Whataburger ranks No. 7 among the country’s Top 10 burger chains. But here in Texas, few brands, burger or otherwise, inspire as much loyalty. News that the company has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to “explore our options,” which it said in a statement to the San Antonio Business Journal, has many fans worried about its future. Whataburger’s motivation isn’t clear, but expansion could be on the menu.
Gary Wilcox is a media and marketing professor at The University of Texas at Austin’s Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations. He says loyalty and quality account for Whataburger’s success.
“I’ve grown up having Whataburgers since I was a little kid,” Wilcox says. “And they still taste the same to me. And so, when you think about a brand that delivers on its promise, that’s a brand that really does do that.”
Like Whataburger in Texas, In-N-Out Burger, based in California, counts the loyalty of its fans as one of its greatest assets. But In-N-Out has opened a number of Texas locations, which could be part of the reason that Whataburger is looking to try something new.
“[Whataburger] is a smart organization,” Wilcox says. “And they’ve retained counsel to help them make these decisions. I also think they see projections of the market segment growing and they want to be a part of that. These days, it’s difficult for segments of products to find areas that are growing.”
Wilcox says the expansions of two other Texas-based chains – Schlotzsky’s and Taco Cabana – could be cautionary tales for Whataburger. Some say they expanded too quickly, to their detriment.
“Both of those brands have experienced some problems by expanding too fast, and not maintaining the loyalty to the consumer and brand,” Wilcox says.
But that could be a good thing for Whataburger fans who don’t want to see the menu or restaurant aesthetic change too much. They may get their way if Whataburger chooses a slower and more conservative approach.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.