Advice for Franchisor CMOs When Dealing With Digital Marketing Vendors

This post is to simply inform and alert any franchise CMO who inherits one of these troubling vendor relationships. If you don’t own control of your online assets, you’re going to have unfriendly challenges ahead of you. We’re currently on boarding several clients that are experiencing these challenges. Here are a few results that we’re seeing with brands that are transitioning from this arrangement.

Digital Marketing Advice for Franchisor CMOs


By Andrew Beckman
Chairman, Founder Local Marketing Expert

The franchising community is complicated. With thousands of franchisees operating under thousands of corporate brands, breakdowns in communication are inevitable. As partners of these brands and franchisees, the franchise marketing community should be working to build trust and stability throughout the franchising network, not actively adding to the confusion.

Unfortunately, many franchise marketing vendors are misleading the franchising community. As some vendors put franchise websites on custom content management systems, they’re neglecting to tell these brands the consequences of this arrangement. Mainly, that franchise brands are unknowingly relinquishing ownership of their site and other web assets.

This arrangement might not seem like a big deal at the outset of an engagement. But when these brands decide to change course, it’s the brands that are left with the complicated transition — a transition that threatens long-term damage to not only their online presence, but the brand itself.

This post is to simply inform and alert any franchise CMO who inherits one of these troubling vendor relationships. If you don’t own control of your online assets, you’re going to have unfriendly challenges ahead of you. We’re currently on boarding several clients that are experiencing these challenges. Here are a few results that we’re seeing with brands that are transitioning from this arrangement.

* It’s your logo. They’re your words. But they aren’t your pages. Your site pages are being hosted and managed by a third-party business.

* When transitioning off the vendor-owned pages, if you don’t own your content (images, videos, etc.), you will be starting from scratch.

* Some vendors are including proprietary tracking code within your site structure. If not identified properly, this can cause significant issues during site transition.

* If you’re using a subdomain hosted on a separate IP address, you will not get the same SEO benefit, and will need to spend time pointing links to new subdirectory location pages.

* Lack of custom Content Management System (CMS) build out.

* Limitations with Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) strategies.

Whether these imbalanced vendor-client relationships stem from a genuine misunderstanding or an unethical approach, it’s imperative that all franchise brands are aware of the potential pitfalls of the arrangement. I’d love to continue the discussion.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Andrew Beckman
As Chairman of Location3,
Andrew Beckman oversees strategic direction and business development initiatives in conjunction with the agency’s Executive Board. Andrew founded Location3 Media in 1999 as a direct response digital partner with a portfolio of services that included PPC management, SEO, local search marketing, display marketing, social media marketing, content strategy, website design & development, web analytics management and more. Since 1999, Location3 has evolved into a full service digital marketing agency that delivers enterprise-level strategy with local market activation.

Prior to founding Location3, Andrew was an international sales manager for DoubleClick, Inc. where he was charged with opening new sales offices, as well as training teams on U.S. search marketing strategies for the original AltaVista Search Engine. Andrew is an expert in local search marketing strategy and is a frequent presenter at industry conferences including SES, SMX, StreetFight Summit, ClickZ Live, PubCon, BIA Kelsey and more. Follow him on Twitter.
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ABOUT LOCATION3
Location3
is a digital marketing agency that delivers enterprise-level strategy with local market activation.
As the premier digital marketing partner for franchise brands and multi-location businesses, we operate under the belief that Everything Is Local. That means using our digital expertise and proprietary technology to connect businesses with the customers who are searching for their solutions.

Fulfill Your Dream of Business Ownership – Here are 5 Tips For A Business Loan

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 Survey of Small Business Owners found that 2.52 million businesses in the United States (or 9.1%) are majority-owned by veterans. There are many resources available for veterans interested in starting or growing their business, including those from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Dreaming of starting a new business? Remember these 5 things

(BPT) – If you’re dreaming about starting a business, or if you’re already a business owner looking to grow your business, chances are that you’ll need a loan at some point to help your vision become reality. And if you’re a veteran or active-duty servicemember, you already possess the skills and vital experience needed to make your business a success.

“From resourcefulness and determination to the ability to take smart risks, military experience teaches skills that translate well for business ownership,” said Tony Pica, vice president of business services at Navy Federal Credit Union.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 Survey of Small Business Owners found that 2.52 million businesses in the United States (or 9.1%) are majority-owned by veterans. There are many resources available for veterans interested in starting or growing their business, including those from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

What are lenders looking for? Here are five considerations to keep in mind before securing a loan for your business:

1. Do your market research and prepare a solid business plan.

Doing research on the industry and preparing a solid business plan is an important step to take when seeking financing for your company. If you can demonstrate to lenders that you’ve done your due diligence — created a detailed business plan, have a trusted team, know the demand for your product or service, and developed a sales strategy to show the viability of your business — you’ll be much more likely to convince them to take a chance on you and your company.

