An Interview With Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s CEO, Charles Watson

An Interview With Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s CEO, Charles Watson

By Gary Occhiogrosso
PHOTO COURTESY OF TROPICAL SMOOTHIE CAFE

CEO Shares His Story & Insights On Taking The Reins.
Amid all the pandemic news and stories of how the foodservice business is coping with the crisis, I thought I’d attempt to redirect our attention today, even if only for a short while. As a 35 year veteran of the restaurant and franchise industry, I have always been fascinated by the challenges, risks, rewards, and day to day “work” a CEO faces when first taking the helm of an ongoing franchise organization. Today’s post focus’ on that topic in an interview with Charles Watson, the CEO of Tropical Smoothie Café.

Mr. Watson was appointed the CEO position of Tropical Smoothie Cafe in December 2018. Since that time, he has led the company on its quest towards $1billion in sales by 2023. He’s no stranger to franchise development, nor is Charles Watson an outsider, having served four years as the company’s Chief Development Officer in addition to his prior role as VP of Franchise Development. He is directly responsible for selling more than 800 franchises.

As their franchise website states: “Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s menu boasts bold, flavorful smoothies with a healthy appeal, all made-to-order with quality ingredients. We find that real fruits, veggies, and juices just taste better.” The offerings have evolved over the years to include a menu of breakfast and lunch items beyond smoothies. From wraps to flatbreads to salads, Mr. Watson continues to solidly position Tropical Smoothie Cafe as a leader in the fast-casual, healthier lifestyle food category.

Gary Occhiogrosso: Tell us a little about your background before joining Tropical Smoothie?

Charles Watson: “Prior to joining Tropical Smoothie Cafe, I worked for several hotel and hospitality-centric companies, including Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Intercontinental Hotels Group, US Franchise Systems, Inc. and Hospitality Real Estate Counselors. I joined Tropical Smoothie Cafe in 2010 as the Vice President of Franchise Development and, in 2016, became the Chief Development Officer, where I was responsible for all aspects of the development of the brand. In July 2018, I was named interim CEO, and then permanent in December 2018.”

Occhiogrosso: Please give our readers the “Elevator Pitch” for Tropical Smoothie Cafe?

Watson: “Tropical Smoothie Cafe is a national fast-casual cafe concept inspiring healthier lifestyles with more than 850 locations in 44 states. Beyond just smoothies, we serve better-for-you wraps, sandwiches, and flatbreads, and pride ourselves on living at the “intersection of taste, convenience, and hospitality.” In a highly competitive segment, we’re one of the fastest-growing quick-casual brands, opening 124 new locations in 2019 alone and singing 213 development agreements to open hundreds of businesses over the next few years.”

Occhiogrosso: What was the condition of the company before you were named CEO?

Watson: “We were in a good place! In 2018, when I was named CEO, we had more than 720 locations open nationwide. By year-end 2018 we opened 110 cafes and signed 191 new franchise agreements. Building off this momentum, in 2019, we celebrated the openings of our 750th and 800th locations, but taking over during such a monumental time for our brand certainly brought opportunities to improve. Each year, franchisees complete the Franchise Business Review to essentially grade us here at the Support Center on how we’re serving them. We gathered that feedback and used it to set goals and action plans for the company. Areas we wanted to attack immediately with our rapid growth were direct franchisee support as well as technology support and menu innovation. We set company-wide strategic imperatives around these issues immediately.”

Occhiogrosso: What were the one or two unique challenges that you faced upon taking over as CEO?

Watson: “As a first time CEO, learning to view the business from a thinking vs. a doing mentality was a challenge I faced. The success of our brand is about the talent and drive of our talented executives and Support Center team. It was not possible for me to get involved in every project – so I had to learn to let go and delegate. I would say that understanding the viewpoints and drivers of the different stakeholders I was serving was important. A presentation for a board is focused on very different things than a franchisee roadshow. Really trying to understand how to see the world through a different stakeholders’ eyes is something I still work on.”

Occhiogrosso: What was your plan for the first 90 days?

Watson: “I wanted to further instill a franchisee-first mentality. When our franchisees are successful, the brand is successful. When I became CEO, I launched a formal franchisee advisory council, known in our organization as the Tropical Franchisee Council (TFC). While we had always involved franchisees, I felt it needed to be formalized and more visible to our franchise system. In short, franchisees needed to know that there was a formal mechanism of their peers that was constantly feeding back to us at the Support Center. From there, we set up committees, reporting into our TFC, around the major parts of our business, and included more franchisees to provide feedback and work with us on further improving IT, Marketing, Design, and Construction, etc. It was important to me that we have franchisees themselves share their feedback and align on system initiatives and goals. In a franchise system, without broad franchisee buy-in, you cannot move as efficiently and effectively as is required in today’s business environment.”

Occhiogrosso: How is taking the reins of an existing company different than being part of a startup or a founder?

Watson: “I think when taking over any brand where you worked alongside your predecessor, there’s a certain level of pressure to continue carrying the torch, but also to make necessary changes to the brand to evolve with the changing economy and consumer trends. I was lucky enough to work with the founders of the business (and still do as they are board members) as well as work under our first CEO, who did an amazing job. Because 99% of Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s system is franchisee-owned and operated, it was my goal to maintain consistency for them and move the company forward in the right direction, with a lot of reverence and respect for the past. In my case, because I already had nearly a decade with Tropical Smoothie Cafe on the franchise development side, I had the unique advantage of personal relationships with our franchise community. We had a high level of mutual trust and respect for each other that existed before I assumed the role of CEO. I may have been, in fact, the person responsible for awarding them a franchise! My experience with the brand up to that point was beneficial because I was already very immersed in the operations and processes that had contributed to its success at that time. That created a kind of blueprint that served as the foundation for me to take the reins and lead the company the way I felt was best. Yes, I am putting my mark on the brand and culture, but I have been around long enough not to stray too far from the DNA of the brand.”

Occhiogrosso: What challenges, if any, did you face in getting “buy-in” from the existing franchise community once you became CEO? Were any of the franchisees reluctant to follow the system or embrace a new direction?

Watson: “Like I said, I was very fortunate to have had already developed relationships with our franchise community prior to becoming CEO. My predecessor did a great job, so most of the hesitancy candidly was, “will this guy be as good, will we have the same amount of success?” Luckily in my first two years as CEO, we continued to expand the footprint of the brand, and increase brand awareness, drive profitability for our franchisees and drive our comp sales…. So that was helpful! The impact of the more formalized committees we have set up, and the close connection I have with TFC has gotten the system more comfortable with my style and thinking, and I believe, since trust is earned, I still have a long way to go, but am off to a good start. Without our franchisees, committees, and council, I simply could not do this job. Those franchisees are serving our guests on the front lines – I can’t run this business without their candid feedback.”

