By G. David Doran
A plastic life-sized cow stands next to a busy highway, wearing a sandwich board that begs passersby to "Eat Mor Chikin," in scrawled handwriting. The newest ad campaign for Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A Inc. may sound like a bad joke, but if the numbers are any indication, people are taking the cow's pleadings to heart. The company started 50 years ago as a chicken restaurant so small it was actually called "The Dwarf House." Chick-fil-A now has 750 locations in 35 states plus South Africa and Canada, with 1996 sales of $600 million.
According to Chick-fil-A's Huie Woods, the key to the company's expansion is its independent operators. Operators pay $5,000 to sublease a pre-built location from the company, but before stepping behind the counter, they receive six weeks of paid training in store operations and marketing.
While it's not a franchise, Chick-fil-A takes 50 percent of net profits and 15 percent of gross sales. However, operators are guaranteed a $30,000 base salary regardless of profits, which can exceed $100,000 per year in some freestanding locations. And, if that isn't enough, Chick-fil-A restaurants are closed on Sundays, a long-standing company tradition, giving employees the day off.