2. Review your overall financial profile.

“Your complete financial health demonstrates your creditworthiness to lenders, so it’s best to review your credit history before applying for a business loan,” Pica said. “You’ll also want to know the amount of money you need to borrow and what exactly it will be used for.”

Presenting your complete background, such as your education and experience, including whether you’ve worked at or managed a similar business in the past, can also make a big difference.

3. Be willing to invest some of your personal money.

Depending on the lending request, you might need to provide a cash injection or collateral. This may include your home, a vehicle, marketable securities or tangible inventory. The lender wants to make sure that you’re willing to put your own skin in the game. In many cases, a certain amount of capital may be required by law.

4. Expanding an existing business? Demonstrate evidence of continued success.

Lenders will want to see evidence of your past and projected cash flow as a result of expanding your existing company. If the loan is for a new business, you’ll need to show lenders your ability to repay it by providing a detailed explanation that includes projected expenses and income, based on solid research.

5. Partner with your trusted financial institution.

Once you’ve done your market research and developed a concrete business plan, talk to your trusted bank or credit union about the business lending products and services available to you.

For example, Navy Federal Credit Union Business Services provides more than just loans for equipment, vehicles and commercial real estate for its members. It provides a whole suite of options, such as business checking and savings accounts and business credit cards, as well as assistance with bill pay, payroll processing, insurance policies and retirement coverage for employees.

Financing your budding business can be a smooth process with these considerations in mind.


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Small business: How ethics can help your bottom line

Often, leaders at small businesses with few employees feel protected from or less susceptible to fraud or unethical conduct because of the close-knit nature of their teams. But research shows unethical behavior is more widespread than they realize, and not confined to one type of business.

Small business: How ethics can help your bottom line

(BPT) – The last thing any company wants is a misstep that hurts the trust it has built with customers. This is especially true for smaller businesses, which may not have the resources to recover from a reputation setback. To prevent mistakes, bad decisions and wrongdoing, smaller businesses can take a proactive approach to developing ethical business leaders and business cultures. Experts say when businesses do that they can achieve benefits for their bottom line, their employees and the common good.

It can happen anywhere

Often, leaders at small businesses with few employees feel protected from or less susceptible to fraud or unethical conduct because of the close-knit nature of their teams. But research shows unethical behavior is more widespread than they realize, and not confined to one type of business. According to a 2017 Ethics and Compliance Initiative survey, nearly 47% of U.S. employees at companies of all sizes said they personally observed workplace conduct that “either violated organizational standards or the law.”

A 2018 Better Business Bureau survey found that 84% of consumers trust small businesses the most. That’s important for business owners to recognize, because the more trust a consumer puts in your company, the greater the ramifications when that trust is broken. This means business leaders have every incentive to develop strong ethical standards and cultures.

Empowering businesses

One university is looking to empower smaller businesses through a new open-access website. The University of St. Thomas recently launched the Business Ethics Resource Center (BERC), with U.S. Bank as the founding sponsor. The BERC is part of the university’s Center for Ethics in Practice in the Opus College of Business and provides resources for small and midsized businesses, focusing on ways they can develop ethical leaders and cultures.

Resources include videos, articles, toolkits, example plans and other multimedia assets that can help companies promote ethical conduct as part of their core mission. The BERC is designed to help time-strapped business leaders develop and sustain a strong ethical culture within their organizations and realize the inherent benefits that come along with that.

The benefits of ethics

While it’s difficult to determine the true cost of developing an ethical culture within your organization, it’s clear there are several tangible benefits. For starters, practicing ethics can help you avoid costly legal issues while enhancing your company’s reputation. It will also help you build customer loyalty, with 80% of customers saying they are more loyal to a company with good ethics, according to a recent survey from Salesforce. The same qualities that attract customers will also increase your ability to attract and retain outstanding employees. When you’re able to establish ethical standards as the foundation of your company values, you foster a more positive, meaningful work culture for your employees.

Promoting ethical conduct and compliance doesn’t have to be expensive. By utilizing the resources available and cementing strong ethical standards as a critical part of company values, businesses can establish an ethical company culture that benefits everyone involved.

END OF ARTICLE
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Veterans – What’s Your Next Mission? – Franchise Opportunities for Veterans.

