Its never too late - KFC

I’m wondering how many entrepreneurial dreamers have now lost their excuses regarding launching or growing a business thanks to the yearlong pandemic. Over many years interviewing hundreds of business owners I’ve heard many of them firsthand. The most popular and thinnest excuse of all was “I just don’t have the time” which I interpret as they feel other things are more important or their fear of starting up hasn’t been overcome yet.

Of course, the pandemic seems to have gifted people such as students and worker bees with more chunks of available time than they’ve had in years. I’ve been hoping that they’ll use the freed-up hours to put the wheels on their dreams of starting a business or taking their invention idea beyond the hasty sketch on an old grocery bag.

Surprisingly high on the list of reasons I’ve heard for inaction is “I’m too old or it’s too late to start that dream business.” My favorite real-life example of a person who blew that idea apart was a man named Harland Sanders a business founder who I loved interviewing decades ago during my radio career.  

In his very young years Sanders was part of a large, poor family and began working to help support the family before reaching his teenage years. As an adult with his own wife and kids to take care of he got a break from an oil company to operate a service station in Kentucky. By the age of 40 his station was attracting many customers and he decided to grow his income by feeding the hungry drivers with a favorite dish from his family’s Sunday dinners. That went so well that he then decided to move this new business to a small restaurant building across the road. It flourished to a degree that being a restaurant owner became his reason for being in business. But then in the early 1950’s President Eisenhower’s new interstate highway system diverted his source of customers down a new highway and away from his front door. Though the Kentucky governor had bestowed upon him the honorary title of Colonel, suddenly his business would now not even deserve the rank of private!

Harland Sanders was approaching age 65 with a business that was rapidly failing. Most of us would feel that it was too late to start over again. At the time when the Social Security program income looked like the only way he’d be able to put bread on his own table he had another idea. The item that made his small restaurant a “must stop” for so many people was his fried chicken. He took a major gamble to start in a new direction. The Colonel packed up chicken, his assortment of spices and a pressure cooker to hit the new interstate roadways and attempted to convince other restaurant owners that they could grow their businesses with his chicken recipe and preparation technique. As he roamed around the country he prepared food samples for restaurant operators to taste, but he didn’t tell them the list of spices that created that Kentucky Fried Chicken taste! If they wanted to have it on their menus they’d have to become franchisees. Then he would ship them the spices in a bag with instructions in exchange for a franchise fee of $5-cents for every piece of chicken that they sold. So it was in 1952 that Colonel Sanders began to build success at franchising his business and avoiding failure that would have left him as a hungry man with a great recipe but living on a meager Social Security income. His “It’s never too late” attitude gave birth to the Kentucky Fried Chicken empire that we all know. When I met him he’d just pocketed $2 million ($17M in today’s dollars) by selling the business which now has over 20,000 locations all over the world!

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