I loved reading this recent Time Magazine article about the raging success of Panera Bread company and its various reasons for success despite the tough economy.

I’ve been a big fan since I walked into my first Panera store about 9 years ago.

Panera stock is up 26% this year and is one of the top performing stocks of the decade with a huge 1,560.65% return! And, they’re rocking this year too.

Here are a few ways in which they’ve achieved their remarkable success:

  1. They do not discount – they add value
  2. They execute well against basic fundamentals
  3. They innovate (e.g., paninis*) and continuously improve
  4. They know who they are (not a “refueling” stop – they’re a treat) and work to make their experience special – not cheap
  5. They’ve watched cash flow and have strong cost controls that allow them to re-invest and build when costs are low
  6. They operate with an enthusiastic non recessionary mindset (love this)

For example, CEO Ron Shaich’s enthusiastic non recessionary mindset is pretty basic, but enlightening and focused, “We understood that the fundamentals of the marketplace really haven’t changed,” says Shaich. “Unemployment went from 5% to 10%. There’s 90% of society that is still employed. I couldn’t capture all those people that are unemployed. They weren’t eating out at all. All I could do was stay focused on who my target customer was, and not be reactive.”

Mindset and focus are so important. Instead of focusing on the negative (e.g., 10% unemployment – woe is me attitude), they focused on improving their services to the working 90% of us (glass 90% filled).

Panera didn’t invent a totally new model – they just work it better than most everyone else.
*P.S.: Contrary to what you may believe, Panera did not invent the Panini, which dates back to the 16th century and became popular in America in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s – long before Panera came into existence. Again, they simply made it better! Innovation doesn’t always have to mean “new” – it’s just as effective to be “new and improved.” It also helps to have a CEO who knows the business inside and out.