The results are in – business is booming at Chick-fil-A.
Any lingering notions that LGBT advocacy originating with calls for government prohibition of business operation based solely on the political beliefs of corporate management would end well proved mistaken last week.
An industry-wide quarterly survey of more than 30,000 U.S. consumers of quick-service and fast-casual national restaurant chains by leading foodservice market research firm Sandelman & Associates indicated that past-month patronage at Chick-fil-A was up 2.2 percent in the third quarter when compared to the same period last year. A big burst of business trending above a total prior year same-store increase of seven percent.
The chicken chain scored impressive gains in markets where it has locations. This marketplace improvement occurred at the height of controversy comingled with calls for both a business ban and a buyer boycott.
Despite pervasive negative publicity in recent months, Chick-fil-A is thriving.
The fast food chain’s market share increased 0.6 percent, reaping significant growth in a short period. Brand awareness shot up by an astounding 6.5 percent and unprompted top-of-head brand mention improved 2.8 percent. Substantially benefiting the company was a noticeable uptick in frequency of visits by regular customers accompanied by broadening its customer cohort in 28 of 35 media markets.
The Atlanta-based franchise business operates just over 1,600 restaurants in 39 states and grosses slightly more than $4 billion in annual sales. It is tenth among quick service chains when measuring total revenues, behind competitors with a larger number of outlets – McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut and KFC, in that order. Chick-fil-A ranks 21st in total locations, but enjoys the nation’s highest sales volume per unit.
Company outlets, consisting of varying as well as smaller sizes, tend to be big – and now they are even busier.
This sudden development has perplexed many public relations professionals and brand management experts. Jeff Davis, president of Sandelman, observed that it was commonly thought that the controversy over the company’s position on same-sex civil marriage and LGBT equal rights “would hurt Chick-fil-A, but it actually helped the brand.”
A flurry of news reports announced the unexpected results beginning Oct. 25, illustrating the common confounded reaction of marketers with a statement by Chris Goddard, president of public relations firm CGPR. Goddard reviewed how “Chick-fil-A did everything wrong in the book. Their president shot from the hip, and his PR team was not equipped or prepared to respond. It was a PR disaster and a clear case of what not to do in a crisis.”
In reality, however, it was we who were off the mark.
When pandering politicians posed as pied-piper proponents of illegal bandwagon business bans in a number of jurisdictions we should have had the common sense not to follow their off-key tune. Some misguided LGBT organizations and far too many community members and allies made the mistake of abandoning a commitment to fairness for others when seeking our own equitable treatment.
This confused ambivalent supporters and angered hardened opponents of our equality. A cavalier disregard for the fair treatment of businesses and the rights of individuals to express differing views fueled a backlash supporting freedom of speech, including among the LGBT community – and galvanized a massive public outpouring of participation for an unofficial “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”
A seeming thirst for the sweet taste of punishment and revenge – absent any actual business discrimination against either employees or customers but, rather, corporate and private management contributions to anti-gay organizations and groups opposing marriage equality – was unseemly and counterproductive.
Muddling the message and surrendering the high ground, some foolishly traded frustration for the illusion of a hoped-for expedient path to advancing equality on a quick fast food time clock. Careening down philosophically indefensible pathways without even noticing a turn in the road bred public perception of a willingness to rip a chicken sandwich from a person’s mouth in order to shove our freedom down their throat.
Losing sight of the power of persuasion and the diligent slog required in touching hearts and changing minds was the unfortunate result.
If for no other reason than that is how we will ultimately succeed.
Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.