The Remarkable “Finger Lickin’ Good” Success Of KFC
How many times is a person likely to fail when they try to start a business? Four? Five? Or even ten? But this 65-year old man succeeded after getting rejected more than a thousand times, which is now a world-famous brand, the KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken was born in 1890, Henryville, Indiana. At the age of 6, he lost his father. Being the elder kid of the family, had to take care of his siblings and look after household chores. He learned to cook from his mother at the age of 7. He eventually joined a farm at the age of 10 to support his family financially. Being a kiddo, he easily got distracted and got fired from his job.
At the age of 12, his mother got remarried, and he was not treated well by his stepfather and so he left his family and started to live independently. For a living, he worked at a farm in the morning, went to school during the day, and did dishwashing in the evenings. He dropped off of school in 7th grade finding algebra difficult.
For his living, he did all kinds of odd jobs, from being a street car conductor, railroad fireman, insurance salesman, steamboat operator, soldier, tyre seller to even a lawyer. After all these odd jobs, finally he ended up working at a gas station.
He moved to Corbin, Kentucky, to look after Shell’s gas station in 1930. He decided to focus on customer service. As the location was a highway, people who’d stop at a gas station were quite rare. To make extra money, he’d prepare meals for customers in his gas station which had a table for six. His meal contained mainly country ham and vegetables; later fried chicken was added on which is America’s dish of hospitality.
In 1937, he became popular and people from different states visited his “gas station meal”. By the side, he added a motel and later on started up a cafe which could accommodate 142 people at a time.
Customers had to wait 30 minutes for his fried chicken. He felt bad to make them wait so long as he could not prepare a batch earlier, afraid as the quality and quantity might be wasted. It was during that time that the pressure cooker was an invention. He just modified the pressure cooker, found appropriate heat, time and quantity of chicken to be cooked, which saved more time.
Once, he received an order to have 500 chicken fries at a time. Then he decided to improve his spice mix and this led to his ‘Secret Blend of 11 Herbs and Spices’ which turned out to be the best. His cafe got listed in the book ‘Adventures In Good Eating – Good Eating along the Highways of America’, a Puncan Hines book.
During the time of the Second World War, he faced great loss as there were no visitors. Poor Harland! Later, he started another restaurant in Georgetown, KY, which was run by his former colleague. But he framed it as if it was opened under partnership but Harland bought it back as co-owner and he didn’t fire him either! Big heart!
In 1953, he got an offer for his highway motel for $164,000 from a real estate dealer, but he refused that. Six months later, due to change of travel tracks, he faced a heavy loss and had to sell it in 1956 for $75,000 which was less that half the amount that the former had offered.
At the age of 65, he was just left with a social security cheque of $105/month. Harland was not ready to give up. He just had the thirst to achieve something at some point of his life.
Suddenly, he was struck with the idea of introducing his franchise. He put the cooker and the seasoning mix in his car and wherever he’d spot a restaurant, he’d request them to allow him to cook his chicken. If it sells best, Bingo! They would sell his dish and he’d get paid for it.
It didn’t hit, unlucky Harland. But in a couple of years, he pulled the crowd! Thus, KFC was formed which just boomed the restaurant chain. His secret spice mix was packed and shipped worldwide but the recipe was not shared. In 1963, there were over 600 franchises around US & Canada. Then a young businessman, John Y Brown, was just amazed by KFC’s growth. John in partnership with Jack Massey, a bussiness magnet then, approched Harland with a deal of $2,000,000 for KFC. His reply was just ‘NO DEAL!’.
But finally in January 6, 1964, at the age of 73, he found John promising that he’d take care of his business and agreed to sell it to him under the conditions to maintain quality and to treat the frachise fairly, and the promise is being kept till date!
As Harland said, ‘Every failure is a stepping stone to something better,’ he remained to give the best over it!