CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When you’re looking at companies still adding employees, look to one of the nation’s largest family owned businesses, Chick-fil-A. Not only is the restaurant chain expanding nationwide, it is still growing in our area as well.
"We’re a privately held business. All of our growth is financed and capitalized by happy satisfied customers,” said Dan Cathy, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Atlanta-based company.
We sat down with Cathy during a trip to Charlotte, one where he talked to students at Mallard Creek High School and then spoke on business innovation and creativity at Belk Headquarters. He is a busy man, but not one who spends a whole lot of time behind a desk.
“I realized about eight or nine years ago that leaders need to be out there where things are going on. And the closer the top caliber leadership is to the customer the better business is going to be run,” he explained.
Three days a week, the 58-year-old Cathy is on the road. He often attends grand openings and often finds customers camping out to get a chance at free food.
“We’re very thankful for the loyalty of our customers to our business,” said Cathy. “We’ll open 75 new restaurants this year. We’re going to hit about $4 billion.”
During a recession, the company founded by his father, S. Truett Cathy 65 years ago, has continued to grow achieving its 43rd year of consecutive sales increases.
Two to three of those new restaurants Cathy mentioned will be in the Charlotte area. The first store opened here in Southpark Mall in 1970. He says our region is still a great place to invest with 39 locations to date.
“We have over 2,000 Chick-fil-A team members that we employ here,” he said.
Training for new employees is focused heavily on something Cathy’s family has stressed since the beginning: hospitality. Saying ‘my pleasure’ and offering to carry a tray to the table sets you apart, Cathy agreed, when times are tough.
“We have people sitting in our dining room who have a lot of stress and anxiety that is going on and that is why we think service is particularly important today and in today’s economy to give people encouragement,” he said.
“From an employment standpoint we have an incredible array of potential talent that we’ve been able to bring into the business that we would not have had coming into our businesses filling out applications maybe five years ago,” he added.
At around $6 a meal, Cathy describes his business as recession resistant. Again, he’s adding, not losing employees at a time when so many people are trying to figure out what’s next.
“I think everyone is having to retool and re-skill themselves. So we have a workforce that is trying to catch up to where they need to be for the economy, the new economy we live in today,” said Cathy.
In case you’re wondering, Chick-fil-A will remain closed on Sundays. Cathy says his employees need to have time off to be with their family and to worship if they choose.
“We want to create an atmosphere where people love what they do and know what they do is very important and significant,” he said.
In all, Chick-fil-A has more than 2,000 locations. Recent expansions include Chicago with stores planned in San Francisco and New York in coming years.