In-N-Out keeps popping up far from home

Discussion
Sep 15, 2014

Since December 2011, In-N-Out Burger, the iconic California chain, has been opening brief pop-ups around the world with no plans to expand far from its California and Southwest base.

The tour has reached 26 countries, including Peru, Chile, Russia, Ukraine, England, Spain, Australia and Southeast Asia. Last Thursday, its 37th event occurred in Toronto.

In typical fashion, the Toronto pop-up was introduced with little fanfare through a small classified ad in a local newspaper that tends to blow up in social media. The events are held for a few hours and appear to draw throngs of crowds and local media attention. In Toronto, the chain planned to offer its burgers for one day from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. People started to line up at 6:30 a.m. T-shirts were also sold for $3.00 Canadian.

The reason for the pop-ups remains ambiguous.

The chain, known for its slow expansion, has no plans to open locations in other countries. It operates more than 280 restaurants in California, Utah, Texas, Arizona and Nevada. Part of its expansion challenge is its reputation for fresh good and commitment to never freezing patties. It will only open new restaurants within a day’s drive of four distribution centers. (The meat at the pop-ups are locally sourced.)

With speculation about an entry into Colorado, a company official told the Denver Post that the chain plans to focus expansion on the five states in which it operates over the next few years. In-N-Out is also a family-owned company that doesn’t believe in franchising.

One reason for the tour appears to be to promote the buzz around the brand when tourists visit the states where it has locations. Brian Nakao, In-N-Out’s manager of special foreign events, told the Globe and Mail that he often meets people who have vacationed in California and want to share the In-N-Out experience with others.

When asked about their intentions with past pop-ups in London, Tokyo and Singapore, In-N-Out has sent out this statement several times: "We have done events like this before in other countries and they are just one part of our efforts to promote and expand our brand as well as determine the best way to continue reaching out to customers around the world. We do not have any immediate plans to open a permanent restaurant there but this special event will help us make future decisions."

What do you think is behind In-N-Out’s worldwide pop-up tour? Can you think of some other regional chains that would benefit from global pop-ups?

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15 Comments on "In-N-Out keeps popping up far from home"


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Liz Crawford
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

Leave it to the little guy to develop astute guerilla tactics. In-N-Out is giving U.S. brands a tutorial in brand building.

Uniqlo did something similar with pop-ups before they became ubiquitous, and with a similar effect—the brand developed a kind of cult following. However, unlike In-N-Out, I am not convinced that the clothier maintained the mystique.

This should be an academic case that brand marketers should study.

David Livingston
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

It’s clever and In-N-Out is popular enough to make it work. Chik-fil-A is expanding to new markets. Steak ‘n Shake seems to flop. Culver’s from Wisconsin has been opening up in Arizona, probably due to the large numbers of Wisconsin residents to move there for the winter. Maybe In-N-Out is following some snow birds back home. A lot of In-N-Out’s growth seems to follow the WinCo store expansions. Tim Hortons, Culver’s, and Chik-fil-A come to mind as chains that could leapfrog into new areas.

Max Goldberg
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

In-N-Out has a cult following. Pop-up stores help keep the cult alive and make the brand extra-special. Remember when you could not get Coors beer east of the Mississippi? It, too, had a cult-like following. If the family is serious about slowly expanding within a limited geographic area, the pop-up stores demonstrate the brand’s quality and desirability.

Ron Margulis
Guest
7 years 8 months ago
Part of it is the expansion of similar, what I term higher quality, burger chains to In-N-Out’s market, namely Five Guys. In-N-Out wants to show Five Guys that they can be competitive outside their Cal/AZ/Texas base. This may also be a prelude to a franchising effort, in which case they are validating the success rate (and likely the very high investment requirement) to potential franchisees. BTW, I was out in Southern California recently and my clients insisted we go to In-N-Out Burger for lunch. I’ve been there before and wasn’t all that impressed—I prefer to grind my own beef for burgers and have a very specific blend that I learned about when working in the meat department at my dad’s store. They said we’d order from the “Secret Menu” and that I’d love it. They ordered 4X4s, which is four patties and four slices of cheese. The burger was better than I remembered from the last time I ate there, albeit a little too big to get in my mouth, so I made it a… Read more »
Kevin Graff
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

As the world continues to “shrink” and people travel more, it’s a good way to build the brand. I know that last year when a group of us headed to LA for an event, the first stop insisted on (even before we got to the hotel!) was In-N-Out.

