Hot Dogs and Pavement Maintenance Contractors?

You’d think the two don’t go together (other than at lunch time) but you’d be surprised. An article in the Chicago Tribune, "Portillo's sale sparks red-hot discussion," discussed the upcoming sale of Portillo’s, a regional top-notch hot-dogs-and-more chain and the upcoming closing of Hot Doug’s (get it?), a one-location destination hot-dog eatery in Chicago that will close in October. The article asks what happens to a business when its founder wants out? And pavement maintenance contractors face the same question.

Dick Portillo started 51 years ago with a single hot dog stand in a shopping center parking lot and now runs large drive-thru and casual dining restaurants known for Italian beef in addition to dogs. Pretty standard fare but very high quality with great taste and unique beef seasoning you can count on (trust me). Started in 2001, Hot Doug’s (which I’ve also tested thoroughly – don’t want to write about something I don’t know about) is flat-out unique. In addition to the regular Chicago dog (neon-green sweet relish, pickle spear, sport peppers, onions, tomato, mustard, celery salt, steamed poppy seed bun and don’t EVEN think about ketchup) you’ll find chardonnay and jalapeno rattlesnake dogs, lamb dogs, kale and walnut pork sausage dogs…and if you’re lucky enough to go there on Friday or Saturday (and willing to wait in the line that extends way around the corner) you can have duck fat fries with your order.

So the question is, what will happen to these unique businesses when the owners leave? Should the buyers keep the new owners on? Does the owner/founder bring something to the business that no one else can bring? Author Phil Rosenthal asks, “What is the value of the founder’s connection to the brand and how much of its success is due to his or her vision and skill sets?”

Wow, that’s a question every buyer of a pavement maintenance business has asked and every business owner has asked of himself.

As the article points out, quality and service are never a given in any business – and even slight declines in either are easily noticed by anyone paying attention. But it’s the company like Portillo’s, where Dick Portillo has put in place systems to make it easy for each location to reproduce the expected quality, that is likely to have the best chance of success. Businesses like Hot Doug’s, where customers expect and enjoy dealing with Doug when they place their order, that will have difficulty because the business is more than Vietnamese chicken dogs… the business is Doug!

So, any contractor thinking about selling his business (or thinking about growing and then selling his business) needs to consider what specifically makes that business a success. Then he needs to think about how that success can be replicated once he’s out of the picture.

And the best place to think about that is probably standing in line outside Hot Doug’s some Saturday before October.