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Monday, November 14, 2016

Imitation Franchise

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” So says the famed expression best traced back to the early 19th century. Some paraphrased versions of that thought go back years before that.

A biography of Marcus Aurelius titled Emperor Marcus Antoninus: His Conversation with Himself from 1708 reads, “You should consider that Imitation is the most acceptable part of Worship, and that the Gods had much rather Mankind should Resemble, than Flatter them.” English writer Eustace Budgell in the newspaper was quoted in 1714 as saying, “Imitation is a kind of artless Flattery.”

No matter. You get the point. Is it really that way in business—repackaging someone else’s profitable product or service as your own—or it it ripping off someone else’s success? It poses an interesting question.

One of the latest examples of how this is being played out in the fast food marketplace is with a new company called Tasty Made. Business Insider reporter Kate Taylor writes about the first of these new burger joints that opened recently in Lancaster, Ohio.

Chipotle is behind the newly developed chain concept, which looks suspiciously (or otherwise) like two other well known burger places. Thus, the article title: “People are Saying Chipotle's New Burger Joint is a Rip-Off of In-N-Out and Five Guys.” One Yelp review said “Everything from the menu to the color palette and decor screams imitation” of these two successful businesses.

But what do customers say about the actual food? Early reviews are very mixed. Wrote the one 5-star satisfied customer on Yelp “My burger was as close to In-N-Out as you can get without becoming embroiled in some kind of litigation over taste and presentation. It is comforting to know that I don't have to hop a nonstop to LA to get an In-N-Out fix whenever I feel the urge.”

But check out this very biting Yelp critic, who said: “Dear Chipotle, you poisoned me twice with your burritos. I forgave you. But for you to take clothes from In-And-Out and resell Wendy’s cheeseburgers for 3x the price...well, I have to wonder: Don't you guys care about your fellow man anymore?”

Oooh, doggies. It must have been the election season that flavors such rhetoric. So let’s just say that the jury is still out.

I remember the first time we walked into a Sam’s Club. It appeared remarkably like a place we previously shopped known first as Price Club, now Costco. A chap by the name of Sol Price and his son, Robert, founded Price Club in 1976. Costco opened in 1983;  Sam’s Club also arrived in 1983, looking strikingly similar in many ways. Ripoff? Some might think so. But let’s face it…dozens of franchised businesses are built on the very successful organizational strategies of predecessors.

The smartphone and tablet market is another classic example of “technology ripoffs.” Apple employees went nearly into shock upon seeing early announcements of Samsung’s first smartphone. Steve Jobs took the seething a bit higher, saying ”I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this.” The late CEO, of course, has not destroyed Android.

When does “imitation” become useful and legitimate? Well, since “there are no new ideas under the sun” (supposedly), then obviously we are always building off the success of others. And the line between what’s legal and what isn’t is well beyond what we can cover here.

There are, of course, significant legal cases for thievery in the marketplace. That is why we have copyright and trademark laws. It is also why we have music licensing protection. Stealing intellectual property winds up in litigation as well.

Writing on the “imitation theme,” business blogger Sarah Pavey considers how this plays out positively in the business world. “Imagine a person joining a new team or organization. She’ll copy what her mentor says and does, at least at first…and her mentor will be happy for her to do this,” she writes. And adds, “Encourage it, even. On the flipside, though, she’ll also be expected to come up with innovative new ideas, develop effective processes, and show that she can think for herself. So, innovation is important…but so is imitation, when it’s encouraged.”

The lawful and not-so-lawful taking of ideas and material happens in the church as well. Successful churches begat others modeling their style and techniques. Pastors may try to model their ministry after their faith heroes. And then there are the very legal services like Sermon Search and worship resources where you pay to use others creativity.

For a season in time, evangelism was shaped by look-a-likes. There were tracts titled The Four Spiritual Laws, Do You Know the Steps to Peace with God and The ABC’s of Salvation, among others. All essentially had the same message.

We may be able to effectively crank out doubles in mass producing products. And formula training for customer service and sales can be useful. Deeply embedded lifestyle influence, however, needs more.

This is why authentic friendships take time. Learning to truly love another person cannot be reduced to a few steps. Helping humans change their behavior takes real insight and counsel.

The Master teacher from Nazareth—Jesus—keenly knew this. He chose a small group of people to influence. Those disciples, in turn, took the message and spread it to the world. It thrives still today. The instructions to those disciples remain intact today: “So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19, NCV)

There is no franchise of the faith. Just one beggar helping another beggar find bread.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

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