6 Reasons Why I Eat at Dick’s (and What a Seattle Burger Chain Can Teach You About Branding)

by Craig McBreen · 13 comments · Branding, Content Marketing


6-Reasons-Why-I-Eat-at-Dick’s-1There’s a tiny Seattle-area hamburger chain that’s survived an unrelenting beatdown.

Territorial behemoths known as McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s don’t like small fry horning in on their territory.

But a little place called Dick’s Drive-In is surviving and thriving in spite of the fast food corporatocracy.

Seattleites have heard all the jokes, including the one about having a mouthful of Dick’s, but beyond the bad humor, you’ll see a small chain that knows what it’s doing, and has been doing it right for a long time.

Dick’s is an institution in Seattle, opening in 1954 with a focus to fresh food, fast service and cheap eats. Not too unusual, but this hardy little chain has survived and thrived because …

1. They treat their employees extremely well, which results in happy burger flippers and super-low turnover. Pretty unusual for entry-level employment.

2. Relationships matter. They maintain great relationships with their suppliers. They’re not always looking for the cheapest deal and see loyalty as a virtue. (see #1 above).

3. Community is king and their involvement with local organizations is a baked-in philosophy.

4. A bit of nostalgia doesn’t hurt. Most of their restaurants have walk-up windows. Then there’s the old-school logo, employee uniforms, and the cash-only policy.

5. Simplicity rules. Here’s their menu.
One of my branding rules is to not give people too many choices. Big boys like Honda and Apple do this extremely well, but I’m pulling for the minnow in the pond today. A burger joint should be a burger joint.

6. Creativity. When they wanted to open a new store — their 6th since 1954 — they used social to build buzz. They artfully crafted a campaign on Facebook, asking people to select the new spot and a voting frenzy ensued resulting in some 100,000+ votes.

Just a few reasons why a simple little burger joint has survived and thrived since 1954.

6-Reasons-Why-I-Eat-at-Dick’s

So, how can you apply all this goodness to your world?

Take these lessons and run with them …

Lesson one: Story works.

Dick’s has a great story and the owners know how to use it, by packaging things like value, loyalty, and community. The stores appeal to a customer’s pocketbook, stomach … and emotion.

This mix has created tremendous brand loyalty, and Dick’s clearly illustrates story can be done in many ways.

Lesson two: The niche rules.

From brew pubs, to food trucks, to dog clothing and accessories, entrepreneurs everywhere are embracing their forte and making it work.

This little restaurant? They’re not trying to reach everyone, and because of this they own a comfortable little niche in the Emerald City.

Like I wrote here you can thrive when you learn to cater to a select audience.

Lesson three: Keep it simple.

Don’t make it too complicated. Clean design, concise copy and direct messaging win every time.

And above all, love thy customer. Make them the hero, so they love to work with you and tell all their friends about you.

You earn readership (and customers) by focusing on quality, being different, and learning how to spread the word. You get business by streamlining your messaging and finding the right audience.

Dick’s burgers rocks all of the above and you can too.

Just think about the online world you inhabit: The filters get better, the distribution channels get better, and you keep getting better. And now is the best time to make your online property the best it can be.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim Bonner February 13, 2014 at 7:32 am

You’re making me hungry Craig!

It’s great to see the little guy succeed.

Sounds as though we could all learn something from Dick’s.

McDonald’s has pretty much sewn up the burger market over here in the UK.

Fast and cheap and maybe the world’s just a little less interesting because of it.
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Craig McBreen February 13, 2014 at 8:30 am

Hi Tim,

Ha ha. Well, when I get a hankering for junk food I know where to go.

It is really great to see the little guy succeed and it’s happening all around us.

I think McDonald’s has sewn up the burger market everywhere, probably China too ;) no problem, if you own a local little niche though.

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Rob Skidmore February 13, 2014 at 10:36 am

Dang it Craig. It’s 10:15 in the morning and now I’m craving a cheese burger. :-)

Great post my friend. Dick’s sounds like a cool place. It reminds me of Pink’s Hot Dogs in Hollywood. Same type of feel. Every time we are in CA we have to stop and get a chili dog.

