QUESTION – When is a hamburger so famous it becomes its own travel destination?
ANSWER – When it is a Fergburger and that destination is Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island.
In 2014, CNN Travel dubbed Fergburger the “best burger joint in New Zealand and maybe the planet” and in 2015 it was named as part of Lonely Planets list of the “best burger experiences in the world”.
The Fergburger phenomenon has only grown since then.
The ironic thing is that Fergburger’s owner Anthony Smith has reportedly refused all franchise offers (of which there have apparently been many) and does not employ any staff in sales or marketing.
The 60 strong staff are employed on the floor making the burgers and providing customer service. The celebrity of this burger is firmly in the quality of its food, its social media following (29,665 #fergburger instagram posts at the time I wrote this article) and word of mouth.
What is Fergburger?
I first heard of Fergburger in March this year.
In denial about my impending 40th birthday, my husband and I booked our first child-free trip in over 5 years to Queenstown. It seemed like a much cheaper option than a mid-life crisis.
Upon hearing of our impending trip my husband’s American cousin twice removed, Alyson, urged us to, “get a Fergburger whilst in Queenstown”.
Despite Alyson’s enthusiastic recommendation, I promptly forgot all about Fergburger until we were en route from the airport to our hotel. The line streaming out the door of Fergburger down Shotover Street at noon was an immediate reminder.
Much like the cold wind blowing in off the Remarkables, over the 3 days we were in Queenstown that long line of people down Shotover Street was a constant. There was always a line and it was more of a case of, “how long is it now,” rather than, “is there a line”?
Always the cynic, I asked Ed (my husband), “do you think the burgers are really that good”? Looking at the line snaking down the street a dry, “you would hope they are”, was his reply.
There are a few marketing lessons soloists can take from Fergberger across the ditch:
1. If it’s THAT popular, why isn’t Fergburger franchised?
If a brand is that amazing, shouldn’t it be franchised?
Franchising is not that simple. For some brands it is absolutely the right move with the main reason that brands franchise is:
- Rapid expansion – the brand name and company can be expanded in numerous locations quickly;
- Brand recognition – if done right a franchise can provide national, and in some cases, international brand recognition; and
- Capital – franchising is a cost effective way to expand the business as the franchisees bear the cost of each franchisee store and provide an ongoing royalty income to the franchisor.
However, Fergburger has chosen not to franchise. Instead they prefer to market organically via social media and eschew the franchising route.
2. Marketing Lesson 2: Organic growth through social media and community engagement
Despite Alyson urging that we “get a Fergburger”, Ed and I didn’t go there immediately. We went about the business of a short break, witnessing the long lines at Fergburger every single time we passed. Yet it was always there. On the second day of our trip we went on a wine tour to the Central Otago region.
There were 3 American university students from New York on our tour. They made me thinkthat we had accidentally stepped into an episode of “Girls”, yet Lena Dunham was nowhere in sight.
The Americans had their go pros and phones out and were instagramming up a storm. In between their plans to bunjee jump and sky dive the Americans talked about Fergburger. In fact they were so keen on the idea of Fergburger they asked Rex, our bus driver, to drop them there instead of their hotel on the way home. We farewelled the Americans and on the way to our hotel I asked Rex what the big deal with Fergburger was and why I kept hearing about it.
Rex explained that Fergburger was open 21 hours a day – from 8am to 5am and only really closed to clean up the place and stock it for the next days business.
Despite allowing 21 hours to buy a Fergburger every day except Christmas Day, the long lines out the door continued. As a Kiwi and Queenstown local, he seemed proud of the fact that the owner wasn’t interested in franchising the business and regularly refused what Rex described as “big dollars” to do so.
So, why would Fergburger choose NOT to franchise?
The thing is some brands, like Fergburger don’t want to franchise because:
- Innovation – they prefer to keep the business fresh and agile. A solo business is far more able to change and adapt than a franchised business with many branches that rely on an operations manual;
- Core Values – a bespoke store allows the owner of the business to focus on their core values rather than lose them in red tape and administration. In the case of Fergburger this is a concentration on locally grown and fresh produce; and
- Brand control – while franchised businesses allow for brand uniformity across the franchise network, it is hard to control every customer’s experience. With one owner, this becomes easier.
3. The legal stuff – Transparency Rules
Social media is an interesting phenomenon. It is an area where technology is outpacing the law and the law is trying to keep up.
In Australia, from 1 March 2017 all social media “influencers” were required to disclosure all content they have been paid for under the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code.
This may be as simple as adding a hashtag stating it is an #ad or #spon (shorthand for sponsored content).
The United States and the United Kingdom also have laws in place that require an instagram influencer to disclose sponsored or paid content.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) also has power to prosecute for breach of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) which could happen if an instagram influencer endorses products that are found not to be fit for purpose or do not work.
However, the thing is when you look at these #fergburger posts on instagram they appear to be spontaneous posts that Fergburger has not solicited or paid for. The burgers are that good they don’t need to pay.
Surely that is the holy grail of marketing.
So, did we try Fergburger?
On the last morning of our trip, Ed and I woke up and realised we hadn’t tried Fergburger and we were about to go home. The lineups to get these burgers, the stories from Rex and our American relative made me think I was missing out if we didn’t take the opportunity to try one before heading home.
The thing was it was also 2 degrees and snowing. However, the anticipation was so great we decided to get up, go out in the snow and get ourselves a Fergberger before flying back to the Gold Coast.
We got there at 7.30am and had to wait half an hour in the snow for it to open
Ed ordered a “Morning Glory” breakfast burger (eschewing risque “Dawn Horn” breakfast burger) and I ordered a “Cockadoodle Doo” on a gluten free bun.
While the “Little Lamby” and “Bun Laden” were tempting we could only fit one each – those things are huge.
It was AMAZING!
The gluten free bun is baked on site next door at Fergbakery and was great, sometimes that is not always the case for those of us that have gluten issues.
Best of all, the food was fresh and kept us full for hours. Which was lucky as the snow delayed our trip home by 4 and a half hours!
My final words – get yourself a Fergburger.
Fresh, inventive and quite frankly, worth the wait. A lesson that all soloists can heed, whether your business is burgers or books*
*Note, this article was NOT sponsored by Fergburger!