Reflection on the Why.

Within Studio Movie Grill’s DNA is a conviction to operate with a sense of purpose.  For the last decade SMG has been trying on different mantras.  Recently, solidifying these thoughts into a single catalyzing statement has become a central focus for the Home Office and theater management teams.  I attribute this awareness to a year-long leadership academy endorsed by SMG’s senior executives and funded entirely by the company.  Two-dozen team members from the Home Office plus General Managers will complete the inaugural program this month and another group of new students will begin their journey.

Besides the obvious financial benefits that result from an aligned team, using a common language to achieve goals, I believe something much greater has come out of the effort.

Real. Purpose.

Simon Sinek, in his now-famous TED speech, articulated this idea by modeling a concept he called the Golden Circle.  And while some of Sinek’s contemporaries criticize his observations as marketing manipulation, the simple fact remains that successful brands inspire consumers to act out of a genuine desire to belong.  They are speaking to us, telling us why they exist for our benefit, and we want to be a part of that.

Sinek’s Golden Circle consists of three questions: “What?”…“How?”…“Why?”




What: Most companies know what they do.  It’s their product or service and the niche in which they exist in the marketplace.

How: Most companies know how they do it.  It’s their value proposition or unique selling position that makes them better than the competition.

Why: It’s not to make a profit.  That’s a result.  He goes on to say the “Why” is the purpose, or belief.  “People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.”

We study business cases from Chic-Fil-A, Nordstrom, Apple, and Starbucks.  We don’t study these folks because they’re on top of their game, but rather, they have something engrained into their culture that makes them greater than their suite of products or services.  After all, anyone can make a chicken sandwich or sell a pair of Manolo’s.  But what isn’t so easily replicable is an authentic conviction to serve or to really challenge the status quo by thinking differently.

Movies are powerful change-agents.  They trigger a memory or an emotion, or they tell us a story that shapes our worldview.  Perhaps as important as the stories we watch are the movies that create life-long memories.  I watched Clint Eastwood movies with my Dad growing up.  My Mom slept on the floor in my room for a week after I saw Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom.  My first kiss was during Top Gun.  My first date with my three year-old daughter was Smurfs 2 at SMG Spring Valley with a chocolate milkshake and two straws.

In its current iteration, “SMG exists to open hearts and minds through our shared stories.”  Okay…an in-theater dining company existing to open hearts and minds might seem hopelessly romantic, but I challenge you to think of a more powerful storytelling medium in today’s society than movies, and anything more timeless than the fellowship of breaking bread with friends and family.

So, is there anything unique about that statement?  Could it be for someone else?  Of course it could.  It can only earn meaning when we consistently serve every guest, employee, vendor, community, and investor with the same care and passion we would extend to a beloved friend or family member in our home.

SMG isn’t a movie theater.  We’re not a restaurant either.  When you consider the compounding effect of 4,000+ employees and thousands of partners in our vendor network, working together in concert, the 8 million guests visiting SMG can understand why we exist for their benefit.  Opening hearts and minds through our shared stories is a tall order, but we believe it’s what makes something go from good to great.

Share your story on our Facebook page ( or email us at and we’ll post them at our home office in Dallas as a reminder of why we exist and a living example of our shared story.


Meet Charles and Ray.

I like to use terms like brand equity and value proposition as code for my true love of the creative process and designing spaces that people enjoy inhabiting.  In our last three theater projects, we’ve worked hard to inject the new brand of SMG into the architecture and design by carefully selecting a mix of materials, textiles and furnishings that tell a story.

A signature piece at all three locations is the Eames Lounge Chair by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller.  You might not know it, but if you catch a movie at our Duluth, Spring Valley or Wheaton locations and have a seat in one in the lounge, you’ll be sitting in one of the most significant designs of the 20th century.

Designed in 1956 for film director and friend, Billy Wilder, and officially titled the Eames Lounge (670) and Ottoman (671), the vision was a club chair with the “warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.”  While ours are brand new, the chair is a fully-licensed product of Herman Miller, still made by hand in Zeeland, Michigan, and part of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) permanent collection.

For over 40 years, the husband-and-wife team behind the Eames Lounge helped shape nearly every facet of American life.  From their architecture, furniture, and textile designs to their short films (yes, they even made movies) and children’s toys, Charles and Ray had a profound influence on the visual character of daily life in America.  They were even contracted by the US Navy in 1940 to mass-produce molded plywood splints for injured servicemen during World War II—the same technology of molding wood that would become the hallmark feature of their iconic furnishings.

For SMG, the Eames’s remind me of what we press on to be.  Charles and Ray Eames were pioneers.  As SMG enters the next phase of development and rapid growth, I’d like to think we’ve placed design at the heart of our business.  After all, “the role of the designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.”  –Charles Eames

Featured in the lounge of select SMG Locations,

Born in 1956: The Eames Lounge Chair. Featured in the lounge of select SMG Locations,