Occhiogrosso: How do you feel about franchise advisory councils? And was one in place already?

Watson: “I’m a huge advocate for franchise advisory councils, specifically when nearly 60% of all franchise agreements at Tropical Smoothie Cafe come from existing franchisees. The Tropical Franchisee Council (TFC) was established in 2018 and has been invaluable for our growth. “Relationships Rule” is one of our core values, and because of that, people are at the heart of our company. Our relationships are founded on trust and respect for the unique talents of our teams, franchisees, and vendors alike. We strive to continue to harness these relationships in this way and feel that this approach will continue to fuel our success. The TFC works hand-in-hand with Tropical Smoothie on all facets of the business from operations, IT, marketing, construction, and beyond, and their genuine feedback continues to establish the open communication we strive for, helping us to enhance our business model on an ongoing basis. This process only helps our individual franchisees and their bottom line, respectively.”

Occhiogrosso: What is the mission and goal of the company over the next few years?

Watson: “At Tropical Smoothie Cafe, it’s our mission to inspire a healthier lifestyle by serving amazing food and smoothies, with a bit of tropical fun. We want to be an escape for our consumers in this hectic world we live, and an incredible business model for our franchise partners It’s an exciting time to be a fast-casual concept within this segment, specifically as the market size of the juice and smoothie bars industry is expected to increase by 2.3% in 2020, reaching nearly $3 billion in revenue across the globe. We consider ourselves to be an approachable, healthier option for the average American, and our customer loyalty system-wide continues to climb. Our company sells about 200 franchises, opens over 120 cafes a year, and has more than 500 locations in the pipeline. As a brand, we strive for excellence in service and creating a culture of hospitality for our business no matter which location you visit, and this year we’re prioritizing them even further by enhancing pillars of our hospitality-centric culture and the technology we use to create convenience for our guests in order to reinforce our position as the leader in our segment. Over the next five years, our goals are to reach 1,500 cafes open across the U.S., with over 18% profitability for our franchisees on average volumes in excess of $1M, all with very high operational satisfaction for our guests. Our annual tactics are focused around delivering those results.”


Although I did not want to focus on COVID-19 in this interview, it is difficult to ignore its impact on the restaurant community as well as franchisees in general. So I was compelled to ask Mr. Watson his thoughts on the pandemic and the company’s response.

Occhiogrosso: During the current COVID-19 crisis, what steps have you taken to ensure that Tropical Smoothie Cafe supports the local community?

Watson: “When COVID-19 struck the restaurant landscape in mid-March, we closed all dining rooms and shifted our focus to drive-thru, curbside pickup, and delivery where available. Then we determined two focus areas, giving back to the community and prioritizing support for our franchisees. Some of our franchisees had the idea to donate smoothies to first responders and hospital workers in Atlanta. We loved the idea so much we launched a nationwide campaign to donate 100,000 smoothies across the country and the response has been incredible. Within the first day, several local franchisees jumped on board and donated more than 600 smoothies each, and the donations just kept growing from there. On April 16 we met our goal of 100,000 smoothies, but our franchisees haven’t stopped there, and the new challenge is to donate a total of one million smoothies by the end of May. Knowing that those essential workers are not only in the healthcare fields, we’ve also extended our giving to grocery store, warehouse and post office employees. We’re proud to report that as of today, we’ve donated more than 200,000 smoothies to these hometown heroes, and we’re not done yet! In support of National Nurses Appreciation Month in May, we have also pledged to donate $100,000 to the American Nurses Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund upon reaching our goal of giving away 1,000,000 smoothies.”Our franchisees are the heart of our brand, so we wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could to help them stay afloat through the crisis. We decreased royalties and deployed hyper-local marketing strategies to drive business within a 1–to 2-mile radius of cafes. While our projected 2020 growth might take a step back due to the coronavirus, I believe our approach to navigating through this will help us emerge quickly once it passes.”

Occhiogrosso: What are some of the additional support initiatives you put in place for your franchise community during the pandemic?

Watson: “Our franchisees are the heart of our brand, so we wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could to help them stay afloat through the crisis. We’ve implemented various franchisee support initiatives, including decreased royalties by 50%, ongoing support with PPP loans and real estate deferrals and abatements, rolling out curbside delivery systemwide, deployed hyper-local marketing strategies to drive business within a 1–2-mile radius of cafes, among many others. While our projected 2020 growth might take a step back due to the coronavirus, I believe our approach to navigating through this will help us emerge quickly once it passes.

Occhiogrosso: How do you see the company moving forward?

Watson: “As you know, the restaurant industry has taken a huge hit. Although COVID-19 has directly impacted our business, some days being down more than 50 percent, we consider ourselves lucky to have a business model that allowed us to easily transition to grab-and-go, curbside, and delivery only. I think the biggest shift will take place for those restaurants that can’t be open right now. The guests who support local businesses in and around their communities are the ones we give the credit to because their loyalty to our cafes is what has ultimately maintained our ability to serve. Because of our amazing guests, our franchisees, and the communities they serve, including those on the front lines of this pandemic, we will get through this. As reopening guidelines are being determined, we plan to move forward with an abundance of caution.”

In conclusion, I believe the growth of Tropical Smoothie Cafe over the last two years demonstrates Mr. Watson’s steady leadership and a clear understanding of building on the momentum that has made the brand a leader in its category. In my experience, making franchisee success and profitability the priority is the key to the longevity of any franchised brand. The fact that nearly 60% of all new Tropical Smoothie Cafe units are opened by existing franchisees underscores the franchise owner’s satisfaction with the concept, the company, and it’s leadership. It’s almost all you need to know about the results of Mr. Watson’s work and commitment to the franchisees. Successfully taking the reins on an existing franchise company can be a daunting task, but in the case of Charles Watson, he continues, as their franchise website claims, to create waves for a brand that started on the beach.

About Charles Watson:

Charles Watson was named CEO in December 2018. In this role, he is responsible for the brand’s strategic vision and overall franchise performance. He was previously Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s Chief Development Officer since 2016, after serving as VP of Franchise Development since 2010. In these roles, Charles was responsible for all development of the Tropical Smoothie Cafe brand. A veteran hospitality professional, Charles has worked for several hospitality-related companies, including Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Intercontinental Hotels Group, US Franchise Systems, Inc., and Hospitality Real Estate Counselors. Charles is a graduate of The Hotel School at Cornell University and also holds a Masters of Business Administration from The Terry School of Business at The University of Georgia.

