One critical flaw that has hobbled and even killed companies is not managing growth. Companies that don’t manage their growth produce unhappy customers, unhappy vendors, unhappy franchisees and sometimes, spectacular flame outs. Why would a company put itself in this position? Lots of reasons . . . attempting to grab market share, be the first into a new market and dominate a niche, management hubris or just plain greed.
Here’s an example of management hubris: I interviewed for an executive position with a $700 million company that started growing extremely rapidly (It had doubled in the past 2 years.). I spent 1.5 hours with their head of HR. He told me, “We don’t have competition” and “I’d rather have someone do C+ work and get it done tomorrow than A work and get it done next week.” Those sort of red flags say to me that when this company falls, it’s going to fall hard.
Two companies that should’ve been category killers, but ended up flaming out, are Boston Chicken (which changed its name to Boston Market) and Krispy Kreme Donuts. Both had fanatics among customers and captivating products. Both were loved by Wall Street. In both cases, there was no dominant national chain in their niche, a la McDonalds in the hamburger category (KFC offered fried, not rotisserie, chicken.). Both flamed out.
In Boston Market’s case, large loans fueled growth that occurred much too quickly. Essentially, the company began to see itself as a financial, not food service, company, making money selling franchises instead of focusing on growing steadily and producing high quality meals. The company failed to build a strong management team and had high executive turnover. Food quality varied from unit to unit and even in individual units, depending on the time of day and number of customers. Even its marketing strategy, with constant coupons, led to higher growth and lower margins. Eventually, it filed for bankruptcy.
When Krispy Kreme opened in new areas, cars waited in long lines. Although founded in 1937, its downturn came when it saw how lucrative franchising could be. It sold its first franchise in 1995 and went public in 2000. Its stock soared. Yet it grew too rapidly without addressing a fundamental flaw: stores that were too big – for selling just doughnuts – and cost too much to operate. Some stores were too close together. The company later began selling doughnuts to supermarkets, cannibalizing franchisees’ sales and flooding the market with product, lessening its cachet. Franchisees paid high equipment and supply fees. Ninety percent of sales were doughnuts, a much higher rate than competitors that diversified their offerings. In other words, the company grew much too rapidly without first proving their franchise model.
On June 29, private equity firm MGL Asset Management Group LLC bid $7.25/share to take the company private. But the company once traded at almost $50/share.