Where did meal assembly go wrong?

Where did meal assembly go wrong? I think it’s safe to say that this industry didn’t just collapse overnight (although in some places it wasn’t far off), but that took several key factors which when all placed together formed a house of cards and once it began to show signs of stress and topple, the whole thing came crashing down on itself. Here are some of the key factors that lead to the downfall.

  • Inability to explain the concept in less than 30 seconds, or less than 3 sentences.
  • Greed and over saturation by franchises when an area started to do well.
  • Copycat mentality
  • No policing of who a store was sold to, or more importantly, where.
  • Gold rush mentality by independent vendors who were willing to sell their goods (recipes and software) to anyone who asked. No discern for demographics or location.
  • No future thinking plan to contend with “slumps” in business.
  • Reliance on owners giving away goods to entice customers.
  • Lack of national marketing campaign.

Obviously things such as lack of any defined leadership within the industry, and a bandwagon expansion mentality weakened the entire structure, but I think if you look at the above you will see the inherent flaw in the overall plan. From the start the idea is simply too complicated to explain. Some people get it, but most wonder at the significance an importance of the idea. They don’t see the value, the uniqueness, the benefit the idea brings. This is followed by having to constantly give something away in order to entice customers, whether that be a free meal for signups, free samples, sneak peeks, open houses, and a whole slew of other gimmicks. The owner is constantly digging into their pockets to give something away in the hopes the customer will come back. Ask yourself, which restaurant have you been to recently, or any other store for that matter, that constantly gives away food or other products to get you in the door? And how many of those stores are still in business? You sure don’t see Outback giving away steaks. You don’t see Pizza Hut giving away pizzas just so you will order one. You don’t see Wendy’s giving you and extra burger because you ordered through the drive through.

If a store was able to build a client base the competitors would descend like vultures on a carcass. And the not just outside competitors, but competitors from within the same franchise. Stores opened down the street from each other and in some cases right across the street. This is a clear sign that no checks were done to see if additional stores were viable for an area. This is a lack of understanding of the market, of the franchisor being blinded by new franchise fees rather than protecting and building their brand and a clear copycat and gold rush mentality. It was a quick and easy sell and no one checked to see where stores would go. Dream Dinners slapped them up all in the same area, Super Suppers would build them three at a time, Meal Makers would show up wherever the party was and My Girlfriend’s Kitchen would show up late to the scene, but none the less, they would show up.

There is also a clear lack of forwarding thinking with the corporate headquarters. Dream Dinners feels the “social” aspect of getting together and making meals is all you need to keep customers coming back for more. They’re rigid and unyielding mentality Super Suppers is willing to try anything and everything as a gimmick to get customers to come in. But all that’s succeeded in doing is making customers more demanding and building the expectation they will get something for free and the store owner will do just about anything if they agree to come in for a session or to place an order. The customer is far too much in control of how the business works. This isn’t some open air market in Belize where you barter and haggle over everything, this is a business with prices and rules. “Take it or leave it” isn’t the right business philosophy, but giving the customer everything and the kitchen sink is a bit ridiculous too.

And finally, I think the biggest blunder has been the complete lack of national advertising. With the millions being brought in per year none of that money was used to create national TV spots. Not a single commercial was made. Franchisors figured word of mouth was the best way to advertise. Local owners took the brunt of finding ways to advertising in print, web and radio. They were left to find customers, build community relationships, give away sessions to charities, create and manage coupons, publish newsletters, generate email campaigns, AND run a store 60+ hours a week. The franchisor simply sold their name and a partial “system” and then let the owners work out the bugs. Changes were slow to occur, new ideas were pushed to the way side, communication between stores was practically non-existent, and new ideas from corporate simply mimicked what other companies were doing – splitting meals and offering pizza are NOT new and unique ideas.

So any owner out there that is feeling guilty, embarrassed or shame about business being slow or even closing, go ahead and let me know which one of these you failed to execute properly and then let me know how the franchisor came in, grabbed the ball and ran with it?

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5 Responses to “Where did meal assembly go wrong?”

  • MAK Customer:

    I’ve been a regular (monthly) customer of a MAK for about 2 years. I am sold on the concept but I think there is a very major flaw that I’ve not seen addressed in this forum.

    What about the food? Most postings talk about how healthy, nutritious, delicious and convenient the menus are but those generalities exactly make anyone’s mouth water. Most web sites contain few pictures of the actual prepared meals.

    Think about successful restaurants, gourmet groceries, delis – it’s all about the food! We get hungry just thinking about it. We start to crave a delicious specialty from one of our favorite spots. Think about the packaging of most convenience foods – attractive photos of the food on the label. Compare that to a zip loc baggie of raw ingredients in a grab and go freezer with nothing more than a recipe name and cooking instructions.

    I haven’t seen any MAKs really selling their food – and food is what an MAK is all about. Our families don’t care how convenient the meal is to prepare – they care about how delicious the food tastes.

    Do you think the industry would be more successful if the owners and franchisors stopped selling a “concept” and focused instead on selling the food?

    Just some “food” for thought!

  • indie owner:

    That’s good in theory, but I’m not so sure in practice. We really prided ourselves on our food (used a butcher, only choice or better beef, all natural, corn-fed chicken, fresh herbs, no msg, etc. etc.) but we had customers who would switch between us and other stores that literally opened canned cooked carrots and dumped them in an ingredient bin, not even bothering to drain them. Or they used cream of mushroom soup and called it bechamel sauce, or advertised turkey breast but actually used deli meat. Those stores had some good meals but most of the ones I sampled were nowhere near our quality.

    But I do agree with you that the emphasis should be on the food, but in our McDonald’s culture, I think you and I might be in the minority.

  • guest:

    MAK Customer-FYI-Dream Dinners and some others already show staged photo’s of their food a la- Chinese take out restaurants on their websites.
    We know how that’s going-it’s not!!!
    I wish all it took was a yummy picture and a paragraph to bring in customers.
    Ah alas it is not so.
    Not only that but that takes more marketing dollars extorted from the franchisees pockets by way of their mandatory marketing fee, food stylists, photo shoots all of which take money.

  • guest2:

    oh I love that EVERY friggin’ Dream Dinner pictures are of the Home Office Frozen Choosen- Sherri and her best lesbo friend Becki- Sherri and her sister. then their is Tracy’s son (Stephaine’s sister) in VERY store. holding a cookie, Does Dream Dinners SELL cookies??????

    How many THOUSANDS of dollors were spent on those pictures????

    I can just see it now- Fat Ass Darin’s picture with a HUGE Flank Steak! Can You???

  • Actually I think the photo of the food is an underutilized aspect. For example, since I just went to the Dream Dinners site only a couple of their menu items have a photo. I think it would be appealing to have a more visual representation of the food. That finished product dressed up nicely. Apparently it’s too complicated and time consuming. Considering the number of amateur sites I see doing it I think that’s a lame excuse.

    And I think you have a good point with the overall presentation of the food – a bunch of bags and pans in the freezer. I believe most people will agree that the MAK food is quite good, but the presentation could use a little work. I’m not sure exactly how you would combat that, the food does need to survive the conditions of a freezer from several days to a month or so. This also means the labels have to stick to the bag/pan and not disappear to the bottom of the freezer, something which happens all too often.

    But as Indie Owner says, even if you have the best food in the world you still have to get the customer to come in and get it. They want gourmet meals at fast good convenience at those two don’t always go together. And as we have discussed several times, if you can get “OK” food in 5 minutes or less versus great food in 35 minutes, the 5 minute food is going to win…

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