Can a burger joint be innovative?

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burger & fries
Burger & fries (Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan)

The other evening I went to buy supper at a new burger joint that’s been introduced into the local market. The queue was amazingly long. This is after the burger place has been on the market for a few weeks. The most amazing thing is the demand for this product probably because it’s new to the market.

It makes you think about these big burger operations and what their innovation is really all about. They’ve been able to create a manufacturing and assembly operation in your neighbourhood and roll it out to anywhere in the world. The branding, hype and advertising makes it all seem so desirable. The innovation is really in the business model which produces high revenue from relatively small real estate space.

The only complaint I heard in the long queue was from someone who was asking their partner why the jobs weren’t more publicly advertised. I’m not sure if this person was looking to work at this burger joint or whether they had the national consideration in mind about job creation. Certainly if you look at the number of people employed by these hamburger chains then you can see why they are received with open arms by governments. The thing is that the government is not able to create jobs this quickly and ones that people actually enjoy. These are almost instant jobs where people can be trained within a few weeks to get a job and can be drawn from the ranks of the unskilled and semi-skilled.

The experts distinguish between entrepreneurs that are replicative and innovative entrepreneurs. The replicative entrepreneur sets up small businesses much like other small businesses in the local community. Innovative entrepreneurs are those who upset and disorganise the existing way of doing business or through their products and services they provide. It’s an interesting difference for those who study entrepreneurship and its impact on contribution to the economy but what relevance has it got for start-ups, solopreneurs and small businesses?

From the perspective of the small business owner it doesn’t really matter much ecause it really depends on what sort of revenues and profitability your business has. A business owner selling women’s clothing from the Far East can make more money or just about the same money as a business owner who has set up a local franchised branch of a global cellphone giant.

I was going through some research the other day that showed that sole proprietorships are doing well with higher revenues because in the present labour market more people are moving into the small or micro business. Technology is or seems to be also helping entrepreneurs as they are able to expand their local, national and even global reach.

Yet where a lot of the small businesses are employed they are doing the dirty or difficult work in industries such as construction, landscaping, car repair, restaurant cooking, cleaning and beauty salons.

When we look at the success stories of innovators such as the surfer foundered camera GoPro, the plastic coffee lid for jam jars called Cuppow and even locally at the seeds-on-a-reel invention we generally come across a well-informed and even highly educated group of new young entrepreneurs who are coming up with products that no one has thought of before. These are not the kind of products that you’re going to find suddenly emerging from the old conservative industries such as dry cleaning, small-scale construction and basic restaurant takeaway joints. But one needs to be careful because innovation can come from anywhere and from anyone, no matter their education level or how well informed they are about markets, products and competition.

One of South Africa’s biggest franchise growth areas of opportunities is a chain of fish and chip shops which are frying on street corners in almost all towns now. This not a product innovation story but like the big burger joint chains is a format, delivery and business model success story.

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