* * MasterMind Minutes * *

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

MasterMind Minutes is the Webcast that shares expert business information in Minutes Not Hours. Each edition runs approximately 10 to 15 minutes and features an expert guest covering one question. The entire series is posted and updated several times a week on this page so you can binge watch back-to-back “episodes”. Three to five new editions are added each week so keep coming back to view the experts on an insightful topic that is sure to help you build, grow and run your business.

www.franchisegrowthsolutions.com

HOW TO EVALUATE A STARTUP OR EMERGING BRAND FRANCHISE WITH ONE OR NO FRANCHISEES?
Our Guest Today is: Ed Teixeira.
Ed has over 40 years of experience in the franchise industry and is the VP Franchise Development for FranchiseGrade.com a leading franchise market research firm. Ed is the author of Franchising from the Inside Out and The Franchise Buyers Manual and has spoken before the International Franchise Expo, Chinese Franchise Association in Shanghai, China and has lectured at the Stony Brook University Business School on Franchising.
Contact Ed at: https://www.franchisegrade.com/. 1-800-975-6101
Contact Gary at: [email protected]
Learn More About Franchising: https://www.franchisegrowthsolutions.com

WHAT SHOULD EMPLOYERS THINK ABOUT WITH RESPECT TO LIABILITY CONCERNING EMPLOYEES GETTING CORONAVIRUS AT THE WORKPLACE?
today’s guests are:
Joel Greenwald is the Founder and Managing Partner of Greenwald Doherty LLP, a national management-side employment law firm. Focusing on labor relations and employment law. AND Michael Einbinder is a founding Partner of Einbinder & Dunn. He is a participating member of the American Bar Association Forum on Franchising.
Contact Michael at: [email protected] – Contact Joel at:[email protected]

HOW A COMPANY CAN SUPPORT THE COMMUNITY, ITS EMPLOYEES AND ITS FRANCHISEES IN TIME OF CRISIS – Today’s guest is Hector Westerband. Hector is the Founder and CEO of ACAI EXPRESS. He has over 20 years in the hospitality industry. He was introduced to the amazing Acai Stone Fruit. It was there where he started his own Acai Food Truck Called Acai Express in 2013.development.
Acai Express: https://lnkd.in/eESYZ6U

WHAT ARE THE FRANCHISE BRANDS THAT ARE DOING WELL DURING AND WILL DO WELL AFTER THE PANDEMIC? – Today’s guest is Lance Graulich
Lance is the founder & CEO of ION Franchising, an industry leading franchise consulting and development group, that represents over 500 franchise brands & business opportunities within 90 categories. Lance helps prospective entrepreneurs find their perfect franchise for FREE.

ARE YOU OVERLOOKING POTENTIAL MONEY SAVING CHANGES IN THE FEDERAL TAX LAWS THAT WERE INCLUDED IN THE COVID STIMULUS BILLS? – Today’s guest is MICHAEL IANNUZZI
Michael Iannuzzi is a partner and co-leader in Citrin Copperman’s franchise practice providing a variety of services to a wide spectrum of clients within the franchise community.

GROWING YOUR FRANCHISE COMPANY POST COVID-19 – Today’s guest is Harold Kestenbaum.
Harold is a franchise attorney who has specialized in franchise law and other matters relating to franchising since 1977. https://youtu.be/OOCXqhGPA_U

WHY DO FRANCHISEES FAIL – Today’s guest is Tom Scarda, CFE, Founder & CEO of the Franchise Academy, Best selling author and Podcaster.

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MATTO FRANCHISE
A Revolution is Brewing
LEARN MORE HERE:
https://www.mattofranchise.com/

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HOW ARE BANKS RESPONDING TO LOANS FOR NEW BUSINESSES?
Today’s guest is Reginald Heard – Founder and CEO of Bankers One Capital.

HOW ARE YOU MARKETING AND GETTING THE WORD OUT THAT YOUR BUSINESS IS GETTING READY TO REOPEN? Laura Skulman, Director of Marketing and Events for B&D Burgers in Savannah Ga.

HOW FRANCHISORS ARE CREATING A DIGITAL STRATEGY AS THE ECONOMY OPENS UP – Today’s guest is Aubree Coderre, National Sales Manager at C-Squared Social

Stephen McCluskey Insurance Expert – Discussing what you can do if your Insurance Company is not paying business interruption insurance due to Covid 19 closure

Michael Einbinder – Founding Partner of Einbinder and Dunn, a Law firm focusing on the needs of franchisees and franchisors

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MATTO FRANCHISE
A Revolution is Brewing
LEARN MORE HERE:
https://www.mattofranchise.com/

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OPPORTUNITIES TO OPEN A RESTAURANT NOW! Today’s guest is David Simmonds – Commercial Rental Expert

MasterMind Minutes – One Question – One Expert Answer – Minutes Not Hours
Our guest today is Doug Smith… He is the Director of Sale for ROI Experts which is a digital marketing agency that works with restaurants around the world. ROI Experts generates trackable ROI using their unique ROI engine platform. Doug is 27 year veteran of the radio, sales and marketing. Visit their website at www.roiexperts.com‍

How Small Businesses Can Boost Sales

Let’s face it, plenty of potential customers add items to their online shopping carts and never check out. While these “abandoned carts” seem challenging, they’re an opportunity.

How Small Businesses Can Boost Sales

By BrandPoint

(BPT) – With over 30 million small businesses in the U.S., it’s tough to stand out from the crowd. Successful small businesses turn first-time customers into repeat business, building momentum and growing sales.

How can you achieve this? Marketing. Finding effective, easy-to-execute marketing strategies can boost your business by helping you engage your customers while attracting new ones. Here are some proven ideas to help your business thrive:

Engage first-time customers

Show new shoppers that they matter. Send welcome emails and recommend products to complement what they bought. Offer special deals to keep them coming back.

Utilize positive customer reviews

Did you know over 60% of consumers read reviews before buying? Reviews can include ratings, testimonials, photos, videos and more.

Treat reviews as marketing gold, sharing them with customers and prospects to build trust and increase sales. You can generate and integrate them into your website, on social media and other marketing efforts.

Turn shopping carts into opportunities

Let’s face it, plenty of potential customers add items to their online shopping carts and never check out. While these “abandoned carts” seem challenging, they’re an opportunity.

An effective way to convert abandoned carts into sales is by drawing on the power of customer reviews. Adii Pienaar, vice president of commerce product strategy for the email marketing platform CM Commerce, says small businesses can change their fortunes with this approach.

“Our most successful small business customers don’t just send a reminder email to shoppers about items left in their carts,” said Pienaar. “They take it a step further and include positive reviews and ratings about that product with the follow-up, knowing how much importance buyers place on others’ experiences. By featuring personalized product reviews for abandoned cart items, there can be a recovery rate of 5-10%.”

Spark interest with special offers

Entice new and returning business by offering discounts, encouraging shoppers to give your business a try.

Also, if you don’t have one already, create a loyalty program for frequent shoppers, or a referral special for those inviting friends to your website or social media.

Personalization matters

Shoppers don’t want mass emails treating them like just another number. Small businesses that tailor emails based on each customer’s shopping experiences and interests are far more successful in driving sales.