These tours are good brand-building initiatives. And, maybe, just maybe, a good way to attract investors for a potential sale.

Tom Redd
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

In-N-Out is an experience. It breaks the programmed mold for fast food and thus sits STRONG in the food shopper’s brain. They should keep poppin’ up all over and based on the pop-up feedback, consider new places to open and create their great food. Always order “dirty fries” from In-N-Out. Using product code names you get all kinds of different food.

Tim Hortons where are you! This is another great event waiting to happen. Wish Bill Knapp’s was still around—great grilled cheese sandwiches … I am old, eh?

Steve Montgomery
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

In-N-Out is not only generating and/or increasing brand awareness in new markets, but in their home markets as well. While they may have cult status in five states, it never hurts to reinforce it to your consumers and competitors as well.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

In-N-Out Burgers are legendary. The states that have an outlet should use this fact in their travel bureaus’ enticements to visit or move there. So should the sites of Trader Joe’s stores.

Peter J. Charness
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

Just great marketing. Pop-ups are usually a test of a potential expansion market to try it before you buy it from a corporate expansion standpoint. As to driving more tourists to the stores when they visit, Toronto barely fits that bill. So it’s PR plain and simple, and pretty good at that. Now watch for that overhead drone bringing fresh hot food to your door step.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

Awareness and visibility! Only the company knows the true reasons behind the pop-ups, but whether brand building, gauging acceptance for expansion, trying to rattle the competition, showing potential investors the possibilities etc., In-N-Out has created a buzz! Is that not what good marketers do?

Robert DiPietro
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

In-N-Out’s pop-up tour is just solidifying their cult-like following and status. What other food product would I have to have if I flew cross country from the east coast? None!

The only other regional chains I could think of that may benefit are Chic-fil-A and/or Kripsy Kreme (but that bus may have passed).

Mel Kleiman
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

Why not just believe the statement that In-N-Out puts out? Looks, feels and sounds like a great way to create some buzz at zero or a low cost.

Karen S. Herman
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

Way to go, In-N-Out Burger! Looks like the CMO for this family-owned company understands that disruptive retail, i.e. pop-ups, are an important part of their omni-channel marketing strategy.

In-N-Out is capitalizing on the celebrity buzz that the brand garners and rewarding the public, in select cities, with exclusive, short-term opportunities to experience their products and purchase merchandise.

By doing these pop-ups, In-N-Out is testing different markets, creating brand awareness, building brand loyalty and setting up future anticipation for consumers. Maybe fans will start a petition, similar to what occurred with Trader Joe’s, on where the next In-N-Out permanent restaurant should be located. Now that would be very interesting to follow.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

Here is an example of a group of people sitting in a meeting and actually getting something accomplished.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
7 years 8 months ago
Many of the prepared food expansions have struggled because of the local eating habits being in sharp contrast to the offerings of the company. Franchise contract boiler plate has only made things worse with not only the fixed menu options, but also new governing systems and allowances. With the number of under and unemployed legal experts now in the land of the invisible recovery this is hard to contemplate. Then there is the problem of American executive cookie cutter mental mindset which is proving to be a hindrance in and out of the country more and more often. This is an enormous and complicated opportunity that is clearly demonstrating the limitations of those willing to take it on. Merger and acquisition experts are fish out of water in this growth plan. A look at enhancing Human Resources to recognize and acquire the talent needed for success should be predicated with a working business model for the proposed expansion. In-N-Out’s plan seems to be looking for places interested in what they have. Their initial expansion inquiry… Read more »
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