How I Built This: Five Guys: Jerry Murrell

  • I was a terrible student. I didn’t like school: The nuns told me if I didn’t work hard I’d end up selling hamburgers.

  • I was motivated to succeed when my wife left and took the kids: I didn’t know what to do with my life. One thing I was sure of is I’m going to get my kids back. I just didn’t know how yet.

  • I did a bunch of dumb things: I tried a few bad businesses. I tried starting an oil business. I tried a bottle water business. Then I started a real estate business. I was an expert at buying high and selling low. I really didn’t know what I was doing.

  • I was inspired by a tiny hamburger place where I grew up: It was owned by a guy named Push Em Up Tony. It was tiny. He only sold hamburgers. But people came from all over the city to buy them. I thought if I open up a hamburger place and keep it simple it might work. That’s where the idea came from.

  • One way to know if your product is good: We did it a little different. We wanted to find a place where the rent is real low. A place that is out of the way. If the place is hard to find and people still come we know we got something. 

  • How did you come up with the name? At the time I had 4 sons. So it was my 4 sons and me. Five guys.

  • I didn’t know much: But I knew how to cook a potato and I knew how to cook a hamburger. That’s all we knew [and needed to know]. We were making money from our very first day.

  • Another great idea: We let the kids pick the toppings. We wouldn’t tell them how much we were paying for the product. We said pick whatever pickles you want. They’d try a bunch of different brands and we’d wind up with the most expensive pickles. [This method was also applied to buns, cooking oil etc] Why did we do this? So the kids would pick the ingredients they thought were best [regardless of price]. If they picked the best product then that would be best for the customer.

  • How did you get your first customers? It was all word of mouth. The only way people could find us would be by somebody else was telling them about it.

  • I knew the business was risky but I thought it was fun: I told my kids you don’t have to be in this business. But if you want to be pick something you like to do. Something that you find fun.

  • I was dead set against franchising: My kids wanted to. They bought me a book called Franchising for Dummies. It was written by the founder of Wendy’s. I changed my mind. We sold 3500 franchises in the first two years. 

  • The Murrell Family still owns 75% of the company: They started it with $35,000. Five Guys made $57 million in net income in 2016.

  • My mom gave me good advice when I was a kid: If you could cook a good hamburger, serve a good drink, or give a good haircut you’ll always have an income. [In other words: Be Useful!]

  • Full podcast here.