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The In-N-Out Model of Property Management

The In-N-Out Model of Property Management

Today I decided to go to In-N-Out for lunch and as I was waiting for my food, I realized something.

In-N-Out has perfected a model that we at Mesa Properties seek to consistently incorporate into our own business.

And before you get too excited, no, we haven’t started serving burgers and fries!

The secret is this - consistent, repeatable processes that deliver a delightfully predictable outcome time and time again.

I’ve been to a lot of In-N-Out Burgers (as my waistline will attest) in different parts of California and even in other states. And I can honestly say that my experience at each and every one of them has been almost entirely consistent. I would even go as far as to say nearly identical.

They are almost always crowded, and yet it is rarely more than 15 minutes from when I enter the store and start standing in line to when I am chowing down on my meal. And my burger always tastes the same! The food is always hot, the fries are always cooked to the same level, and the presentation on the red tray is indistinguishable from location to location. From the salt packet placed on top of the fries to the napkin tucked behind the burger and folded over the edge of the tray, it always looks, tastes, and feels the same.

What’s the Secret?

It all starts with the simplicity of the menu.

In-N-Out only has three combination items to choose from. If you decide to go a-la-carte, you can only order a cheeseburger, hamburger, french fries, shake, and drink. That’s it. And that really is all part of the secret of what makes them great.

Yes, I am aware of the secret menu. The analogy isn’t perfect but I think you will get my point at the end, just stick with me!

In-N-Out has chosen to take a select few fast food items, and almost literally perfect them. Could they serve hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, and burritos if they wanted to? Of course! But they don’t. Have you ever stopped to consider why that is?

As humans, we can really only be truly good at a few things. This is why people go to school or work on the job to learn and hone their skill in a specific field or craft. There are tons of things we could do and yet most of us choose to specialize in just one or two things that we do for most of our lives.

In-N-Out chose to specialize in the burger, fries, and shake market and nothing else. And people love them for it! Not only do they make the food consistently delicious, but the speed in which they get it out to you is incredible. Next time you go to In-N-Out, instead of staring at your phone while waiting for your food (I’ve been guilty of this too!), sit where you can see the kitchen and watch the coordinated chaos that it takes to produce fresh burgers and fries en masse. It’s nothing short of impressive.

And yet, all they are really doing is the same thing, over and over again, with little to no variation. This makes their processes, whether its cutting the fries or grilling the patties, consistent, repeatable, and always leading to predictable outcomes. Because of this, they are able to do it with the industry topping speed that they do!

How Property Management Relates to Burgers and Fries

Ok that was a long intro and at this point you are probably wondering if I am going to bring this back around to property management and being a landlord or just go on and on about the operational wonders and efficiencies of In-N-Out. I definitely could do that, but let me get to the point.

Property management companies should run no different than In-N-Out Burger.

If the secret to a predictably delightful outcome is consistency and repeatability in the process that is used to achieve said outcome, we should take a page from In-N-Out’s book and do everything the same way, every time, with little to no variation!

And for the most part, we do this. We have our processes documented to the most minute detail. We leverage automation in communication to make sure that our owners and renters receive a consistent level of service and that they always know what is going on with their property.

We also continually improve our processes by learning from our mistakes and incorporating new technologies and best practices as we discover them.

And yet, we receive more “customization requests” than almost any other type of business.

By “customization requests” I mean owners who ask us to make exceptions to our normal processes or do things differently for them. After all, how hard is it to just mail me a paper check instead of direct depositing into my bank account or drive by my property once per month, or have my renters sign a 2 year lease instead of a 1 year lease?

Let’s return to the In-N-Out analogy for a second.

I’ll have the #4, please

Imagine you make a customization request at In-N-Out. I’m not talking about animal style, but something more drastic like asking for a chicken sandwich instead of a burger. How hard is it? I want everything the same, just make the patty chicken instead of beef!

Now, an In-N-Out employee could run across the street to the grocery store, buy some chicken, run back, throw it on the same grill they already have, and then make it into a chicken burger for you. That would certainly delight and impress you by their willingness to do what it takes to make the customer happy. But what would be the other ramifications?