Creating customized content may sound complex, but it all comes down to how you organize your customer list. For example, segment your customers by which products they’ve purchased, then use this information to inform them how to best use their products or remind them when it’s time to re-order.

Personalization really pays off when you incorporate dynamic content — information that changes based on a person’s interests — in promotional emails. Use a customer’s previous purchases and shopping interests to generate ideas on products to complement items they already bought. For example, recommend a similar flavor of cupcakes to ones they ordered before.

Get started

These proven marketing approaches can springboard your business to success. But, how do you get started?

Marketing has greatly evolved, with many new, easy-to-use tools. You don’t need to be a marketing expert, technical whiz or creative designer to use them.

For example, CM Commerce is an email marketing platform designed for small ecommerce businesses. It can easily create professional email campaigns to enhance and grow your business.

To help small business owners, CM Commerce features pre-built email marketing recipes for everything from welcome emails and newsletters to abandoned cart reminders and more. Business owners can follow these guidelines and put their email marketing plans in place with a single click.

“I always recommend small business owners invest in email marketing,” said Pienaar. “It’s a cost-effective way to establish your brand and regularly reach your customers and prospects. Most importantly, email marketing has the potential for huge returns and can truly make your business stand out.”

For more tips and ideas to grow your business, visit The Marketing Resources Hub.

MATTO FRANCHISE
A Revolution is Brewing
LEARN MORE HERE:
https://www.mattofranchise.com/

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Restaurant Industry In Turmoil, But There Is A Way Out!

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

In short, most operators, with a great deal of effort, should be able to generate enough sales, on premise and off, to satisfy their landlords, who will have become their partners, dependent on sales. Store level expenses will be largely variable, including rent, and there should be less upward pressure on the fixed costs at store level.

RESTAURANT INDUSTRY IN TURMOIL, BUT THERE IS A WAY OUT!
By Roger Lipton
restaurant, COVID-19, Roger Lipton, Franchise Money Maker

The world, as we have known it, is seriously changed for the foreseeable future. Restaurant and retailers will have to cope with lots of new requirements that deal with social distancing and testing.

PAYROLL PROTECTION?? NOT QUITE!

One of the current priorities is to access the Payroll Protection Program. Unintended consequences are already coming into focus. Restaurant operators realize that business will be slow after opening, which is still weeks or months away. If they spend 75% of the money, mostly for payroll and rent, in the next eight weeks to qualify for loan forgiveness, they will not have the resources to carry the predictable losses when they first reopen, and those losses will likely last for months at least. They have the option of holding the money, which will then remain a loan rather than a “grant. However, while the two year term, at only 1%, seems cheap enough, there is no way that cash flow will be sufficient to pay back the loan that quickly.

MATTO FRANCHISE
A Revolution is Brewing
LEARN MORE HERE:
https://www.mattofranchise.com/

Some operators will therefore let their ex-employees remain on unemployment insurance for the time being, use the government capital to cushion losses after reopening, and deal with the ramifications two years from now. Other operators, will take the money, never reopen, and walk away. There are no personal guarantees, after all.

At the least, therefore, the program must be changed to allow for a sufficient payback period to recoup losses. We suggest this will happen, because the problem, and the fix, is so obvious. There are, predictably, other unintended consequences of this huge program that was implemented with such a rush, but we will leave that for another day.

RENT – THE BIGGEST FIXED COST

We are all reading about various companies, small and large, holding back rent. It’s understandable under the circumstances, and landlords realize that their world has changed as well. At the end of the day, we believe that percentage rents will be the new normal. The lessors have no real option. Yesterday’s rent structure is gone, and their alternative in almost all cases is to have empty space for perhaps years.

OFF-PREMISE CONSUMPTION BECOMES CRITICAL

Even after vaccines and treatments are in place, it is going to be quite a while before consumers are comfortable in close contact with strangers. We can be assured that dine in traffic will be at a lower level than previously. It therefore becomes critical for restaurant operators to do everything possible to build their off premise activities. Drive-thru locations, where applicable, can help a lot, but delivery (with or without third parties), catering, curbside pickup, packaged products to go are all brand building alternatives that can help to carry the physical overhead.

OVER-STORED NO MORE

Stated most concisely: there will be more closures than we have seen in at least fifty years (from today’s huge base). Far fewer chains will be expanding. Survivors will have less competition.

LABOR COST PRESSURE WILL ABATE

When the stores open, there will be less upward wage pressure than we have seen in the last few years and that we were anticipating would continue.

The cost structure will be more variable than ever before. It will take a while for negotiations to take place but rent will be based on a percentage of sales. Cost of Sales is variable and Labor is largely variable. Other Operating Costs at the store level (waste removal, bank fees, insurance, property taxes, etc.) can be negotiated lower. (It happens that I am affiliated with a Company that can help in this regard, with no up front cost.) Corporate Overhead can be scaled for the new world we are all living within.

In short, most operators, with a great deal of effort, should be able to generate enough sales, on premise and off, to satisfy their landlords, who will have become their partners, dependent on sales. Store level expenses will be largely variable, including rent, and there should be less upward pressure on the fixed costs at store level. Store level cash flow may not approach previous levels but should be adequate to support, if not enrich, a reasonable level of corporate overhead. Regional operators will have an advantage, with their proximity to the store level and their ability to respond quickly and efficiently to changing circumstances. National operators should decentralize to whatever extent possible for the same reasons. Dedicated corporate management should be able, in most cases, especially if not burdened by excessive debt, to lead their companies to survive, and even prosper over the long term.
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About Roger Lipton
Roger is an investment professional with over 4 decades of experience specializing in chain restaurants and retailers, as well as macro-economic and monetary developments. After earning a BSME from R.P.I. and MBA from Harvard, and working as an auditor with Price, Waterhouse, he began following the restaurant industry as well as the gold mining industry. While he originally followed companies such as Church’s Fried Chicken, Morrison’s Cafeterias and others, over the years he invested in companies such as Panera Bread and shorted companies such as Boston Chicken.

6 Key Points To Keep Your Restaurant Profitable In A Slow Down

Look for trends in your sales—for example, busy days and hours versus slower times and days. For instance, if Tuesday afternoons are consistently slow, then consider cutting back on your hourly staff for that period…

6 Key Points To Keep Your Restaurant Profitable In A Slow Down
by Gary Occhiogrosso – Managing Partner, Franchise Growth Solutions, LLC.
Photo by Gor Davtyan on Unsplash

In good times and not so good times, operating a profitable restaurant can be a daunting task. The high cost of rent, labor, and raw ingredients, often overlooked by guests seeking a fine dining experience at fast-food prices can make value perception and profitability difficult. Nonetheless, there are a few things every operator should be aware of, especially during tough economic times. Below I have listed six tips that when put into everyday practice, not only help save money and increase sales when times are lean but serve to maximize profits in better economic times.

