Surviving the Recession

Here is how one company has managed to not just survive but also thrive in the recession.  Slate Magazine just posted this article by Daniel Gross.  Here are some excerpts:

“But at least one comparatively pricey restaurant chain is turning in the equivalent of a Michelin-starred performance. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, whose two restaurant chains—P.F. Chang’s and Pei Wei Asian Diner—are staples of upscale malls and mixed-use developments, said that same-store sales fell a bit but profits produced at its 350 outlets rose 38 percent from the first quarter of 2008. Operating margins—the holy grail of any business—at P.F. Chang’s 190 stores rose from 12.8 percent to 14 percent, largely because of “incremental operational improvement opportunities.” The stock has doubled since November.

What accounts for the sizzle in P.F. Chang’s wok? Probably not the food. Just as saxophonist Kenny G provides jazz for people who don’t really like authentic jazz, P.F. Chang’s peddles Chinese food to diners who might not cotton to authentic Sichuan fare. Waiters don’t wheel around carts laden with steamed chicken feet as they do at dim sum parlors in New York and San Francisco. In the comfy confines of Boston’s Prudential Center, I was presented with a raft of desserts as American as, well, apple pie, including the Great Wall of Chocolate. “It’s like The Cheesecake Factory, only ethnic,” says Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. “It’s very consciously designed to cultivate an appeal to mainstream America.” The “P.F.” stands for company founder Paul Fleming, and the kitchen features ingredients that wouldn’t be found in Chinese restaurants, such as chocolate, cheese, and melon balls. (Try picking up fruity spheroids with chopsticks.)

P.F. Chang’s made it to $1 billion in sales by taking cues from successful Asian businesses. Now by focusing on process improvement rather than helter-skelter growth, it seems to be doing so again. Continuous improvement, the philosophy pioneered by Japanese companies such as Toyota in which managers and workers relentlessly seek out small modifications that add up to big profits, seems to be the recipe for success in 2009.”

Businesses must focus on themselves—internal process improvement—rather than just continuing their old tactics.  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity—Einstein.