Who doesn't like good fried chicken? Nevermind that I'm asking this shortly before lunch, the work that goes into innovating the food you eat at your chosen establishments has a lot of parallels with your daily work, and I'm about to break down how. But first, a bit of backstory.

In my work prior to Source One, I was an editor and journalist. My last journalism job was for a startup men's publication running their Philadelphia bureau. The publication was very heavy in the food/drink/"new places to go to seal the deal", so I and my writers found ourselves in kitchens and the back rooms of bars a lot. The food scene in Philly is pretty diverse, but dining establishments can be over-generalized into one of three groups.

The Old Standbys - These range from your chain restaurants, to your mom & pop BYOs, to your diners. Good for a weeknight meal when you just want something familiar, these aren't going to have anything unique or adventurous on the menu - save for maybe that $3.99 steak & eggs "special" at the diner that's adventurous for all the wrong reasons - and no one in the front or back of the house has any culinary training above the mandatory food safety stuff, but they still serve their purpose and make a little money for themselves.

The High End Restaurants - This also includes some better chains, but this is mainly the domain of local restaurateurs who've been at the game for a while and have an education and experience. The chefs in the kitchen have c-school degrees, the front of the house is run by someone with a degree in hospitality management, and the experience is nothing short of what you'd expect. Your steak is expertly prepped medium rare, the flavors of the carb-laden sides complementary, and the decor is exactly what you'd expect from a steakhouse. And you can get that same experience in any of their well-run establishments around the city or region. They are perfectionists at the tactical level and very efficient. In Philadelphia, this is what you get from a Stephen Starr restaurant, or those from Jose Garces, Marc Vetri, and Michael Solomonov.

Boutique and Specialty Locations - These are highly specialized ventures and they run the absolute gamut. Maybe it's an 8-seat counter staffed by a lone chef who has studied noodles his entire life, and he only does ramen but it's amazing ramen. Or maybe it's an out-of-the-way bar run by an eccentric/lunatic who spent years traveling the world for cocktail ideas and inspiration, and learning about liquor. Or maybe it's the gastropub run by a beer expert bartender and a chef with such an in-depth knowledge of food that he's able to pull in unusual combinations that WORK, and a creative streak capable of producing things like deep fried Four Loko or a burger with  foie gras buns.

All three of these options will get you fed. And the High End Restaurants promise a great experience. But the boutiques and specialists, that third group - those are destinations. They are the best at their respective craft, and are able to perform at the highest levels because of the level of control they have over their work - their assigned subject matter - because of their expertise.

So, parlay this into your organization.

The old standbys are just following the same old procurement practices someone else showed them, slinging out three bids just as easily as big-as-your-head portions of chicken parm and just as prone to resorting to cutting down portions when the money gets tight.

The high-end spots have the best tools and educated resources at their disposal, but their methods are nothing new. "Overhead in Department X getting a little high? My MBA professors said to outsource it - Google "BPO" and go with the top result!" These efforts likely produce reasonably good results, but when dining trends change from grilled dishes to sous vide, or when industry trends change and the old school savings methods aren't enough, both are left with useless resources.

The specialist subject matter experts, with the freedom to leverage their expertise and creativity to properly innovate - the sourcing version of the guys in the kitchen going "Our exotic Asian restaurant's covers are plateauing, the move seems to be for more honest, simple food - BAM! Korean Fried Chicken!!" - are the ones who develop and succeed with innovative strategies that produce the next-level results that others soon follow. So, when one restaurant creatively, and successfully, fuses Asian spices with fried chicken wings for Korean Fried Chicken, others follow up with their own Korean Fried Chicken... and Jewish Fried Chicken and Israeli Fried Chicken from a donut stand. And suddenly everyone in Philadelphia is awash in fried chicken. Or, when one company has the supply chain knowledge and vision to see competitive advantages in consolidating their supply chain down to critical suppliers, then working so tightly with those suppliers that their relationships are practically partnerships, and has tremendous success from the resulting competitive advantages - Supplier Relationship Management becomes a hot topic and a sourcing "next step".

So, the next time you're headed out to dinner, and you pick a spot that "does amazing things with chicken", think about why they're able to do that and how that appeals to you as a customer. It just might help you reconsider how you utilize those subject matter experts within your sourcing department and organizing.
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Nicholas Hamner

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