Photo by Yeo Khee on Unsplash

Many Veterans find their transition to be very challenging because they’re used to either preparing for a mission or executing one. They return home only to find that they no longer have that focus or a team around them.
Franchise opportunities for Veterans abound.

What’s Your Next Mission?
By Rich Vaill
VP, Business Banker | Marine Corps Veteran | Veterans employment advocate

I used to meet with my Platoon Sergeant on a regular basis to ensure we were on the same page and to discuss any challenges. One morning, we sat down to talk about a young Marine who continually got into trouble. Although I thought the Marine was intelligent and had potential, his mistakes and poor judgement left me unsure as to how to approach the problem.

My Platoon Sergeant suggested that we place him in charge of our publications and resource section. Puzzled, I asked, “You want to reward his mistakes with a new responsibility?” He explained that while he was also troubled by the Marine’s decisions, he recognized the young man’s potential and wanted to provide him with this new challenge.

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It was a great decision, as the Marine embraced the role, improved the overall effectiveness of the section and became a top performer. We promoted him to Corporal a few months later.

Many Veterans find their transition to be very challenging because they’re used to either preparing for a mission or executing one. They return home only to find that they no longer have that focus or a team around them. It can make for a tough time, so it’s important that Veterans find another mission to embrace. I was lucky enough to discover my passion for helping my fellow Veterans find employment on which to focus my attention.

I was chatting about this with a friend, and we came to the conclusion that everyone needs a “next” mission. It’s certainly not just for those who have served in the military. Everyone can benefit from having a daily and/or long-term purpose.

It might be something as simple as helping your kids through Algebra, more extensive like becoming involved in a local charity or assuming a new role within your company. Either way, it’s something that demands your attention and, hopefully, yields a positive result.

Whether it’s a personal objective like helping a family member, a new challenge in your career or starting a business, a new mission gives you renewed focus and a chance to thrive.

“When you discover your mission, you will feel its demand. It will fill you with enthusiasm and a burning desire to get to work on it.” – W. Clement Stone

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About the Author

Rich Vaill works with Professional Service businesses and Veteran entrepreneurs who are:
* Worried about rising costs and decreasing cash flow
* Unsure about how much working capital they should have on hand
* Frustrated with the amount of time it takes to perform simple banking operations

At my core, I’m a Marine. As a Marine in Business Banking, I focus on what’s important to my clients and I get it done.
Specialties:
Escrow | 1031 Exchanges | Cash Flow Optimization | Credit Solutions | SBA Loans
Founder of LinkedIn group, “Jobs for Veterans”
President – New Jersey Chapter of the National Marine Corps Business Network
I may be contacted at 973 699-5616 (c)

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Franchise Opportunities for Veterans
https://www.franchisegrowthsolutions.com/clients

Business Owner Tip – When Dealing With Succession Planning – Removing An Irresponsible Executor.

When a loved passes, many issues arise regarding assets IE: succession and the distribution of acquired wealth. This includes all personal property, real estate and in many cases, a business. Usually a trusted family member was assigned the task as “executor” of a Will. However, what happens if that person is mishandeling the process through negligence, incompetence or for personal gain. Today our guest contributor; Spencer Lauterbach, Esq, addresses the problem and the solution. Take this advice when planning your business succession plan you put in place

Can I Remove an Irresponsible Executor?
By Spencer Lauterbach, Esq.

If a loved one has recently passed away and you believe his or her executor is mismanaging the deceased’s assets in some way, you may wish to have him or her removed from the position. If you are looking to remove an executor, here are some of the questions you may have:

What does an executor do?
Executors bear a lot of responsibility. First, they will open probate and identify the deceased’s assets. An executor will then notify all beneficiaries, pay off the deceased’s remaining debts, distribute assets amongst heirs, and finally close out the estate. Executors are essentially responsible for ensuring the administration process goes swiftly, smoothly, and according to plan.

What is a valid reason to remove an executor from the position?
* He or she is ineligible for any reason
* He or she is incompetent or has become incapacitated
* He or she is unqualified
* He or she is purposefully or negligently mismanaging the estate

How can an executor behave irresponsibly?
There are several ways in which an executor can either behave negligently or break the law. Executors must obey the following rules:

* Never sign a will on behalf of the deceased
* Never change provisions in a will
* Never carry out a will before its creator is deceased
* Never deter, coerce, or prevent beneficiaries from contesting a will
* Never sell the deceased’s assets for less than fair market value without the beneficiaries’ consent

How can I remove an executor?
Fortunately, those who believe an executor is mismanaging assets have legal options to get the irresponsible executor removed. Rather obviously, talking is a solid first option. You should not have to get involved in a nasty legal situation with a relative if you can simply voice your concerns and move on. However, if you have already tried, or are unable to communicate with this person for any reason, you may petition the court to remove the executor. Once you do, you and the current executor will attend a hearing, where a courtroom will listen to both sides of the story. From here, the court will decide whether to remove the current executor and appoint a new one.

