Archives For Smashburger

America has a strong love affair with the hamburger. Half the country reports eating a burger at least once a week. 90% of people eat at least one burger a month. Hamburgers are among the biggest and most competitive food markets in the United States. In 2012, the “Better Burger” market grew by over 20%.

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Smashburger is an American chain of fast casual burgers restaurants that originated in Denver, Colorado in 2007. The company was founded by Tom Ryan. The name Smashburger refers to the process by which its 1/4-pound, 1/3-pound and 1/2-pound burgers are made. It begins with a ball of raw Angus Beef, which a grill cook “smashes” with a handheld steel mold on to a butter-brushed grill for ten seconds, giving the patty a caramelized sear to lock in the juices. Every burger is made fresh to order. Smashburger offers unconventional toppings including avocado, fried eggs and garlic mushrooms. The typical meal at Smashburger costs $10-$12, $2-$4 more than a meal at McDonald’s.

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Every market has specialized burgers created for and sold only in that market. In the D.C. market, for example, there’s the Capital Burger, which isn’t made with lettuce but baby arugula. It’s also has grilled onion, aged Swiss cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, tomatoes and mayo and is served on a brioche bun. Or, there’s the Brooklyn Burger which is topped with grilled pastrami and served on a pretzel bun with yellow mustard. Smashburger also sells sweet potato fries, chili cheese fries, and the house-specialty Smashfries, which come tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic.

Smashburger has experienced rapid growth. It is estimated that Smashburger will end the year with over 250 locations. Their goal is to build 400 new units over the next six years. When Smashburger opened its first unit in 2007, the better burger category was just starting to take off. Six years later Smashburger is an industry leader. Forbes magazine ranked Smashburger as America’s most promising company. Smashburger has also made the Inc 500/5000 list an exclusive ranking of the fastest growing private companies for three consecutive years.

Smashburger marketing has relied heavily on social media and generating word of mouth. Smashburger focuses heavily on events, such as when it offered a free sandwich to anyone with “burger” or “berger” in their name on National Cheeseburger day, he said. Each time it enters a new market, it contacts social media trend-setters like restaurant bloggers and “mommy” bloggers who influence where consumers eat. Then, before the restaurant opens its door, it invites the bloggers in — as a group — to demonstrate how the food is prepared.

The other key differentiator is the in-store environment and customer experience. The stores have a cool look. The food is brought to the table, so consumers  don’t have to stand around and wait. The burgers are served in a stainless-steel wire basket with a real knife and fork not plastic.

Have you eaten at a Smashburger location?

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Five Guys was founded in 1985 by Jerry Murrell in suburban Washington DC.  Murrell had four sons who didn’t want to go to college, so Murrell thought of using the money he had saved for college to start a burger business. He named it Five Guys after his four sons and himself. In 1987, a fifth son was born and the chain is now named for his five sons.

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When he developed the Five Guys concept, Jerry wanted to capture the authenticity of a burger joint in the small town in Michigan where he grew up. Five Guys created a new twist in the fast-food burger market. The burgers are not mass-produced, like they are at McDonald’s and Burger King, but are made to order and served with a large helping of hand-cut fries. Five Guys serves only hand-formed burgers grilled to perfection. The fresh-cut fries are cooked in pure peanut oil.

Five Guys has helped to build what has become known as the “Better Burger Category” of fast-casual restaurants. “Better Burgers” are hamburgers which sell in the $8 range. “Better Burgers” are now a $2.2 Billion segment of the hamburger market that grew 16% in 2011. Five Guys has nearly 50% of that segment. The entire fast-food burger category is a $40 billion industry in the United States that is dominated by McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. Growth in this segment has been more modest at about 3%. Americans are falling in love with a better burger product.

Other “Better Burger” chains existed before Five Guys. In-N-Out Burger, which started in California was founded in the late 1940’s, Fuddruckers started in 1980. The category really took off around 2005 with the rise of Five Guys. Burger Lounge, based in San Diego, is offering a grass-fed beef in its burgers and has a unique place in this growing category.

Today Five Guys has more than 1,000 stores nationwide. The Murrell family runs 200 of them and the rest are franchises. All of the franchise territories in the United States and Canada have been sold.

Five Guys has built a strong loyal following through word of mouth. Five Guys has also benefited from some great press. In 2009, President Obama stopped in for a cheeseburger, with dozens of cameramen in tow.

Five Guys is a great example of brand that has been built by focusing on delivering a great product and an excellent customer experience. They have for the most part avoided traditional advertising.

As Murrell’s mother always told him, “if you can give a good haircut, make a good drink and make a good hamburger, you’ll be all right in life”.

Who makes your favorite hamburger?