Seven steps to breaking new markets, the Five Guys way

Five Guys COO Sam Chamberlain shared some of the secrets when he met with UK and US members of the Atlantic Club, during last month’s club tour of Washington DC.
Five Guys COO, Sam Chamberlain

With over 200 sites in 20 countries around the world—on top of its 1,400 North American stores – and with 100 more international and 75 new US sites to come next year, Five Guys has nailed its approach to global growth.

But not all brands fare so well beyond their borders. So what makes the difference between global success and failure?

Five Guys COO Sam Chamberlain (pictured left) shared some of the secrets when he met with UK and US members of the Atlantic Club, during last month’s club tour of Washington DC, at one of the chain’s restaurants in Alexandria, just outside the US capital, and close to its corporate HQ in Virginia.

So as Five Guys reaches the milestone of 100 sites in the UK in just six years, here are seven of the reasons why the concept has flown.

1 Find the right partner

Five Guys’ UK partner Sir Charles Dunstone has been instrumental in the brand’s success in the UK, and Chamberlain said it had been a superb partnership. “We just connected and felt he was going to be a good steward of the brand. He believes in Five Guys but he’s also an incredible retailer… we know our brand, and he knows the nuts and bolts of retail.”

2 Play to your strengths

Before going overseas, brands need to understand what makes them special at home—and in Five Guys’ case, it’s the all-American image. “The international community may not always love our government, but they love Americana… Five Guys is all about the burgers, fries and rock and roll.”

3 Don’t go until you’re ready

Five Guys resisted the temptation to move into new markets until it was confident it could make it work, Chamberlain said. “Many people were calling us, but we were still a young company and we weren’t ready. We still weren’t quite there when we first came in 2011, but there was so much pull that we finally thought we should get on a plane.” It was another two years before it felt ready to launch its first restaurant in London.

4 Get the product right

The Five Guys team spent those two years searching for the right UK suppliers and testing products—especially beef and bacon—because it refused to compromise standards. “If you can’t replicate the experience and quality, it doesn’t matter how much people want you. We would never have opened unless it smelled, tasted and felt the same way.”

5 Go where people know you

Brands can get a head start by targeting cities where some people appreciate them. “The fastest way to gain momentum is to be where people know your brand a bit… where many people have travelled overseas and may have been exposed to you.” In the US, that means cities like New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC and Miami—though it’s worth remembering that New York is a unique environment.

6 Have a complete offer

Five Guys didn’t launch in the UK until it had its full menu in place, as well as online ordering. Even if you need to delay an opening, it’s best to get everything aligned than try to bolt parts on later. “We’ve learned that if you open with online ordering you have a much higher adoption than if you add it down the line.”

7 Launch well

When Five Guys first opened in London’s Covent Garden, queues wrapped around the block and there was huge media interest. But there were no big PR or social media campaigns behind that—just the reputation of the brand. “In some ways not telling people makes them want it more.” One trick for building interest for free is to get your sign up on the restaurants you are building as soon as you can.

  • Atlantic Club is an informal, invitation-only forum, founded by industry leader Peter Martin, bringing together like-minded business leaders, brand-owners and entrepreneurs, restaurant and bar operators, from across the global food and drink spectrum. Its role is to help de-risk companies’ international strategies, by allowing senior executives to come together to gain new insights, exchange views and experiences, understand different market conditions and new working practices, to connect with and learn from both global and local experts, and develop contacts and partnerships in a confidential environment, while experiencing new places and ideas.
  • International design and branding consultancy Harrison, as one of the instigators of the Atlantic Club idea, has become Atlantic Club’s founding business partner and headline supporter, with US-based construction company Herman-Stewart and online people management specialist Harri becoming principal partners and supporters. CGA, the global data and research organisation, with offices in Manchester and Chicago, is the Club’s insight partner.

For more details of club events in 2020 contact

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