Be Mindful Of Your Payroll
Payroll is the one thing in your operation that you have total control over. You determine it, and no one or anything else has a hand in the result. Knowing how to manage payroll is an essential element to success in the restaurant business.
Controlling labor during a slow business period can be tricky. If your businesses’ survival is dependent upon the need to terminate personnel, then managing the schedule of your hourly employees as well as your key people in a compassionate way must be your top priority. You’ll need to delicately balance the limiting of hours among your best employees. Whenever possible, spread the cutbacks out amongst as many team members as possible. That way you can lessen the impact to any one team member.
Be mindful that if you schedule less labor than you need, your restaurant may end up giving poor guest service. That will negatively impact the guest experience as well as your Social Media reviews. On the other hand, if you over-schedule your labor as a percentage of sales, then you’ll be out of line with acceptable budgets and typically lose money.
Look for trends in your sales—for example, busy days and hours versus slower times and days. For instance, if Tuesday afternoons are consistently slow, then consider cutting back on your hourly staff for that period. If you employ a salaried manager, have that person substitute in a station position. Labor is the most critical line item on your P&L. Oversee it, adjust it each day based on projected sales. Remember, unlike food inventory, which allows you to store it (in many cases) for another day, labor, once spent, is gone forever.

Engineer Your Menu To Reflect Current Goals
Sometimes bigger isn’t better. A smaller, more focused menu is often more profitable than the “be everything to everyone approach.” During a recession or slow season, use your menu to attract new customers as well as enticing your regular customers to visit more often. Adjust your menu by offering items that have more appeal in a budget-conscious climate. Understanding what guests want, what they can afford, and what you wish to sell them is a critical piece to menu engineering.
Also, position your lower food cost items in a prominent spot on your menu. That way, you can offer your guests lower-cost menu items and still make a profit.
And although it goes without saying, don’t forget to conduct a weekly inventory. Monitoring your food cost will help you manage cash flow most efficiently and accurately.

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MATTO FRANCHISE
A Revolution is Brewing
LEARN MORE HERE:
https://www.mattofranchise.com/

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Stay In Front Of Your Customers
The saying “out of sight, out of mind” is never is more accurate than in a recession or slow period. You may not want to run your full Radio/TV or Print campaign. However, now is not the time to cut advertising to zero. Instead, increase your paid social media and your paid Google ads. Post photographs of guests in your restaurant, delicious-looking food items, and creative, fun graphics to entice and remind your guests how much they enjoy your restaurant and what you have to offer.
In addition, utilize the database you’ve collected of customer’s email addresses and mobile telephone numbers. You can use this data to send your customers special offers via email blasts and text messaging. Be proactive!

Promote Value, Not Price
During a recession or other tough times, offer your guests real value, not discounts. It is my opinion that you should never attach the price of the menu item to the item itself, for example, selling a hamburger for $1.00. Discounting your products creates a considerable problem for future sales of those items when you move them back to full price. Lowering the price of a menu item creates a product/price value perception, which may negatively impact the customer’s perception of value at a later date. Guests will connect the cost of the menu item to its overall value, now and in the future. Cutting prices for the sake of attracting customers or keeping up with a competitor is never the answer.
Instead, create reasons and additional “occasions to use” your restaurant in your guest’s mind. Then the guest will associate a discounted price with a particular promotion or event. For example, ladies’ night, or seniors day, or it could be the anniversary of the restaurant, and you’re rolling back prices, or National “whatever” Day. Whichever the case, offer real value by promoting events and Limited Time Offers (LTO’s) as a reason to create the “frequency of visit.” This method is also useful for attracting new guests or guests that haven’t visited your restaurant in a while.

Paying Attention To The Details Saves Money
Pennies add up! Keep a watchful eye on expenses. Monitor electricity and water usage, napkins, paper towels, cleaning supplies, and other items that often go unnoticed until you see the cost on your P&L. Be mindful and control those costs each day. Make your staff aware of things like shutting off lights, turning off water faucets, and how many paper towels they may be used to clean a counter. Get your team members “woke” to the idea and actual cost of everything in the restaurant.

One Final Note
Good times follow bad times, and bad times follow good times. Nothing is forever, so learn how to manage a restaurant through a rough patch you’ll be in a better position to maximize your profits when times are good.

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Lead Generation, Franchise Sales and Reality

This approach is terrible not only because you have empty spots in your pipeline but also because an ebb and flow in the advertising plan sometimes may cause the “brand” to disappear for awhile and send the franchise buyers a less than confidence inspired massage. For a start-up or emerging brand, this is the equivalent of a jet airliner “pumping the brakes” to save fuel while attempting to “take off.” It usually leaves a mess at the end of the runway.

Lead Generation, Franchise Sales and Reality
By Gary Occhiogrosso – Managing PartnerFranchise Growth Solutions, LLC.
Photo by Kees Streefkerk on Unsplash

The best way to get results in franchise lead generation is to remember that NOTHING works a lot, but everything works a little. What does that mean? It means for a start-up or an emerging brand (under 50 units), you need to try various lead sources to test which “streams” bring in the type of leads at the rate necessary to make your sales plan.

Look at all the factors in the game
Cost Per Lead and Cost Per Acquisition are only two KPI’s to look at when monitoring your program and its results. It is not as straightforward or revealing to limit your decision based on “how much did I spend and how many units did I sell.” The Reality is; it takes numerous elements to gain success. Such as time to build your pipeline (5-8 months), consistent follow up by a competent, highly trained, and relentless sales staff. As well as accepting the reality of the selling cycle
(about 120 to 180 days) and a realistic lead generation budget to pursue a professional and sustainable franchising recruiting effort. Your brand will NOT “sell itself.”

The Reality is that consistency in lead flow is also essential. I have seen many start-ups and emerging brands take a hiccup approach to franchise lead generation. This approach is terrible not only because you have empty spots in your pipeline but also because an ebb and flow in the advertising plan sometimes may cause the “brand” to disappear for a while and send the franchise buyers a less than confidence inspired massage. For a start-up or emerging brand, this is the equivalent of a jet airliner “pumping the brakes” to save fuel while attempting to “take off.” It usually leaves a mess at the end of the runway.

Royalties will make you the King or Queen
For me, the most important thing for a start-up or emerging brand to remember is the “value” of your franchisee over the lifetime of the franchise agreement. The Reality is; if you calculate the royalty return over that period, you will see the real reward of consistent lead generation and awarding a franchise. Calculate your Royalties on your AUV’s by the number of years you expect your franchisee to be in business, and it’s obvious. Do the math. Keep that in mind, and you won’t think the “Cost Per Acquisition” is too high unless you are attempting to “fund” your new franchise company from the upfront franchise fee collected. Funding your growth solely with the Initial Franchise Fees is never a good idea.