Additionally, you may file a civil lawsuit against the executor as well, especially if you can prove he or she acted maliciously or dishonestly when carrying out his or her duties as executor. If you have suffered significant damages and can prove it was because of an irresponsible executor, there is a very good chance you can recover some of those damages through a lawsuit.

About the author:
Spencer Lauterbach, Esq.
The Lauterbach Law Firm is proud to serve clients throughout Rockland County who are faced with legal matters related to estate planning, real estate, foreclosure defense, landlord-tenant law, business law, and criminal defense. If you require the services of an experienced team of attorneys, contact The Lauterbach Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.

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News From Burger Village – Franchise Goes International

Burger Village Is Going International!
24 Sep, 2019

We’ve been waiting for the right time to announce this, but we just simply can’t contain our excitement any longer. Burger Village is OFFICIALLY GOING INTERNATIONAL. That’s right, our new Canadian location will be opening soon, and our northern neighbours seem to be just as excited as we are. Our food is organic, all-natural, and provided by local farmer families that give our customers the quality & great tasting food that they’ve come to expect. There is a lot for Canadians to be happy about. From the Toronto Raptors winning the NBA Championship, having a thriving national infrastructure, to having some of the most beautiful and natural landscapes in the world. Now we are proud to say you can add Burger Village to that list!

Why Is Organic Such A Great Choice To Make?
If not just for yourself, choosing to eat organic foods is also a great way to help protect our environment. Our farmer families treat their animals with love and dignity. Those farmer families then provide those animal products to our locations and give our customers some of the freshest tasting food they’ve ever had. Burger Village is slowly but surely continuing to grow our brand and provide our customers with more of the great food they’ve come to expect from us.

Our customers love our food because they know what they’re eating is REALLY GOOD and made with REAL & CLEAN INGREDIENTS. Everything we make is:

Organic & All Natural
Antibiotics & Hormones Free
rBGH Free (Growth Hormone)
Pesticides Free
GMOs Free (Genetic Modification)
Sustainable Environmentally Friendly
Healthful & Nutritious
Herbicide Free
Preservatives Free
Gluten-Free
Peanut-Free
Humanely & Pasture Raised Livestock
Supports Our Local Farmers & Their Families

We take pride in the fact that every animal product we use is obtained in a natural & humane way. This ultimately results in our customers enjoying food that is much more delectable, nutritious, and ecological than most other restaurants. This practice also helps to promote & support our farmer families who are ultimately the backbone behind our success.

What Separates Us From The Rest? We Just Care More!
Our newest Burger Village location here in Canada will be an eco-friendly establishment. It will also be constructed using reclaimed wood and biodegradable materials. Did we also mention that our beer selection will come from LOCAL BREWERIES? We also pride ourselves on having gluten-free options and being a peanut-free establishment that is inclusive to all of our customers. Burger Village is a healthier alternative to most similar restaurants because we care more about our customers and the quality of the food that we sell those customers.

Burger Village is rapidly growing and constantly looking to spread the word about organic food and all of the benefits that come along with it. We’re going to spread that message one customer and one burger at a time. Slowly but surely we are hoping to branch out to even more locations near you (including more in Canada after our new location officially opens). Are you as excited as we are? We sure hope so; and if you are excited, let us know on social media! You can follow us on Twitter @burgervillageny or on Facebook @burgervillageny.

Franchising Opportunities Are Still Available!
Burger Village has teamed with franchise industry expert, Gary Occhiogrosso, the founder of Franchise Growth Solutions, LLC, to expand the turnkey Burger Village fast casual QSR (quick service restaurant) business model from eleven (11) in 2019 to twenty-five (25) locations by 2022. Burger Village franchises are currently available in most territories nationwide.

Mr. Occhiogrosso has over 30 years’ experience in franchise development and sales and was integral to the success of nationally recognized brands including Ranch *1, Desert Moon Fresh Mexican Grille, and brands found under the multi-brand franchisor, TRUFOODS, LLC.

For information on owning your own Burger Village franchise, please contact Gary Occhiogrosso at 917.991.2465 or via email at [email protected] or log on to our franchising opportunities website at: http://www.burgervillagefranchise.com

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ABOUT BURGER VILLAGE
Burger Village is an all-natural, hormone-free burger concept that uses fresh and organic ingredients to create nutrition-rich meals for active consumers who want to eat well when dining out. From six locations in New York and five in California, Burger Village has grown into a recognized lifestyle brand that combines the growing trend toward clean and healthy dining with a socially responsible business model.

