Five Guys Fever


Saturday June 5th, 2010 – Valparaiso, IN

In my never ending fascination with marketing breakthroughs, a hamburger chain called ‘Five Guys’ has tiptoed quietly on to my radar. I’d never heard of them before until about a month ago when my friend Shelley asked if I wanted to go with her on a ‘mystery shop’.

I really didn’t on that particular day, but she asked me nicely so I said yes. They opened a new location in Libertyville, IL and when we got there the joint had lines out the door of high school kids and we had to wait way too long for our food. My patience for waiting in lines has always been low, but this particular day set me off. It was a bad first impression.

Then, just last week Marc Schultz said he wanted to ‘try out a new hamburger place’ for lunch he’d heard about. We got there, and it was a different Five Guys location. Again we had to wait in line, but this time not as long. Their joints are jumping, I’ll give them that.

It seems like these places are sprouting up everywhere out of nowhere. I noticed one up in Milwaukee a few days ago in the Bay Shore Mall, and today I had a last minute fall out gig in Indiana and saw one on the way south side of Chicago in Orland Park. I stopped for a quick burger, just because I wanted to learn a little more about the history of the place.

Apparently, the first location was opened in 1986 in Virginia. They’ve spread all around since then and there are all kinds of articles on the walls from places like Indianapolis and Atlanta with reviews of their product. This is no small operation, and it’s far from ‘new’.

It’s amazing how much work can go into something for so long and still be an unknown quantity to millions of people. I’ve traveled America my entire life and I’d never heard of this place until a month ago. Now, I can’t stop hearing about it. They’ve broken through.

So far, I’ve not heard or seen any ads, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have them. I bet they do, and I’m sure I’ll come across them soon if they’re opening up so many locations in the area. They seem to really have it together as far as marketing goes, and that’s what successful entities do. They also have a system of how they cook and get the food served.

Is the product that much better than anyone else? I have to say not really. It’s only a few items, done well, and their gimmick is they have free peanuts to eat while people wait for their order to be cooked. It’s simple, but effective. Is it new? No, but there is a plan there.

Judging by the enthusiastic response of the people I saw packed into the three locations I’ve visited, they’re doing something right. I’m trying to figure out what. Are people into it because it’s new, at least in this area? It doesn’t hurt that they have high calorie comfort foods fried in grease either. Around these parts, that’s pretty much a guaranteed seller.

Still, it’s only burgers, hotdogs and fries. It’s fascinating to me how they can come into an area and make such impact. They must know what works after many years of trial and error, and they’re doing it. This is no Mickey Mouse operation. There’s big money here.

I wonder what the other burger places do to fight something like this? Five Guys has the smaller menu with a higher price, but they seem to specialize in a certain thing. I wonder who their average customer is? There’s no dollar menu, and there’s not a lot of choices.

The more upscale hamburger places like a Fuddrucker’s could be affected, but they do a great job in my opinion. Is it a location thing? There seem to be a lot more Five Guys than Fuddruckers around, or at least from my perception. This is all interesting, at least for me.

Sub sandwich restaurants present another recently crowded field, or do they? I grew up in Milwaukee, where there was Cousins and Suburpia. Both were local chains, and people in southeast Wisconsin know and love them both. Cousins is bigger, but still not national.

Jimmy John’s seems to be making a huge run for everyone’s money, and I learned that a Chicago area guy around my age started it up in 1983. It totally reminds me of Five Guys in that it’s got a very basic menu, but it’s done well. Sub sandwiches, chips, sodas. Maybe a cookie for dessert. I think that’s it. Do they have soups? Not that I know of. It’s basic.

I have to admit, I think they’re delicious. If a Cousins or Suburpia were directly next to a Jimmy John’s, I can’t guarantee which one I’d choose. I guess it would depend on how I felt that particular day. Jimmy John’s came along much later in the game, but did it right. They might not always get my business, but they have become one of the final choices.

All this very much applies to comedy in that it doesn’t really matter who came first. It’s  a matter of the system and how it’s executed. When I started doing comedy in Milwaukee there were people who were doing it longer than me, but I studied the game and was able to pass them by in a relatively short period of time. I saw the bigger picture more clearly.

That was twenty five years ago, but now I’m running the same risk of having it done to me all these years later. I’ve been doing it how I’ve done it since then, and still there are a majority of people who’ve never sampled my product. What can I do to get them to try it, so I’m at least on their final choices list? I need to infiltrate new places and set up shop.

Five Guys must have had a plan to expand, and there was a lot of work involved for that to become reality. They had to scout locations, sign leases, build out stores, hire staffs, all with no guarantees of success. They took a calculated risk based on their market research.

I won’t have as much work to do as that, but I do think my market research indicates I’ll be a player in other areas if I set up shop there. “Other areas” could include a lot of things from new towns, new venues, new target audiences in old towns. This is about business.

I realize that more every day, and I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It just is. I used to do comedy strictly for the fun and adventure of it all, and it was both. I mistakenly thought it would lead to riches automatically, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now I’m seeing it from a much different perspective. I know what I’m doing, now I need to package it up and become the Five Guys or Jimmy John’s of comedy. I want to be the ‘new’ sensation.

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