You should be in the franchising business for the royalties and the eventual exit, not the franchise fee. News Flash, focusing on the collection of Franchise Fees doesn’t work and often puts not only the franchisor in jeopardy of failure but also the franchisee. When you focus on the franchisee’s success, you will build a better organization, better equipped to support your franchisee. Successful franchisees paying long term, residual income from ROYALTIES is the way to BUILD YOUR BUSINESS.

A bigger “kiss” at the end
The Reality is; the sale of franchise companies (especially to Private Equity firms) have proven time and time again, that multiples paid on Royalty driven EBITDA at exit are more significant than the multiple typically offered on EBITDA derived from company operations. That’s because it’s scalable at a faster pace and with a lower cost.

Building a franchise business as a Franchisor requires a great concept, a comprehensive system, manuals and training, proven results, capital, planning and patience. If you remove any one of these components the journey may be an endless winding road with no clear direction.Talk to us to get started.

For more information, visit our YouTube channel and watch the videos titled:
“Using Digital to Sell More Franchises.”
“Private Equity and Franchising.”
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCy6HZTtVYfsO9o8fBFMnZww

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Leads – A Never Ending Challenge For All Companies

Photo by Berkeley Communications on Unsplash

He explained that through his experience and the help of a little sonar gadget on his boat, that he knew there was a shoal of fish below. We all slung our rods over the side and dropped our lines.

Fishing for Leads – The 5 Steps
By: Peter Lawless

The first thing that I noticed when I got onto the small boat at the harbour in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, was the cleanliness and order of the boat. The skipper in charge had all of the rods, upright, with their lines neatly tucked away, in holders. The holders were made out of piping, about 30cm long, which had been welded to the side of the boat.

A simple, inexpensive aid had made me sit up and pay attention. This skipper thought about his customers, and this device left a strong impression. We then got a very short lecture on safety, checked we had our life jackets on, and off we went. About 12 of us!

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Finding your target market
About 12 minutes later, the skipper stopped the boat, and told us we should find some mackerel here. He explained that the lures on the hooks looked just like what mackerel wanted to eat. It certainly was not something I would have fancied!

He explained that through his experience and the help of a little sonar gadget on his boat, that he knew there was a shoal of fish below. We all slung our rods over the side and dropped our lines.

Reeling in the sale
Now I don’t know about you, but this was totally new to me. I wound up the line frantically, as soon as I felt a tug, and hey presto, there were three fish dangling off the hooks. I started flailing about, one jumped off before I even got it in over the side, and when I was trying to reel it in the final bit I lost another one. The one that I got in, I lost down the gutter when I finally got it off the hook.

The skipper explained to me, that once a fish took the bait, I should give a quick tug on the rod, to make sure it was firmly hooked. I should then take my time, to reel it in. Secure the rod in the holder, with the fish hanging over the bucket and deal with them one by one – I did, and I ended up with 20 fish, which delighted me, as I had set a target of 10, since my friend had caught 9 on his first time

So what are the lessons for marketing – if you are still with me, and have not already got most of them, here they are in business speak;
1. Set goals and targets that are realistic, and based on some valid foundation or research.
2. Have simple procedures set up, to make it easy to operate and for your customers to conduct business with you.
3. Speak in your prospects language, about what they want – it’s a bit like the fish bait, unlikely that strawberries and cream will catch many mackerel!
4. Once you know what your prospects like, find out where they are, do some research and target them accordingly – as in our example, not much point in putting down shark bait in a shoal of mackerel.
5. Once you get your customers attention or have a lead, qualify it, and ensure you follow up at all time to close the sale. Again the use of a good sales process is essential here.

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The bottom line, if you know what problems or desires your customers have, and you can solve or fulfill these, while providing value for money, you will always be a winner.

And if you don’t know the answer to that question, go ask the people who have already bought from you – they do!

Author Bio
Business Owners who need more sales and better marketing advice, turn to Peter Lawless, of 3R Sales & Marketing. For previous articles and interviews like this, visit our website and subscribe to Success. We also provide free Sales & Marketing Assessments for Business Owners with an Irish Connection.

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How to Achieve A Competitive Advantage With The Help of Key Customers and Suppliers

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The greatest barrier to successful collaboration is the conventional mindset of a combative relationship with suppliers. Negotiations are perceived as a zero-sum margin tug-of-war, with the relative power balance determining the result.

Achieving Competitive Advantage through Collaboration with Key Customers and Suppliers
By: Don Johnston

An Evolving Operational Focus
In the past when companies pondered corporate strategy, operations had been peripheral to the discussion. Operations were considered a technical matter with one way of doing things and therefore not, strategic. Strategy is about products, markets, and competitive advantage with divergent possibilities.

Operations were seen as a series of puzzles with single best solutions. The realization that optimization of parts did not optimize the whole led to new focus – operational management went up a level from looking at individual tasks to looking at whole processes. During the 1960s, Japanese manufactures obtained competitive advantage by optimizing operational efficiency, which meant lower prices, flexible production capabilities and a reduction in lead times. Operational considerations became a key theme in strategic discussions.

During the 1990s, companies like Dell took this further. The computer market was changing faster than any other market had done in history. Dell began managing operations by synchronizing functional activity into a single corporate heartbeat. An order instantly drove procurement, which drove production and then distribution. The result was a further drop in lead times, inventory requirements, and operating costs along with flexibility. Operational efficiency was Dell’s sole source of competitive advantage and it reaped enormous market share gains.

Collaboration – The Next Step
The historical trend is clear. The impact that one activity has on the next means they cannot be optimized in isolation. The result is that operations have become the key corporate strategic consideration. Yet the nature of competitive advantage is to elapse as competitors replicate it, which places a continual onus on companies to find new differentials. This begs the question – what next?

The answer lies in another step up in the way we view corporate operation. We need to look beyond the borders of the firm in our search for operational efficiency. Optimized company operations can only be achieved through alignment and coordination with the agents up and down stream. Collaboration with suppliers and customers is the essential vehicle of the 21st century for achieving competitive advantage from operations.

The benefits of Collaboration

1. Sharing demand signals
The first step to collaboration comes through information sharing. Across nearly all industries, companies play a guessing game (called forecasting) to estimate the products and quantities that their customers will demand across different markets. Even if a company gets it just right it still needs large inventory buffers to cope with demand variability, thus dramatically reducing its capital efficiency. It is imperative to compress lead times to meet demand rapidly and lessen these negative effects – this can negate the production-cost benefits of today’s off-shoring vogue in China. The butterfly’s wing effect on forecasting and ordering means the end demand signal gets wildly distorted as it echoes up the supply chain being reinterpreted and exaggerated at each turn. Inaccuracies are amplified at each stage, leaving suppliers facing high-stake production gambles.

