Can Product Managers Find A Way To Make A Better Burger?

Shake Shack burgers are good, but could they be even better?
Shake Shack burgers are good, but could they be even better?
Image Credit: Lucas Richarz

I’m pretty sure that we’ve all had that feeling: it’s the “I want a burger” feeling. I’m not sure if I can really describe what it is, but there is a sudden need that we have to be filling our mouths with the rich satisfying feeling of consuming a big burger. The folks over at Shake Shack realized that we were all feeling this way. They also realized that the slimed down “always the same” burgers that we can get from McDonalds and Burger King just weren’t doing it for us. That’s why they created their signature burgers and were able to successful charge more for them. However, times are changing and Shake Shack needs their product managers to change their product development definition and help to find ways to keep growing.

The Shake Shack Problem

As product managers, we always seem to have a lot of problems that we have to find solutions to. What this means is that if we don’t have a problem, we probably should not be spending any time trying to fix it. However, over at the Shake Shack, their product managers are getting all of the signs that they really do have a problem on their hands. When Shake Shack first showed up, investors couldn’t get enough of it. Things have changed. Their same-store sales have recently fallen by 2.5% and they have had to revise their annual comparable sales outlook downward. Their stock started out at US$22 / share and soared up. However, it has taken a tumble of more than 60% and was recently trading at $34.88 / share. That’s not going to look good on anyone’s product manager resume.

One of the things that makes working at Shake Shack unique from a product manager’s point of view is that everyone who goes to work for Shake Shack, no matter what your job is, is required to spend a portion of the time in an actual store working at the different stations. They do this so that they understand what is required in order to be able to make fries, burgers, and milkshakes. It has never been easy to run a restaurant and right now things are only getting tougher. All restaurants are currently experiencing the double whammy of decreasing foot traffic coupled with rising labor costs.

Shake Shack product managers have a real challenge on their hands. Even as their U.S. stores are struggling to grow, the company has plans to expand internationally. There are currently 84 stores in the U.S. There are also 12 stores in countries that include Japan, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates. The product managers are going to have to be able to find ways to protect the company’s unique start-up image while still allowing the company to grow larger.

How To Fix What’s Wrong At the Shake Shack

So Shake Shack has some problems. It sure sounds like this is exactly the kind of thing that product managers are supposed to solve. What can they do in this case? The good news here is that there are a number of other restaurants that have been facing the same types of problems. Shake Shack can learn from how they have gone about tackling this kind of problem. One of the first steps that the product managers have taken to get more people to visit their stores has been to release a mobile application. The goal of this application, as with other restaurants, is to provide their customers with a way to skip the lines in the store.

The introduction of the mobile application is a great first start. However, going forward, the Shake Shack product managers are going to have to find other ways to use technology to improve how the company operates. This means taking a look at how the company does things today and searching for better ways to do them using technology. What the product managers are going to have to take a look at is how the company is currently performing their inventory, ordering, and other internal processes in order to find ways to improve them.

Even as the product managers start to make these changes, they need to be aware that there will be things that they can’t change. The Shake Shack brand identity has to be preserved. Shake Shack currently has a great deal of brand value. One of the things that sets Shake Shack apart from its rivals is that it still has the feel of a startup. The product managers are going to have to spend their time looking for processes that they can centralize and perhaps bring back to the company’s headquarters.

What All Of This Means For You

There are very few industries that are as competitive as the restaurant industry is. Shake Shack has identified our love of burgers and they have created burger products that allow them to stand out from other burger chains such as McDonalds and Burger King. However, recently their sales and stock price have both started to decline. It’s going to be up to the Shake Shack product managers to find a way to turn things around.

Shake Shack has worked to make sure that all of its employees really understand how the business works. What this means is that all employees are required to work in a Shake Shack store as a part of their initial training. All of their stores are currently dealing with fewer customers and rising costs. In order to solve the problems that the firm is facing, the product managers have introduced a new mobile application in order to reduce in-store waiting. The product managers are also looking at other systems used by the store in order to find ways that they can improve how the stores operate. Although changes will be required, the product managers have to be careful that they don’t change the value of the Shake Shack brand.

Shake Shack has done a very good job of providing a novel and desired product in a crowded market. As the firm matures and grows, they now need to deal with the challenges of no longer being a new firm. The Shake Shack product managers are going to have to study their product manager job description and determine how to apply technology in a way that will boost sales while not harming the Shake Shack brand.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the Shake Shack product managers should make changes to the foods that the restaurant offers?

Click here to get automatic updates when
The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So just in case you didn’t realize it, Apple makes a lot of money from both renting and selling movies. This is all part of their iTunes empire that has been around for a while and has become sort of the defecto go-to location for a lot of people when they are looking for new music or movies. However, things are starting to change for the Apple product managers. Their share of the video rental / sales market has started to slip because of changing customer needs and new competitors. What’s a product manager to do?