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The best way to win these clients? Eat a cheeseburger

I have been eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers since I was four years old. I still remember the first time I went to a McDonald’s. I couldn’t see over the counter, so my father had to hold me up while I bawled my order at the very patient young lady behind the counter. I was only allowed one cheeseburger per visit. I think we went back three times that day. Today, the present owner of that McDonald’s is a client of our firm and I am forever grateful that I had a very patient father.

Our firm has been fortunate to develop a niche market working with McDonald’s owner/operators throughout the country. Though not a conscious decision originally, it has proven to be a rewarding experience for our firm and personally as an advisor. However, as with any new endeavor, there was a learning curve and some surprises along the way.

A McDonald’s owner will tell you they’re just folks who sell hamburgers, but in reality, they are running a complex operation in a highly competitive market. Consider the execution involved to deliver a consistent product at an attractive price point in two minutes or less. Not easy, but the company has been doing it for more than 60 years and it expects no less out of the professionals who work for them.

Brad Griswold Corbenic Partners

To be successful within any niche market, you need to immerse yourself in their world. It is important to understand the community, the culture, even the vocabulary and this needs to be done on a personal level. You cannot fake it. You cannot read a book about it. You need to get your hands dirty.

For example, our team travels extensively to meet with our clients. Like many business travelers, we’re trying to squeeze in meals on the run. Where do we eat? McDonald’s or their competition. We need to experience the brand as customers in order to bring value to the relationship. We’ve enjoyed many conversations over a meal and investing that time has equipped us to provide more impactful advice.

McDonald's Corp. food is displayed for a photograph inside a restaurant location in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, July 17, 2013. McDonald's Corp. is scheduled to release earnings data on July 22. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

And, it is important to understand that when you work in a niche like McDonald’s, you are working within a family. Like any family, relationships are critical. We didn’t realize at first how tight knit this community can be, but if you consider the shared struggles and multi-generational involvement of the families it is not really surprising.

I recently had lunch with a retired McDonald’s owner/operator. He had been in the system for more than 30 years and I asked him if he was enjoying retirement. He thought for a moment and said, “I don’t miss the headaches of running the business, but I do miss the people.” I considered what he said and realized we had more in common than I thought.

For more than 20 years we have developed personal and professional relationships working in the McDonald’s community and hope to continue to do so for another 20 years. Is it easy? No. Is it rewarding? Absolutely, but to be successful you have to live in their world and have the occasional cheeseburger.

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