The answer is simple – relaying end user demand signals and likely future order quantities to suppliers up the chain. This is the single biggest benefit of collaboration and it comes at virtually no cost reducing much of the variability from the forecasting calculation. A supplier’s response will be a much closer fit to market demand if information about likely order quantities is shared. Typically, inventory levels can be reduced by two thirds, service levels sky-rocket while lost revenues evaporate, and supply costs are cut by a quarter when demand information sharing is implemented correctly.

2. Efficiency through alignment
The next step is operational coordination. Working capital naturally collects at the borders of the firm. Finished Goods nearly always account for much more inventory than Work in Process, mainly because of the typical inadequacy in coordination between supply chain entities. Accounts receivable tend to be swelled by disputes and billing problems, which would be ironed out instantly if they were internal issues. Most companies currently allow working capital to accumulate at the point where their processes meet those of their customers and suppliers, which provides a great opportunity for freed cash flow and increased capital efficiency.

Costs can also be reduced dramatically through simple operational coordination between suppliers and customers. Systems, processes, and organizations can be joined up much more effectively to eliminate unnecessary duplication and increase the through-put and flexibility of both supplier and customer organizations.

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The interfaces of goods delivery/goods-receipt, invoicing/invoice-processing and collection/payment all exhibit the same misalignment and duplication. The painstaking effort spent on internal efficiency is negated by a clumsy operational weld between suppliers and customers. Functions get managed to performance metrics, which encourage activity that runs, counter to the efficiency of the organization, let alone the total supply mechanism. Firms should optimise their impact on their key customers’ total cost of supply. Configuring and managing the organization to better align with key customers and suppliers facilitates a more fluid transfer of goods, cash and information up and down the supply chain. This provides a win/win of capital and cost reduction at the same time as enhanced revenue levers for all organizations involved.

3. Joint exploration of strategic options
The final step is a strategic coordination-unlocking new market development and product development possibilities based on co-exploring avenues to competitive advantage. This is only attainable once trust has been built through information share and some steps in operational integration. With the foundation of operational collaboration set, customers and suppliers can combine in entering new markets, coordinated off-shoring and shared selected R&D to explore exciting product development opportunities and condense launch times.

Overcoming the Zero Sum Mindset
The greatest barrier to successful collaboration is the conventional mindset of a combative relationship with suppliers. Negotiations are perceived as a zero-sum margin tug-of-war, with the relative power balance determining the result. This precludes a focus on win-win value driving activity. Suppliers and customers end up perpetually wasting and reworking because they see opening a constructive dialogue as weakness or even as surrender. Many executives fear a loss of flexibility through higher switching costs from greater collaboration. The truth is that most firms’ key supplier base has not changed dramatically over the last 2 years, so collaborative activity would have been massively beneficial as the payback period can be. Still, this does not irreversibly affix firms together – competitive pressures still work to drive down prices and provide the incentive to offer the best value.

Another fear is that companies would give away their competitive advantage to customers or suppliers if they collaborate. The reality is that core competencies do not vanish through sharing demand information, or through bridging operational rifts. The reason that there are few truly vertically integrated industries is testament to this – core competencies dilute and effective organization is impossible over too lengthy a chain. Such anxiety may be unfounded, but the fear is real and debilitating. This is why companies should commit progressively and in parallel, reaching a point acceptable to both parties; from information share, to operational alignment, through to symbiotic strategic planning. As a further development, (depending on the concentration of the end user markets for a product), a company can then extend its collaborative relationships further up and down the supply chain to suppliers’ suppliers, customers’ customers and beyond.

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As with preceding operational evolutions, collaboration will doubtless be pioneered by some companies and shunned by others. Far from the micro/technical operational thinking of the past, collaboration offers a strategic perspective, divergent options and colossal profit, and capital efficiency benefits. Until it becomes universally adopted, collaboration is the most promising source of competitive advantage from operations available today.

Author Bio
Don Johnston is a consultant with the REL Consultancy Group www.relconsult.com – REL’s financial consulting services are all about generating improvements in cashflow. As experts in working capital management REL has been associated with some of the world’s most successful companies for over 30 years, focusing on all of the three key areas of payables, receivables, and inventory.

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Franchise Restaurants Show Modest Gains – What’s Happening On The Ground?

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

McDonald’s is the sales standout, and they are in a class by themselves, providing value and upgraded quality to a population hungry for price/value. Taco Bell is also an exception, for similar reasons. Even Domino’s and Wingstop, who have put up great numbers in recent years, are reporting only modest gains at the moment.


RESTAURANT MAIN STREET – WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE GROUND??
By Roger Lipton

We have long believed that the restaurant industry provides an excellent leading indicator as to consumer sentiment. It is much easier to adjust dining habits, every day, than to plan and spend for large ticket items.

Quite a few restaurant companies have reported their quarterly results, ending 6/30. The sales and traffic trends, collectively, indicate that not much has changed in terms of consumer optimism. The table below provides the reported results for comp sales, including a breakdown, mostly provided by company operated locations, relative to traffic, pricing and menu mix. Also shown on the table are the outlook, when provided, relative to commodity and labor expense.

No Meaningful Improvement
The company operators show, with just a couple of important exceptions (Chipotle and Starbucks) modest comp gains, more than offset by pricing and menu mix, so traffic is negative almost everywhere. The only other outlier is Diversified Restaurant Holdings, franchised operator of the Buffalo Wild Wings system, going against very easy comparisons. Most importantly, In terms of third quarter to date, virtually no one is guiding toward a meaningful improvement. In our view, Chipotle and Starbucks (with the strongest trends) can be viewed as “special situations”. Chipotle is bouncing back from their multi-year troubles and doing a great job with mobile app/delivery, and Starbucks is the premier worldwide brand selling an addictive product by way of an extraordinary employee culture and great technology.

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The franchising companies that have reported are showing a similar trend, modest sales gains in almost all cases. The franchising companies steer away from reporting traffic, but it is safe to assume that pricing and sales mix trends are similar, so traffic is no doubt down. McDonald’s is the sales standout, and they are in a class by themselves, providing value and upgraded quality to a population hungry for price/value. Taco Bell is also an exception, for similar reasons. Even Domino’s and Wingstop, who have put up great numbers in recent years, are reporting only modest gains at the moment.

Delivery On The Rise
It’s important to note that, within the sales mix, delivery, curbside and in-store pickup, are rapidly increasing portions of the revenue mix, so dine-in traffic is down materially more than the comps that are reported. We haven’t heard any restaurant company bemoan, though they could, the fact that their physical plants are only fully utilized a few evenings per week.

