6 Pivots to a Billion Dollars: How a Soda Shop Owner Did It

by Rishi Shah on October 11, 2012

One of my ALL TIME favorite entrepreneurs is JW Marriott. I wanted to share how he evolved a simple soda shop into the hotel empire!

1927 – The Great Idea is Born!

JW visits Washington D.C. on a hot sunny day and thought he could get rich by serving cold drinks. So, he opened up a A&W Root Beer franchise to do just that!

1928 – The Invention of the “Drive Thru”

More Americans had cars and so he invented “Service In Your Car” or as we know it now as a “Drive Thru”. The core idea was serve customers faster and make it easier – why make people get out of their cars?

1934 – Family Restaurant & Expanding

JW Marriott converted his A&W Root Beer stand into a low budget family restaurant and did a complete rebrand, calling it “The Hot Shoppe”.

JW and his wife/business partner, Alice Marriott, focused on opening more restaurants across the east coast.

1937 – Invented in-flight food services

JW noticed customers were “Driving Thru” and getting on a flight. He thought why not make things easier on his customers and just provide the food directly on the flight itself.

1955 – Food Catering

Started providing food catering services to government buildings, public schools, and hospitals. If you can’t get the customer to come to you why not just go to them – serve them food right where they work!

1957 – Opens First Hotel

All those people traveling on planes have to sleep somewhere. So they conveniently opened their first 365-room hotel right next to the airport.

Fun Fact: Daily Rates were $8/night

1958 and Onwards

Hotel expansion domination.

… and the rest is history. By constantly looking at where the customer is and how to make their life easier Marriott was able to transform a small time soda shop into a multi billion dollar corporation.

If you want to learn more checkout this awesome 45 minute documentary on JW Marriott.

The reason I love this story so much is Marriott makes creating a multi billion dollar company really easy, all you need to do is listen to your customers!

Special thanks to Priya Sheth for editing this post.

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{ 10 comments }

Sally October 11, 2012 at 7:26 PM

Wow I really enjoyed looking at the evolution.

One thing you are missing is that his son took over and really drove the hotel expansion by buying lots of other small time hotel companies.

Rishi Shah October 15, 2012 at 5:20 PM

Hi Sally,

Yes, it is true. Bill Marriott (JW’s son) was an amazing CEO. He was groomed by JW for the job since birth.

Priya October 12, 2012 at 5:21 PM

I enjoyed the article – I didn’t know the the Marriott story at all! I really like how the article points out that companies change a lot over time. I think a lot of people go into a company thinking that the first direction is what they are going to run with and carve into stone when its really about evolution and dedicating yourself to understanding customers and meeting their needs.

Pete October 12, 2012 at 8:22 PM

Awesome post as always! I love the history. I’m a bit of a history nerd – was a history major in college. Who’s your second favorite entrepreneur in history?

Rishi Shah October 15, 2012 at 5:26 PM

Hey Pete! It’s an honor to have a history buff like my entrepreneur story.

That is a hard question. To give JW the respect he deserves I have no 2nd favorite entrepreneur.

However, I have 3rd place one and that is Jeff Bezos. That guys keeps evolving Amazon. Selling books, to selling products, to selling services.

Shama October 16, 2012 at 11:43 AM

Thanks for sharing this story Rishi. I love fun facts/stories like this. People have ideas but being able to implement them and succeed is amazing!

Rishi Shah October 16, 2012 at 6:23 PM

Success stories are always a ton of fun to write about – super inspiring for me!

Thanks for the comment!

Mitesh October 17, 2012 at 10:48 AM

Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow, it was just awesome. The video was amazing too. Actually, I read a paper on a company called Zappos. It also has an amazing customer satisfaction and their business strategy is way different. Despite being an online store and being a technological company, the advertisment of the company was done through mouth to mouth communication.

Raj October 17, 2012 at 2:20 PM

great story. Rich and compelling.

Keyur October 17, 2012 at 3:16 PM

agreed, this was a good one. didn’t know jdub was your idol.

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