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Going Forward

Two years after stumbling through the worst financial quarter in its history, McDonald’s had successfully reversed the decline despite massive tumult in its executive suite that could have easily derailed the company’s efforts to shift its focus toward women consumers. Cantalupo, who put in place several of the far-reaching changes that made the women-centric focus a core strategy, died from a heart attack 16 months after taking over as head of McDonald’s. He was replaced by Charlie Bell, who was forced to retire in late 2004 after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. He died unexpectedly in 2005. Despite those executive shifts, the top leadership at McDonald’s stuck with the ideas espoused by people throughout the company, including Napier, Cook, Koepke, and Kapica. The payoff for paying attention to women? From May 2003 to May 2004, same-store sales were up for 13 straight months.31 In one year, McDonald’s share price doubled from $12 to $25. By 2005, the company was selling more apples than any other restaurant as Apple Dippers caught on.32 Since they were launched, McDonald’s has sold 300 million salads. People buying salads had total bills of $8 or more, double that of people who opted for a cheeseburger and fries. Surprisingly, men made up 40 percent of the salad purchasers—an added benefit McDonald’s hadn’t even hoped for when the salad line was launched in 2003. "The targeting of women hasn’t stopped men from buying our products," Napier says. "Instead, we sell more products in the end because we did focus on women." Company executives credit the radical rethink about women for helping with the quick turnaround in McDonald’s fortunes. "We wouldn’t be where we are if it hadn’t been for a direct focus on women," Koepke says.

But McDonald’s isn’t sitting still after learning its lesson the hard way in 2002 of remaining relevant with women. It’s taking its women-centric focus around the world. In Japan, one of the company’s biggest markets, it has revamped its menu to appeal to young women, a demographic it has rarely served in the past. But with its core consumer group—families with children—dwindling in Japan, McDonald’s has had to begin offering food options that appeal beyond burgers and fries. In mid-2003, the company’s Japanese unit introduced higher-priced offerings with more gourmet touches, such a ratatouille sauce for hamburgers and a fried green spring roll with red bean sweetener, for single Japanese women.33 Napier was reassigned to Europe after her success in the U.S. to help bring new ideas to the company’s struggling operations across the continent. "Again it was a matter of offering choices to women, giving them a reason to come back in the door," Napier says, adding that in Europe, McDonald’s was adding more salads, yogurts, chicken sandwiches, and fruit.

The company also didn’t stop thinking about how to keep changing with women consumers in the U.S. In 2005, the focus moved to the restaurants themselves. The company’s new leadership team, headed by chief executive officer Jim Skinner, who replaced Bell, remained committed to Cantalupo’s strategy of increasing same-store sales instead of growing by opening new stores. To bring people back to the stores week after week, McDonald’s turned again to its mantra of "finding the woman inside the mom" for guidance. In mid-2005, the company pushed forward with plans to revamp thousands of restaurants and hundreds of PlayPlaces to make them more comfortable for moms and women. "We heard from women that they would really like a place that was geared toward them, not just their children," Koepke says. When they were designed, PlayPlaces didn’t take moms into account. They were designed to fit the needs of children. Parents were forced to sit outside the space on hard plastic chairs while trying to watch over their children in the play area. In the renovated PlayPlaces, McDonald’s moved in couches and comfortable chairs and installed wireless Internet access—much more like the "fast-casual" environments of Panera Bread or the look and feel popularized by Starbucks. Koepke says, "We realize that our sterile environments just aren’t what women are looking for anymore."

McDonald’s turned around its sales and overhauled its menu for a new century by readjusting its view of women from a minority market to a majority consumer. It rethought a woman’s traditional role as mother and revamped it for today’s consumers. In the next chapter, we’ll address how The Home Depot shifted its focus on women by radically rethinking women’s roles inside the home—and in home renovation.

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