We occasionally link to products that we like and use—if you purchase via one of our links, we may earn a commission. This supports our efforts at no cost to you.

No doubt you’ve heard the fabled story of Colonel Sanders and his Kentucky Fried Chicken. The internet is replete with this anecdotal, inspirational story: The Colonel was reportedly rejected 1,009 times before finding a buyer for his secret recipe. Holy cow! This proves one thing, he was a tenacious, hard worker. His story is widely touted as a success story because it embodies the mottos “With the right attitude you can achieve anything” and “Hard work is the secret to success.” These maxims are taken straight from the front pages of the Textbook of Comforting Lies. The only time we refer to this textbook is to tell chefs what NOT to do (that’s because we read from the Textbook of Smart Action). The success story praises his efforts but fails to mention he probably didn’t need to knock on 1,009 doors if he’d only added ingredient to his secret reci

Hard work does not equal sales. Market research does.

The Colonel deserves credit for determination. However, I think he was crazy because he persisted long after a wiser man would have given up or changed his approach.

Hard work definitely matters. But you only have time for smart work.

Chefs who want to call their own shots and be profitable have a simple choice: work hard or work smart. For chefs, this shift in thinking can be difficult. Like the Colonel, chefs possess the ability to persevere far beyond the point a reasonable person would tap out.

Using market research to work smart, not hard

Today, savvy entrepreneurs use market research to drastically increase their sales and profitability while reducing the amount of blood, sweat, and tears they pour into the front end of their business. If only Harland Sanders knew then what we knew now.

What is market research and why does it matter to chefs?

Market research is defined as the action or activity of gathering information about consumers’ needs and preferences.

This example illustrates how it works. Chef Tina wants to start her own business. She’s an expert at tamales, apple pies, canning and jams, fermented foods, and barbecue. One option is to cook all her specialties and find people to buy them. Another option is to ask people what foods they want most and what they will pay money to buy. Instead of pouring money into equipment and making what she wants, she asks her customers what they want. Wild concept, right? She finds forty people she’d love to serve and does her market research. They tell her they need help eating healthier by cutting down on sugar and red meat.

While she asks forty people what they’d pay for, Colonel Sanders goes to 1,009 locations asking if they’ll buy his recipe.

Chef Tina makes her tamales vegetarian and reduces the sugar in her still-delicious pies and jams. She introduces her customers to the health benefits of fermented foods, while barbecue plays a supporting role. She has clients asking for more. Colonel Sanders is still asking clients to buy his recipe.

Use market research to grow your business

Market research has the power to transform your independent chef business.

Here are seven key benefits for chefs who use market research:

  1. It helps you gather information quickly about your customers and their needs.
  2. Gives you the information you need to make informed decisions.
  3. Helps you spot trends and identify potential threats and opportunities.
  4. Reduces your risk and upfront investment while identifying potential threats and opportunities.
  5. Strengthens your credibility and reputation.
  6. Helps you discover your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
  7. It focuses your attention on what your customers need and want.

What if Harland Sanders used market research?

II imagine KFC would have launched in a fraction of the time if Harland had coupled his knowledge of secret herbs and spices with some keen, and easy, market research. He needlessly endured 1,009 rejections. This is something chefs simply cannot afford to do, nor do they need to.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein

A better approach would have been to ask customers what they wanted. “Here’s some of my secret recipe chicken, will you try it and tell me what you think?” If customers wouldn’t buy his recipe on his terms he could ask why. He might have followed up with “What would I need to change so it would be something you would buy?” Customers may have said the price was too high or the recipe too salty. He could have adjusted immediately and had a sale on attempt number 10, not attempt 1,009.

Most likely his product would have changed from its original recipe. But it’s highly likely he would have sold his concept a lot sooner, suffering considerably less rejection. After all, chicken isn’t rocket science!

fried chicken isn't rocket science

How the Colonel’s story ended, and KFC ultimately failed.

The Colonel had his moment in the sun, but his story did not end well. The Colonel ultimately sold his business. He became KFC’s goodwill ambassador while the flagging company remained stubbornly “original” despite consumers’ growing demands for healthier fast food. The company that bought his brand failed to listen to customers who wanted healthier options and their brand suffered. Looking at it this way kind of strips the crispy coating off the meat of this classic success story, doesn’t it?

The Colonel’s “success” story holds a secret recipe for chef’s: It tells you what not to do in your business.

Market research is about asking clients what they want

Entrepreneurial chefs can ill afford to adopt the Colonel’s inflexible and time-consuming approach to sales and success. A bad system will beat a good person every time.

Stubbornness and clinging to an idea that has no consumer demand – no matter how yummy and crispy it is – will take you down a long and winding road  much like it did for Colonel Harland Sanders. Or you can give customers what they want.

Market research isn’t a secret recipe and Herb Hudson knows it.

Work smarter using market research

Market research uncovers the information you need to achieve faster sales and higher profits with less risk and cash outlay. If you don’t do your market research, you’re taking your chances. The Colonel used sheer brute determination to reach his success, while Herb Hudson just got plain lucky. 

Herb is the founder of Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles which experienced an explosion of customer demand after being featured in the cult movie Pulp Fiction. Tour bus after tour bus pull up to Roscoe’s for chicken, waffles, and t-shirts. I even went out of my way last time I was in Los Angeles to experience that coffee shop vibe – and it was finger-licking good!

Don’t just work hard. Work smart.

Don’t be the Colonel or Herb! Market research isn’t complicated, time-consuming, or expensive. It just has a fancy name that throws chefs off. It is about asking, and be willing to adjust and give customers what they want.

I’m here to help you get started on making your dreams of owning a professional chef business a reality. Contact me to get started. I’m honored to guide you so you can call your own shots.