A Parable

There was a corporation that was known for being the best in its business.  It was one of the premier steakhouse chains. It was well-known and beloved and many of the leading citizens used its services.  It was old and venerable and respectable.  It had a structural model that divided the territory and set up districts for its business. Each district offered local franchise opportunities when enough people asked them to move a franchise into the community.  Many districts were set up and headed by strong managers. Some early managers went out and organized local franchises.  The franchises felt a strong connection to the district and even the corporation. 

So the corporation grew as the franchises and districts grew.  Great profits were had, and many people felt that the product sold by the corporation through its districts and franchises was the best available in the market.  The customers were loyal and ate there once a week, often inviting their friends.  Their children enjoyed keeping the tradition alive.

               Over time, the corporation rested on its laurels. It came to see its business model as merely keeping the doors of the franchises open. Attention to quality diminished and it began to feel entitled to its customers.  It was believed that the customers owed the corporation loyalty and their needs began to take second place.  Service began to suffer.

 In fact, many of the managers of the districts and franchises began to doubt that the steakhouse should even exist.  Some thought there was no real steak, others that it was a metaphor and still others that there were many paths to steak, so they wanted the ability to change the menu at their own initiative.  Many even removed steak from the menu.  Customers, their friends, and families began to drift away.  This was not blamed on the need to serve what the corporate menu promised, but on the fact that the districts and franchises were not innovative enough.  New managers needed to be brought in who would do this. Those who thought this began to scheme for advancements in the corporation. One district manager publicly stated that steak did not exist, and the corporation did nothing about it.  One manager even wrote articles claiming that the menu needed to change or die. Again, the corporation did nothing and allowed this manager to do talk shows in his managerial uniform and publically represent the corporation. This despite the fact that the corporation till clung to the idea of steak as its core business.

               Eventually, these district  and franchise managers began to move up the corporate chain.  No one thought about truly reinvigorating the business in caring for customers and providing quality by restoring the essential menu that people had come to expect.  Instead they gathered in the boardroom and turned the steakhouse corporation into a buffet.  No longer would customers be expected to order off the menu, but they could have whatever they wanted, even if it was an imaginary steak.  The corporation announced this new model to much fanfare. It developed a national marketing strategy to brand the corporation and sell its new buffet approach to current and future customers.  Only those who agreed to this new branding would be allowed to serve as district managers.  Any who did not would be allowed to retire gracefully if they wished, but their successors would have to swear loyalty to the new buffet model.

               Unfortunately, this did not help the market share, but the corporation did not seem to mind as it had done the right thing and changed from being that stodgy steakhouse. Buffets were the future.  Of course, a few buffet fans did begin to use the corporation, some loyal customers were loyal to their local franchise, some just liked the name of the corporation and its atmosphere, but many current customers started eating elsewhere and some districts and franchises left the corporation.  This was a time of turmoil. 

               Some districts and their franchises, and some franchises in buffet districts, did not like the new buffet model, but still stayed with the corporation.  They were laughed at and derided and given second status in the boardroom as they were outnumbered. They were the tolerated minority of districts and franchises, and many believed in just a generation or so they would get with the new program.

               Now, the districts and franchises that wished to serve the old menu struggle to announce that they have not changed, but continue to serve the steaks that made them famous.  However, most new customers have only seen the nationwide advertising campaign for a buffet and do not want steak.  These feel that they have fallen for a “bait and switch” and do not become regulars.  Others, who do want steak, also have seen the national advertising and refuse to even try the local franchise.

               So, what happens?  Will the steakhouse districts and franchises simply become boutiques or even survive?  Will the buffet corporation? How will the market decide?

               Let the reader understand.