item, they should subtract one at the same time. Their irrefutable logic was that a new product has a better chance to be a winner if you drop one that’s selling poorly. Everyone’s resources are limited, they said, so focus is essential.
Despite the logic, rarely do chain restaurants drop an item when they add another. As a result, while they may get marketing hype on the new line they become operationally less efficient in the back of the house. If I ask why no subtraction, I’m told “we can’t afford to displease any customers at this time”.
That makes no sense to me since my Mom told me, “you can’t be all things to all people.”
In the early 2000s my son, Timmy and I found a guy, Todd Graves who started a chain called Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers with only one product. Their theme ONE LOVE refers to their only main menu item: chicken fingers. They serve other items (cole slaw, Texas toast, crinkle cut fries and Cane’s sauce) with their only menu item but that’s it. Todd and his team are asked daily to add other menu items and over 20 years into it, they have not.
Due to that laser focus (and operational excellence and cool culture) Cane’s is America’s fastest growing chain and #2 in same restaurant sales in the fast food business. They sell more than most competitors who sell as many as 50 menu items. As for Timmy’s Raising Cane’s, the first which opened in 2004, they now have 23 restaurants and over 1,000 employees.
My original company (WorkPlace Media) had one product when we sold it in 2007. We had a network of 1 million employers who gave us permission to send our clients’ messages and samples to their 60 million associates. When we got the company back in late 2013, it had 15 “products” and was doing 25% less revenue.
And while we’re still reeling from our return to focus (dismantling processes and systems for 15 products requires cultural change which is slow and painful) we are investing more time and money than ever in the brand. That’s because just as Cane’s is the only brand to focus exclusively on chicken fingers, WorkPlace is the only media to focus exclusively on reaching consumers where they work.
It takes patience because subtraction is counter intuitive. In fact, it’s almost un-American. The American way is growth by adding, right?
Think of all the organizations you admire that focus on one thing – one niche – very successfully. In fact, think of the people you admire who focus on their strengths to avoid being all things to all people.
We can all be successful by concentrating on the unique gifts to offer; as a marketer, as a service organization, as a human being.
Why clutter your organization or yourself with something more unless you’re willing to let go of something less?