“Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” spearheaded by Fox News host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee after Chick-fil-A president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy told the “Baptist Press” his company supported traditional marriage, is one of the most recent examples.
Another is TSPLOST, the proposed $8.5 billion tax increase for transportation that voters in Cobb and the 10-county metro region sternly rejected. Cobb voters rejected the tax with 85,412 votes against (69 percent) and 38,703 votes in favor (31 percent). Companies such as C.W. Matthews Contracting Co., AT&T, Delta Air Lines, Georgia Power and SunTrust, among others, openly supported the tax through signs that read “Vote Yes!” or by emails to employees.
“While TSPLOST is an emotional issue, it is not associated with that of a decades-old politicized cause like the gay marriage issue,” said Terry W. Loe, Ph.D., director of the Center for Professional Selling and associate professor of marketing for the Michael J. Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University.
“Many organizations do not take public stands on highly politicized and emotional issues for fear of upsetting customers,” Loe said. “Most organizations have customers that have highly varied social views. Taking a position on any topic carries with it a risk, as there are controversies even within industries that have social implications that are not always obvious. The comments by Chick-fil-A should not be surprising to anyone based upon their culture, which is so publicly exhibited.”
Loe said an organization’s leadership drives its culture. In the case of Chick-fil-A, deeply held beliefs by the leadership drive strong cultures, and organizations with strong cultures are most likely to be the most successful.
“For example, a deeply held belief about service, quality, safety or even entrepreneurship drives how the entire organization conducts business,” he said. “Customers, vendors and usually the general public see the type of culture the organization has by experiencing its services or policies. Statements consistent with the perceived culture will have little effect.”
Perhaps no example stands out better than Chick-fil-A, where record-setting lines blanketed the chain’s more than 1,600 restaurants nationwide throughout the day to show support for the right to free speech.
“There’s no question that it was an unprecedented day in the way of sales figures; it was record-setting for us by far,” said Danny Daniels, owner of the Chick-fil-A at Woodlawn and Johnson Ferry in east Cobb.
Record-setting sales aside, Daniels said there was much more to the show of support for a 66-year-old company that has preached to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.
“Our customers talked about how they believe in freedom of speech,” Daniels said. “We don’t discriminate. We want everybody to eat at Chick-fil-A. We’re not making a political statement, a religious statement or social statement. We’re just a restaurant. It made us feel good that people wanted to show support for that one day and acknowledge how much we give back to the community.”
The show of support at the Woodlawn Chick-fil-A was defined by the volunteer support of its patrons. Along with an impromptu rendering of “God Bless America” by a church choir having dinner were volunteer work shifts by a state senator and various regulars.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my 28 years in business,” Daniels said.
Michael J. Pallerino has reported on business news for magazines and newspapers in the Atlanta area for more than 20 years.