ABOUT FRANCHISE GROWTH SOLUTIONS, LLC
Franchise Growth Solutions, LLC is a strategic planning, franchise development and sales organization offering franchise sales, brand concept and development, strategic planning, real estate and architectural development, vendor management, lead generation, and advertising, marketing, and PR including social media. Franchise Growth Solutions’ proven “Coach, Mentor & Grow®” system puts both franchisors and potential franchisees on the fast track to growth. Membership in Franchise Growth Solutions’ client portfolio is by recommendation only.
For more information on the Burger Village fast-casual restaurant concept, please visit burgervillage.com.

For information on owning your own Burger Village franchise, please contact Gary Occhiogrosso at 917.991.2465 or via email at [email protected] or log on to our franchising opportunities website at: http://www.burgervillagefranchise.com

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Franchises Need To Protect Themselves From Increased Sexual Harassment And Cyber Security Claims

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Our friend and franchise expert Ed Teixeira interviews Peter R. Taffae, MLIS, CFE and Managing Director Executive Perils, Inc. on the topic of Cyber Security Claims and Sexual Harassment claim that all employers need to protect themselves against.This important topic has faded from the mainstream ews media but remains a real problem that employers need to focus on…

Franchises Need To Protect Themselves From Increased Sexual Harassment And Cyber Security Claims

By Ed Teixeira – Chief Operating Officer of Franchise Grade

After hitting a two-decade low in 2017, sexual harassment complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission increased by more than 12 percent from last year. The federal agency has also been aggressive with litigation this year, filing 41 sexual harassment lawsuits so far, up from 33 in 2017. At the same time, cyber-crimes which involve the theft of personal information has cost some companies millions of dollars in damages to its reputation and from monetary claims.

Employer Liability Claims Increase

Over the course of this year, stories of sexual harassment have dominated the headlines. In what USA Today dubbed the “Weinstein Effect,” various sized companies have witnessed employees take part in the #Me To movement. This increased focus on sexual harassment has created a surge in protests, discrimination lawsuits, and government investigations, with almost no industry being immune, including a recent demonstration against McDonald’s franchise locations. Regardless of whether a sexual harassment allegation has merit, these claims can cause a company significant damage to its brand and sales. Seven in 10 human resource professionals said they believe sexual harassment complaints at their workplaces will likely be “higher” or “much higher” in 2018 compared to previous years.

A poll by the Human Resource Certification Institute found that “63 percent of HR professionals said that acts of sexual harassment “occasionally” or “sometimes” occur in their workplaces and 30 percent said that such acts “frequently” occur. Only seven percent said that such acts “almost never” or “never” occur.” The trend toward more sexual harassment lawsuits appears to continue as the EEOC increases efforts to crack down on sexual harassment. The EEOC has launched online access for employees to file harassment charges from their homes, with the EEOC.

Employment-related risks can represent the most damaging exposure to a franchiser. Claims involving sexual harassment, wrongful termination or discrimination, from a current or former employee can potentially cause irreparable damage to a franchise brand and reputation resulting in significant financial cost.

To gain more insight into employer liability and especially sexual harassment claims I spoke with Peter R. Taffae, MLIS, CFE and Managing Director Executive Perils, Inc. In 2014 they introduced a management liability policy, FranchisorSuite®, designed for the unique needs of Franchisors.

Q. How extensive are employer liability claims?

A. Companies of all sizes and industries have been affected by a surge in employment-related litigation and rising legal damage awards.

Q. What can be done to mitigate those risks?

A. Be sure that franchisers, franchisees and their employees are properly trained to understand the risks of sexual harassment, unlawful terminations, and discrimination claims. Have the proper procedures and protocols in place and have financial protection.

Q.What does the future hold for sexual harassment claims?

A. The threshold has been raised for what is appropriate in the workplace. This means that the expectation for proper employment practices is higher. Some experts believe that it will take 10 to 15 years to reverse the trend as current middle age retirees are replaced by today’s younger generation.

Q. Any other threats that franchises face?

A. One area related to the franchise industry that doesn’t receive a lot of coverage is cybersecurity. Every state has primary notification laws, which that when there is a breach of a customer’s personal data, the company or franchiser must notify every customer. In addition, there is no statute of limitations regarding these crimes. For example, if I purchased a meal at a franchise location 10 years ago and their system was hacked, and my personal information was stolen, that franchise is liable.