In addition to the sales and traffic trends, we are equally interested in the commentary relative to cost expectations, namely commodities and labor. Expectations are mostly higher for commodity costs, dramatically so for chicken wing prices. It is clear that the benefit a year or so ago from lower commodity prices is in the rear view mirror, and higher cost of goods is likely. Labor expense, predictably, is expected to move ever higher.

CONCLUSION:

The beat goes on. With prime costs, as well as other expenses such as insurance, common area charges, utilities, etc. also increasing, it takes more than two or three points of comps to improve margins. A handful of the larger premier operators such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, Darden, Domino’s and Wingstop continue to provide better the best results. However, even among these “best of breed” operators, it’s a battle for market share and an increasing challenge to generate a worthwhile return on incremental investment.

Roger Lipton
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About Roger Lipton
Roger is an investment professional with over 4 decades of experience specializing in chain restaurants and retailers, as well as macro-economic and monetary developments. After earning a BSME from R.P.I. and MBA from Harvard, and working as an auditor with Price, Waterhouse, he began following the restaurant industry as well as the gold mining industry. While he originally followed companies such as Church’s Fried Chicken, Morrison’s Cafeterias and others, over the years he invested in companies such as Panera Bread and shorted companies such as Boston Chicken (as described in Chain Leader Magazine) .

The Last Mile – On the Ground in Delivery Land

As a long-time restaurateur primarily in the franchised, fast-casual business, I understand the need to outpace and add more value & service to customers. Our contributing writer today, Roger Lipton highlights and adds his insights to what he calls the “The Last Mile” in the restaurant business. As more and more operators are fighting for the same dollar, speed, value, and convenience become the point of differentiation for many restaurant brands.  Enjoy Roger’s take on ‘Delivery Land.”

 

Another potential problem, as pointed out by a group of restaurant operators in Los Angeles, is that delivery agents are not trained in food handling and temperature maintenance standards. One LA-based operator said, “If a customer gets hepatitis, they are going to sue the restaurant.” Another stomach-turning pitfall, as described, is the hungry delivery person that helps themselves to part of the milkshake or a couple of the ribs.

 

DELIVERY, THE BIG THING IN RESTAURANT LAND – THIS IS WHAT “THE LAST MILE” LOOKS LIKE.

 By Roger Lipton

Reposted with permission

Restaurant companies are unanimous in their pursuit of delivery as one of the huge opportunities to increase the productivity of their physical plants. Too much square footage continues to be a burden on productivity, especially when it takes labor at $15.00 (ex the tip credit) per hour to service the space. It’s also clear by this time that control over the “last mile” is of major concern to restaurant operators. Not only is the reputation of The Brand at stake, but valuable information relative to the customers is in the hands of the third-party agent, potentially not as useful to the food provider.

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A reality of this new source of business is that margins for the restaurant company will be affected since 15-30% of the ticket is paid to the delivery agent. While some argue that a large portion of the delivery dollars is “incremental,” it stands to reason that a customer who receives the product at home on Wednesday night is less likely to visit that restaurant on Thursday or Friday. On the hopeful side: delivery companies are already competing for market share, negotiating their fees lower, therefore improving the remaining margin for the restaurant. Overall, this is a portion of dining dollars that is very much in a state of flux.

ON THE GROUND IN DELIVERY LAND

Two articles caught our eye in the last day or so, in the New York Times and the New York Post, describing the reality of “the last mile,” and it’s not pretty.

The Post described how a delivery worker (from DoorDash) punched a pizza store employee in the head because the order wasn’t ready for pickup. We are not trying to focus on DoorDash (DD) in particular, because this could happen with any third party agent, but another DD employee posted a negative review on Yelp because the food “trash” wasn’t ready on time. Another DD hire made a scene after getting a parking ticket while waiting for a delivery pickup. Since delivery agents, including DD, UberEats, Postmates, and others, get paid primarily for completed deliveries and little, if anything, for waiting time, they are obviously very sensitive to the availability of the order. At the same time, restaurant employees, including one cited at (well run) Cheesecake Factory, are not necessarily treating the delivery person with great courtesy.

TRAINED TO DELIVER FOOD BUT NOT HOW TO “HANDLE” IT

Another potential problem, as pointed out by a group of restaurant operators in Los Angeles, is that delivery agents are not trained in food handling and temperature maintenance standards. One LA-based operator said, “If a customer gets hepatitis, they are going to sue the restaurant.” Another stomach turning pitfall, as described, is the hungry delivery person that helps themself to part of the milkshake or a couple of the ribs. All of this can be considered “anecdotal,” but the proper selection and training for third party agents are no doubt far from optimal at this early point in the evolution of the food delivery industry. Parenthetically, stock investors might well keep all of this in mind before they pay a considerable valuation for DoorDash when it comes public.

The New York Times described the experience of a bicycle delivery person in Manhattan, obviously a unique market, but still indicative of urban issues. The bicycle person, working for UberEats as well as Postmates, had continuous decisions on the run to make, all while anticipating traffic patterns and potential delays. Should he pick up several orders at a Mexican restaurant five blocks away for UberEats, or divert to two orders for Postmates at Shake Shack that was a little closer. As he said, “I had to decide: take on three orders at once and risk falling behind? Stick with UberEats, which was running a $10 bonus for doing six deliveries by 1:30, or try for a Postmates bonus? Information was limited. The UberEats app doesn’t tell you where the delivery is going until you pick it up. I could not know what the Postmates job would pay. The Postmates clock ticked down – you have seconds to accept or decline an order. I was threading my way around lurching honking trucks and oblivious texting pedestrians and watching for cops and looking down at the phone mounted on my handlebars and calculating delivery times.”

The article goes on to describe the intense competition among companies like Grubhub Seamless, UberEats, Caviar, DoorDash and Postmates, and delivery agents are often representing more than one company. The restaurants have been forced into the e-commerce business, outsourcing their product to the hands of a fleet of freelance personnel who may or may not appropriately represent the restaurant Brand. Especially as competition has increased, the net hourly pay for delivery agents has become closer to $10/hour than $20, sometimes even less than $10. We can only imagine the professional skills, or lack thereof, of a person that is going to subject themselves to this kind of pressure for that kind of wage. There is a myriad of other hurdles that delivery agents in urban areas will have to deal with, but that will vary by venue. We can say with assurance; however, just as above described in suburbia, there is enormous work to be done to iron out the issues, reduce the risk, and improve the profitability for the restaurant operator.

CONCLUSION:

The challenge remains to make delivery incrementally profitable, without taking on considerable risk to The Brand in the process. To whatever extent possible, maximum control over the delivery process should be at The Brand level. In the meantime, takeout and curbside pickup may be convenient enough to maintain market share, without incurring the risks as described above. Perhaps orders, above a specific size at limited times of the day within a certain radius, can be delivered by properly trained store-level employees. There is a large market to be served, but not necessarily at the risk of The Brand.

Read more from Roger Lipton here