Of Burgers and Benchmarking

About 7 or 8 months ago, I came across a bit of disappointing news when I was shown an advertisement for a company just like the one I had hoped to start. Part of the excitement for starting this particular service was that it would be the first of its kind here in the Phoenix area, but things just didn’t seem as attractive after I received word that someone had beat me to it. I felt down on my luck, but then one day I was speaking with a friend about it and in so many words, he assured me that I didn’t have anything to worry about because competition was never a bad thing. Instead, it would offer an opportunity to up the ante and create something as good or better that people could use. It would also offer me the opportunity to usurp this evil corporation through subversive and unsportsmanlike means! Seriously though, healthy competition made total sense and it’s a natural part of business.

So this is where the story takes a strange and unexpected twist. Fast-forward to October of 2005 when I was up in Nor Cal on a weekend trip. I’ve had the uncanny luck of having Filipino roommates since I bought my house in 2002. They had always told me of this sweet (literally) burger joint known as Jollibee’s that was located in California. I seized the opportunity and drove to the closest Jollibee which was located in South San Jose. One Hawaiian Burger and a Halo-Halo Supreme later (I also heard the spaghetti was to die for, but unfortunately I was born with only 1 stomach), I came to understand why this place was so highly touted by my Pinay roommates. I’ve had Red Robin’s Banzai Burger before which is similar to Jollibee’s Hawaiian Burger, but I must say the Hawaiian Burger just had an extra sweet and unique taste.

It turns out that Jollibee (which stand for Jolly Bee) began in 1975 as an ice cream parlor. It later expanded its menu to include sandwiches and other fast food items, and it became relatively successful with 11 stores by 1981. That’s when Ronald McDonald and his merry men of land whoring, artery clogging cronies came to town. Instead of throwing up their hands like a Frenchman, Jollibee took the opportunity to benchmark themselves against the fast food giant. They adopted operational, customer service, and quality control philosophies to improve their stores, and they tailored their menus to local tastes. One tasty improvement was a secret mix of spices blended into the ground beef to give it a sweeter taste. They also expanded outside of the Philippines by opening up stores in countries with a large contingency of Filipino expatriates like Indonesia, the Middle East, Brunei, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Dubai to name a few. And between 1999 and 2001, they opened up 5 stores in Northern and Southern California.

I hope they make their way to Arizona next, but franchising in the US seems to be on hold for the moment. Regardless, Jollibee continues to sting the competition by offering a tastier and more unique product. And it just goes to show that creative and competitive benchmarking can lead to success even in a saturated industry.

The Closet Entrepreneur

» This entry was filed under Case Studies


  1. Tomas – I really like what you’ve done with the layout. It’s cool. I agree with you about competition. Currently I don’t feel like I have any competition with my primary business (mostly because there’s so many companies it’s impossible to pick just one). However, I have my top-secret-project which ocupies some of my spare time and I’ve got my eyes squarely set on one company (not based in Phoenix) and I basically want to take all of their customers away (well, maybe not ALL of them, but you get the idea). Thanks for the pickup.

  2. TOMAS

    Superman – thank you for the compliment on the layout! 🙂 As far as tornadodesign.com & your competition, if Brainfuel is any indication of the creativeness & ingenuity of your company, winning over customers shouldn’t be a problem! 😉

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