Franchise restaurants process so many credit cards and have the extensive point-of-sale equipment, that they are vulnerable to data theft. Websites, Wi-Fi and digital kiosks represent additional threats. Any franchise which does any of the following is at risk for a cyber-attack; Accepts credit cards, handles or views private information of employees or customers electronically, has Wi-Fi or conducts a portion of their business online.

It’s important that each component of the franchise industry be prepared to protect themselves from the threat of employer liability and cybersecurity claims.
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About the Author:
Ed Teixeira is Chief Operating Officer of Franchise Grade and was the founder and President of FranchiseKnowHow, L.L.C. a franchise consulting firm. Ed has over 35 years’ experience as a Senior Executive for franchisors in the retail, healthcare, manufacturing and software industries and was also a franchisee. Ed has consulted clients to franchise their existing business and those seeking strategic solutions to operational, marketing and franchise relations issues. He has transacted international licensing in Europe, Asia, and South America. Ed is the author of Franchising from the Inside Out and The Franchise Buyers Manual and has spoken at a number of venues including the International Franchise Expo and the Chinese Franchise Association in Shanghai, China. He has conducted seminars, written numerous articles on the subject of franchising and has been interviewed on TV and radio and has testified as an expert witness on franchising. He is a franchise valuation expert by the Business Brokerage Press. Ed can be contacted at [email protected]

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Virtual Food Halls – The Next Big Thing?

PHOTO BY: unsplash-logoElevate

Today the changing landscape in the restaurant business is not only a food driven event. It’s also being moved by all the other elements connected to the overall restaurant experience, such as convenience, payment method, dine-in options and delivery options. The way Baby Boomers steered America into fast food Drive Thru lanes, Millenials are swiping, tapping, and clicking the food service industry into a mash-up of digital convenience and real life communal eating experiences that are now addressed by the Virtual Food Hall.

An Innovation In Urban Dining – A Closer Look At The Virtual Food Hall
By Gary Occhiogrosso
Originally published in Forbes.com

As a New Yorker, I’ve come to realize we are privy to numerous changes in the restaurant and franchise business long before people in many other parts of the country. One such change is the innovation of the  “Virtual Food Hall”. With the advent of online ordering, third party order and delivery platforms such as Grub Hub, Seamless and Door Dash as well as the need to optimize occupancy cost in cities like New York, the Virtual Food Hall  is taking a position in the already vigorous fight for the dining dollar.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Berger on the topic of Virtual Food Halls.  Mr. Berger is a founding partner of New York City based JBH Advisory, a firm that supports restaurateurs and retail brand owners with concept development, start-up planning, processes, and training. Mr. Berger and his team launched the first Virtual Food Hall in New York, Sous Vide Kitchen in 2017. I asked Brian to give us his insights into the Virtual Food Hall business model. He was gracious enough to explain the concept and answer my questions.

What is a Sous Vide Kitchen – Virtual Food Hall? 
We coined the term Virtual Food Hall to represent the style of service and ordering offered at Sous Vide Kitchen. In a Virtual Food Hall guests order from our multiple brands using our self-order kiosk, pay in one single transaction, and receive their meal all in less than six minutes. 

How is a Virtual Food Hall different from a Urban Food Hall or Food Court?
A traditional urban food hall has  large open spaces where guests can enjoy a variety of cuisines in a hip atmosphere. Traditional urban food halls have a long history of success in Europe and metropolitan areas, with a recent explosion in U.S. cities. Traditional food halls have been gaining momentum for years. They present advantages and disadvantages for both guests and operators. On the plus side, guests can try multiple restaurants in one location, and operators can reduce their overhead cost by utilizing the shared physical infrastructure. However, this experience can be challenging for those looking to try multiple options or order and pay for a group with different tastes, as that would require each guest to wait in a separate line, pay and receive their meal at a different time. The Traditional Food Hall model is not ideal for groups wishing to dine together. We wanted to create an experience that would allow guests a more convenient way to enjoy items from multiple concepts and dine with others. 

Another term I hear is “Ghost Kitchen.” What is a Ghost Kitchen, and how are they different from Virtual Food Halls?
A Ghost Kitchen is a foodservice operation meant for delivery only. In other words, these businesses have no dining room or storefront. In many cases, you cannot even carry out from these businesses. One major disadvantage from a guest perspective is that they do not have any visibility as to the location or condition of the restaurant. While we enjoy the operational efficiencies of a ghost kitchen, we offer guests the ability to come to the food hall, if they choose. We offer diners the ability to order delivery, or pick up, or enjoy their meal in a spacious seating area where guests can relax and enjoy. 