For one, the store would now be down an employee, so that coordinated chaos I mentioned earlier now gets that much harder to maintain. You are also going to have to wait much longer than the standard amount of time to get your food. The other customers in the store are also going to have their experience degraded as the In-N-Out employees throw their standard procedures out the window in an effort to make you happy.

And finally, you will get that chicken burger and it will probably taste…not great. Why? Because they tried to do something they haven’t perfected in order to make you happy. They tried to please you by going outside the bounds of that consistent, repeatable process and they succeeded in giving you what you asked for, but it isn’t actually what you wanted.

It took way too long, the product is less than desirable because it isn’t what they are skilled in making, and everyone else in the store who wanted the core service offering (just give me that #1!) is equally disappointed because their experience lacks the consistency they have come to expect as the store employees were temporarily distracted from their core mission.

The same is true in property management! We have a consistent, repeatable process that we have perfected over time that is designed to provide a delightfully predictable result. And yet, we are frequently asked by our clients to customize said process in a variety of ways. Here are some examples of requests:

  • I want to be contacted for every repair, regardless of the type or amount.
  • I want to do my own repairs (p.s., here’s an article on why we don’t think you should do that).
  • I want my owner statement printed and mailed to me every month.
  • I want to receive my rent funds on a day other than when you normally do disbursements.
  • I want to market and show my home while the existing tenant is still living there.
  • I want to change the credit score or security deposit requirement for my home.
  • I don’t check my email so I want you to text me about everything.
  • I want you to pick up my mail at my vacant property and forward it to me.

I really could make that list about 10 times as long, but you probably get the point. Without getting into the specifics behind each of those requests and why we don’t incorporate them into our normal processes (if you are a current client of ours, your property manager will be more than happy to explain the “why not” behind each of these scenarios and any other one you come up with!) we will typically decline to do anything listed here.

It’s not because we physically can’t do the things on this list. Each one individually is really not that big of a deal.

It’s because the more we deviate from the standard process as well as the more frequently we do so, the higher the chances are for mistakes, dropped balls, unfulfilled promises, client disappointment, and decreased efficiency throughout the organization.

The more we say “yes” to doing something that isn’t already baked in to our perfected, consistent, repeatable process (in other words the more chicken burgers we try to make) the worse our service is. And not just for the client with the customization request, but for everyone else we serve as well who then has to deal with our decreased bandwith and capacity to return to our own version of coordinated chaos that is necessary to produce our delightfully predictable results.

It's important to note that this doesn't mean we are completely rigid in what we do! We often go above and beyond to delight our clients and are always receiving and listening to feedback and then making changes to our processes to improve our service.

One More Food Analogy

Have you ever been to one of those restaurants where the menu is so overwhelming, you almost don’t know where to start? I once went to a restaurant that had everything from Mexican food to sushi on the menu! I don’t want to bad mouth anyone here so let’s make up a name and call it “SushiMex.” I had no idea what to order, and when I finally decided on what I wanted, it took forever for the food to come and it wasn’t very good.

Why? Because they had so many different options, the chef probably couldn’t even keep track of how to make each individual dish, much less make it so many times as to truly master it!

While at first I was excited by the seemingly endless choices on the menu, I was ultimately disappointed in the food and the overall experience. The restaurant couldn’t live up to the guarantee of providing both excellent Mexican food and excellent sushi. And who can blame them! Is it even possible to be the best at both of these widely different cuisines?

The same is true in property management.

Just like there are restaurants that will try to master every type of cuisine imaginable (and probably do all of them poorly) there are property management companies that try to be everything to everyone. And for some, that’s what they want, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with running a property management business like this (as long as you are ok being on the fast track to burnout!) and there is nothing wrong with a Mexican/Sushi fusion restaurant either. It’s just a different approach with a different core service offering.

Here at Mesa, we strive to be much closer to In-N-Out in our operations than we do to SushiMex. And for our clients that are seeking that predictably delightful outcome time and time again and are willing to go along with our perfected process that gets them there, it’s a great fit.

For those that prefer a chicken burger, I have a restaurant with 99 things on the menu to refer you to.