I love supporting places like this. There is a local Chinese place that my wife and I frequent every time we have the chance. We enjoy it for all the reasons you mentioned.

I’ll definitely be following your advice as I start my own projects. I’d rather have a tribe of 10 than disloyal millions.
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Craig McBreen February 13, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Hey Rob,

Sorry ’bout that ;)

I’ve seen Pink’s on TV a hundred times, so will have to check it out when I’m in CA.

And yes, a small audience that likes, knows and trusts you is better any way. Cheers to the small fry, finding their audience :)

Thanks for stopping in and hope you’re doing well.

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Maxwell Ivey February 13, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Hi Craig; I love a good little guy or gal success story too. just today the owners of blue bell ice cream a company based in the small town of brenham texas announced that they are opening a distribution center in los vegas. Last year they opened one in virginia. their hook is they are the little creamery from brenham where the cows are happy. recently, another blogger and i had a conversation that basically ended with me agreeing that i need to be more open about my blindness and use it as part of my story. She said aftr all max you are the only blind amusement equipment broker and people like to see someone like you succeed. she went further to say that people also want to help or would want to help more if i were more open. my basic approach has been to emphasize hustle over muscle in that i may not have the financial resources of more established companies and their sites but i have and will continue to work harder than them. thanks agin for the post and dick’s story. take care, max
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Craig McBreen February 13, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Hi Max,

“The little creamery from brenham where the cows are happy.” I like that.

I think your blogger friend is right. We all have hardships, but some have challenges we can’t begin to imagine. When we see someone like you succeed it truly is an inspiration, to just about everyone. It’s also a very interesting business you’re in. I honestly never thought I would be answering the comment of an amusement park equipment broker ;)

Cheers to your success, and to the little guy.

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Maxwell Ivey February 13, 2014 at 8:27 pm

hi craig; to your success too! I am probably unique. And given all the new people starting blogs or using social media to promote their businesses i doubt mine will be the most unusual one you run across. i didn’t start out to do this. All i ever wanted to do was run my family’s small carnival. but the early death of my father to lung cancer left us unprepared to continue. I used to help my dad whenever we needed to buy or sell equipment so i thought this was the next best thing. now just need to make more money from it. thanks for the kind reply and take care, max
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Craig McBreen February 15, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Thank you and you take care too! Best of luck, Sir.

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Ray February 27, 2014 at 1:33 pm

And while you’re visiting that “little creamery from Brenham where the cows are happy” go just down the road apiece and see the “World’s Smallest Miniature Horses raised by the World’s Largest Nuns.” Both places are not to be missed if you accidentally find yourself passing through Brenham…

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Jeevan Jacob John February 14, 2014 at 11:25 am

Sounds like an awesome place to get a burger (I will certainly keep it mind…and check it out, if I ever visit Seattle :D).

As for the experience itself, well I can relate back to that (I can’t think of a great restaurant I go to, regularly. These days, I eat mostly from college and from homes. In college, I eat from Subway and Taco Bell. Not necessarily because I like the food, but because of price and the queue…I don’t want to spend too much time with getting food :D).

I am trying to apply these with my blog…I need to do an introspection soon…about how I am doing (especially, with stories).

Anyways, thank you for sharing your experience, Craig :D
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Craig McBreen February 15, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Hi Jeevan,

Oh, I remember the days when I lived on fast food. Now it’s every once in a while, then of course I kinda feel dirty after ;)

Story works. You’re welcome and I really appreciate you stopping by, considering how busy you are.

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Jeevan Jacob John February 17, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Yeah…..I think it is improving, at least that’s what I have heard (hopefully, it is).

I definitely need to try more restaurants (within my own campus..these days, I just stick with Subway!).

No mention :) Not too busy though, just have to manage it well! (about 70% efficiency…which is great – we are humans, right?).

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Craig McBreen February 19, 2014 at 10:20 am

Yes, we are not cyborgs … yet ;)

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