When and why did you first come up with the idea of a Virtual Food Hall ? 
We launched our first fast-casual restaurant, BONMi (Vietnamese Inspired Baguettes & Bowls), in 2011 in Washington, DC. Our goal was to create an innovative model for production which centered on the Sous Vide cooking method to overcome the increasing challenges the industry faces (labor, food safety, consistency, capital expenses) and produce consistent, healthy, safe and delicious food. We tested the concept in various formats: standalone restaurant, campuses/food court, high-end supermarkets, and food trucks. We learned from these tests and evolved our processes to cement operations prior to scaling. Our eight years of fast-casual operations experience blended with our advisory firm’s client work made us acutely aware of several trends that were developing.  The first was an increased awareness of the origin of food, food safety, and reduction of waste. Through the utilization of proteins prepared using the sous vide method of cooking, we can offer our guests the safest food possible while maintaining the nutritional integrity of each item. The use of ready to serve pre-cut vegetables allows us to operate in a zero-waste environment since we obtain 100% yield on every product that we purchase and allow our produce vendor to repurpose the parts of the product that we may not utilize. 

Can the Virtual Food Hall compete in the fast-growing Third-Party Delivery business?
Yes. We noticed an increase in meals consumed outside of the restaurant. In years past, delivery was a small arm of the business typically accounting for no more than ten percent of total sales; however, in recent years, the demand to enjoy meals outside of the restaurant has continued to grow. Acting as the sales arm of a brand, companies like Seamless/GrubHub, Meal Pal, Ritual, Fooda, Cater 2 Me, and Zero Cater continue to change the way guests order and receive meals. The expectation is that guests will receive the same quality of food and level of service that one would receive in the restaurant; as a result we have evolved our menus, processes, and strategies to ensure that we serve our meals in a variety of platforms; In-Store, Delivery, Catering, Off-Site Catering/Pop-ups, and third party pick up. 
When we opened our BONMi in New York in April of 2017, we selected a larger sized store (2,500 Square Feet). Our strategy was based on our ability to utilize the store for testing our delivery only, virtual concepts and provide a New York City hub for catering, pop-ups, and delivery. With the success of our operational model, combined with the realization that a high proportion of guests dollars are spent outside of the brick and mortar store, we began to develop and launch additional concepts through third-party delivery services and catering, one step at a time. The first concept operating out of the BONMi kitchen is Pulled & Chopped BBQ. This concept immediately received excellent reviews, and we were able to increase sales without adding any additional overhead expenses. After seeing this success, we continued to create concepts and offer them through delivery and catering channels. The next concept to launch was SVK Greens & Grains followed by Mediterranean Pure Foods, then Eso Latin. At this point, we were operating four delivery, only concepts out of the kitchen, while the storefront remained BONMi. 

Why did you marry the Virtual Food Hall idea to the Ghost Kitchen Concept?
We knew we had to find a way to offer the same variety of concepts to our guests in the store while maintaining the efficient production model that we were operating for our delivery-only concepts.  That’s where the idea to utilize the self-order kiosk came into play. We determined that the growing popularity of this trend would be the best way to showcase our brands and allow our guests to order from multiple concepts easily. We had each ingredient and all the signature dishes photographed to present a glorious high-resolution display. Guests are now able to browse through the offerings within each menu easily, see the allergen and ingredients of each dish, put everything in one cart, pay at the kiosk and receive a text when their order is completed. Since opening our food hall, we have continued to increase our collection of brands and have added Vindy Indian Inspired Eats to our current offering. We have other concepts currently in development and can see this model featuring eight to ten various menus. 
The concept could certainly live online only – however, our brick and mortar food halls are a great space where guests can enjoy their meal, socialize, or work remotely. 

What are the advantages to the guest using a Virtual Food Hall?
Guests love having many options at their fingertips. Order, pay and enjoy the experience. The ability to easily identify ingredients or allergens within each dish is a significant advantage.  With thousands of possible combinations, guests are inclined to visit multiple times per week without the risk of menu fatigue. We have noticed a bit of a trend with our SVK Greens and Grains as our highest volume concept at the beginning of the week and Pulled & Chopped BBQ as the most popular concept at the week’s end. Since there is something for everyone to enjoy, and multiple dietary constraints are satisfied, it is an excellent option for groups with a variety of preferences. Utilizing the sous vide method of cooking as the thread to bind our concepts together gives guests the peace of mind that items that we serve within our food hall are carefully selected contain clean ingredients with minimal processing.
For some guests, the idea of ordering through a kiosk without any human interaction can be intimidating. We eliminate that fear by staffing our food hall with a “kiosk concierge,” one employee who helps to oversee the dining room and as well as assist guest who may be apprehensive through their ordering process. We are in the business of creating repeat guests, so we find that spending a few moments with a guest the first time they come in will give them the confidence to return and order without assistance again and again. We consider Sous Vide Kitchen to be High Tech & High Touch. 

