#9 on the Franchise 500: At Culver's, Community is Key

The #9 company on our Franchise 500 list has built a culture that's obsessed with customer happiness.

This story appears in the January 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

From the outside, you might think that Culver’s primary products are frozen custard and burgers. But internally, the company lays out a more ambitious mission: It’s in the business of making happy customers. And business is good.

Courtesy of Culver's

In a recent consumer-­experience poll conducted by Market Force Information, Culver’s desserts ranked higher than better-known rivals like Cold Stone Creamery, Baskin-Robbins, and Dairy Queen. In fact, among burger chains, Culver’s landed among the top four in eight categories.

Reviews like that don’t arrive by chance. They’re the result of honest reflection and a relentless drive toward improvement. “I see so many areas of our business that we can get even better at,” says Joe Koss, the company’s president and CEO. “We have an engaged group of franchisees who never settle for the status quo, and we [in the corporate office] have the same mentality at our support center.”

Related: Just How Much Does It Cost to Own a Fast-Food Franchise?

The company culture begins at Culver’s ButterBurger University in Wisconsin, where training goes far beyond POS systems and brand messaging. During an intensive 16-week program, all new franchisees will scrub floors and pick up garbage in the parking lot. The point is that nobody is above dirty work -- not even the bosses. In the business of making happy customers, there’s no such thing as a job too small. 

That message travels through company ranks via a formalized mentorship program wherein ButterBurger University graduates work closely with general managers who aspire to one day own their own stores. So far, the program has produced 175 new franchisees -- a number that testifies to the strength of the company’s culture.

Lately, happy customers have been paying handsome dividends. Beyond stellar poll results, they’ve also galvanized Culver’s expansion efforts. In March, the company celebrated its 700th store opening, and for the remainder of 2019, it averaged 5.5 openings per month.  

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