If ever there was somebody who embodies the idea that it’s a long race then Harland Sanders is your man.  His likeness looks down on over 14,000 fried chicken restaurants spread across the globe.  The brand is one of the worlds most recognisable, rubbing it’s greasy shoulders against the likes of Coke and Maccy D’s.  But the journey to success for this pioneering entrepreneur was a battle, pure and simple. He wasn’t a colonel either.

Harland Sanders
Things got off to a tough start for Harland.  Born in September 1890 in a four room shack just outside Henryville, Indiana, he was the oldest of three children born to Wilbur and Margaret  Sanders. By all accounts his father was a mild and affectionate man who tried to make a living as a farmer, but an accident forced him to rethink his career and he switched trades spending the next two years as a butcher. When Harland was only 5 his dad came home with a fever, lay down, and died. His mother was forced to fund the family and started working in a tomato-canning factory. The young Harland was required to cook for his family quitting school when he was 12. His mother remarried in 1902 to a violent man who repeatedly beat him so he left soon after to  live with his uncle in Alabama.

At 15 Sanders falsified his date of birth and enlisted in the US Army gaining the rank of mule handler in Cuba. This was as close as he got to ever becoming a colonel. Four months after joining he was honourably discharged and went back to Alabama.

Aged 18 he married  Josephine King and started a family, he had a son, Harland, Jr., who died at an early age, and two daughters, Margaret and Mildred. After losing yet another job, this time for insubordination, Josephine left him whilst he was out, selling all their furniture and worldly possessions. She took the kids back to her parents’s home. Her brother wrote to Sanders telling him to not bother coming back saying, “She had no business marrying a no-good fellow like you who can’t hold a job.”

During his early years, Sanders tried many jobs, including: steamboat pilot, insurance salesman, railroad fireman, farmer and like many a desperate entrepreneur briefly became snake oil salesman. It’s safe to say that none of these really hit home.

When he was 40 Sanders opened a service station in Corbin, Kentucky where he cooked chicken dishes for the customers. He didn’t have a traditional restaurant and customers were served from his living quarters which were next to the service station.

The business was reasonably popular and grew to an extent that Sanders was able to upgrade to a 140 seat restaurant which he called Harland Sanders Café and Museum. In the following decade he developed his “secret recipe” for frying chicken (in a pressure cooker). In 1939 food critic Duncan Hines visited Sanders’s restaurant incognito and was so impressed he listed the place in “Adventures in Good Eating,” his famous guide to restaurants throughout the US.

Around 1950, with Sanders now in his 60’s, he began developing his distinctive look wearing white suits and bleaching his moustache and goatee to match his white hair. He never wore anything else in public during the last 20 years of his life.

In 1955 the new Interstate 75 skirted around Corbin which had the effect of stopping the passing trade. At age 65, Sanders’ restaurant went broke!  For the first time in his life he signed on for social security.  The first cheque was for $105 and he used the cash to hit the road and began cold calling potential franchisees to see if they wanted to take on his fried chicken idea.

This was the dawn of the age of restaurant franchises and his approach was a huge success. Ten years later, aged 74, Sanders sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken corporation for $2 million to a partnership of Kentucky businessmen. He kept the Canadian operation out of the deal and aged 75 he moved to Mississauga, Ontario to oversee his Canadian franchises. He continued to travel Canada and the US extensively, always pushing the brand and charging appearance fees.

In 1973, aged 83, he found time to sue the then parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken over alleged misuse of his image in promoting products he had not helped develop (and so was not getting a slice of the action). In 1975 the same parent company unsuccessfully sued Sanders for libel after he publicly referred to their gravy as “sludge” that tasted like “wallpaper paste”.

He died in December 1980 aged 90 years old.

You often hear entrepreneurs and entrepreneur watchers talk about the steely nerve required to keep picking yourself up when you experience a setback.  Well here’s an example that we should all take our hat off to.  The Colonel was 74 when he finally hit the jackpot



Talk recently about latest Curry’s financial results (ie. fucking bad – or ‘lower than expected profits’ in city speak) and how these sort of highly geared low margin companies are having a dire time due to the recessions and the strangling off of the bountiful cash injections we used to be provided with by a tactical re-mortgage.  I needed a new telly so decided to head over to my local out of town retail park and grab myself a deal. I’ve got the cash, I’ve got intent, I’ve got an empty cabinet back home.  In retail terms I’m super hot to trot. But perhaps it’s not the recession that’s buggering these large companies, perhaps they’re just buggering themselves:

1. Once in store there is the palpable anti-buzz, a vibe of people not giving a fuck.  I stood next to a vast TV and gave off the most obvious buying signals I could muster (tapping my wallet in the palm of my hand, looking around with eyebrows raised) and there was nobody in sight. When a ‘worker’ finally meandered over rather than try and sell me something he suggested I check their website for more stock options. Being fairly comfortable shopping on the interweb it prompted two thoughts. If I wanted to shop online I would have done so and secondly my default web shopping mode is to find my product and then *compare price*. Hoping I would go home and stick with Currys as a punter is at best naive and displays a breathtaking lack of understanding of how consumers shop.  You’ve got the bastards in your shop, sell them stuff.

2. Everything is on special.  All lines appear to have £150 knocked off.  It’s like they don’t have confidence in their shit either.  It’s as if somebody has identified their brand values as cheap shit sold by people who don’t care and then rolled this out across all their stores.  There is a confidence vacuum in a place where there should be optimism.  Optimism because they’re selling shiny electrical stuff! This shop should be the distillation of the western dream, the very essence of consumerism is summed up in the isles of blenders and toastie machines.  But it’s entirely absent.

3. The place is designed like a dogs dinner and never once in the buying cycle did I appear to be at all at ease. The transaction (should you ever get this far) is conducted on a sort of narrow shelf that you stand in front of.  These stores appear to have not changed one jot in the past 30 years.  Given that a significant part of this shop is supposedly positioned at the pointy end of tech sales (they have Apple products in the building) why not get some big comfy seating areas where i can find out more about the products sitting down, perhaps look at their own website for further info. Read some reviews. Grab a nice complementary cup of coffee. A biscuit to help with my anxiety and low blood sugar levels.

Doing the same thing but with indifferent staff and cut price products isn’t the solution.  Many companies convince themselves that the internet offers convenience without facing up the possibility that the shopping experience they provide in the physical world might well be an inconvenience.

I bought the telly by the way.