 What are the advantages and disadvantages to the Operator? 
From an operator’s perspective, there are only advantages:
* Reduction of Labor
Operators love serving several concepts within one shared production line, utilizing the same staffing levels that they would for one brand. Through our menu engineering and production processes, we have created an innovative system, which allows less staff to produce a consistent, high-quality menu. Additionally, we do not need highly skilled culinarians – our process enables us to hire based on hospitality attitude. 
* Platform Flexibility
We can accommodate what the market is requesting; food when you want it, how you want it, delivered through a variety of platforms (in-store, delivery, pop-ups, catering & delivery). Retail concepts can easily be rotated with minimal challenges. 
* Lower Cost of Entry
We do not require ventilation and have minimal equipment requirements, making it a perfect concept for host environments such as transportation hubs, business & industry, campuses, healthcare facilities, and more. Costs can vary greatly depending on the area of the country, and the size of the food hall; however, we have found that buildout costs are fifty percent less than that of a traditional restaurant. Our concept’s space requirements are as small as 300 Square Feet and may go to over 2,500 Square Feet. 

Are Virtual Food Halls unique to urban centers with a concentration of daytime workers?
In general, Fast Casual restaurants do peak business during lunch hours; however, we do see guests picking up meals on their way home from work. Since our menu offering is very diverse, including a half chicken, ribs, and salmon, there is a great demand for delivery in the evening as well. There is potential to increase the take-out offerings and allow guests the option to pick up items to heat at home, allowing for the “semi home-cooked” experience. We are confident that this concept will thrive in any market from the inner city to suburban markets where other fast-casual options may be limited. 

Do Virtual Food Halls offer delivery? If so, do Operators handle that on their own or use a third-party ordering platform?
Currently, we see that approximately sixty percent of our sales are consumed outside of the restaurant, including take-out, delivery, and catering. Our delivery method is a bit of a hybrid model as we do employ a team of delivery personnel, but also utilize delivery from third-party vendors to help during times of peak volume. We use third-party ordering platforms as the marketing arm of our brands; they help to introduce our concepts to diners – which we then will convert to repeat guests who order directly through our channels. 

Where do you see this going in the next five years, and why?
We see this model as the future of foodservice as it addresses every major challenge facing the restaurant business, including rising wage costs, concern about food safety, the demand for customizable meals that cater to a variety of eating preferences, as well as the ability to serve guests through a variety of channels including dine-in, delivery, catering, or pick up. 
External factors such as rising minimum wage and increased paid sick and vacation time for hourly employees cause us to believe that the traditional restaurant model is not sustainable. Rising wage costs will continue to force restaurants to make difficult decisions regarding staffing; in many cases, a reduction in staffing can lead to a decrease in quality. However, as a result of the production model developed by Sous Vide Kitchen, we can produce consistent quality and deliver guests the offering of six restaurants with the staff that would typically serve one brand. Our model revolutionizes operations to meet modern demands. The precision temperature control of sous-vide cooking means it safer than traditional cooking methods, as we can bring food to precise temperatures while maintaining the nutritional integrity of each item. 
Our self-order kiosk allows guest the ability to select from a signature dish or select each ingredient to building their bowl, allowing for the ultimate customizable experience. Our streamlined and inexpensive buildout makes this an ideal offering not only as a standalone food hall but especially desirable within a host environment where space may be limited. The quality and flexibility of our offerings offer limitless opportunities for growth within stadiums, arenas, office buildings, higher education, and healthcare facilities.

Closing Thoughts
 To summarize my interview with Brian and after touring Sous Vide Kitchen; my takeaway is that the Virtual Food Hall model delivers many unique benefits not found in a brick and mortar restaurant, traditional urban food halls, or simple ghost kitchens. Virtual Food Halls enhance the guest experience with more choice, accuracy of ordering, speed of service and a dine -in option. For the restaurant operator it translates to lower buildout costs, more channels for distribution, and the ability to quickly address  lagging menu items. If a particular concept or menu isn’t producing enough sales and profits, the operator can change the menu and pivot concepts. By creating a single kitchen that operates multiple concepts and sharing ingredients, restaurant operators can quickly benefit from economies of scale from one single location.

AN INTERVIEW WITH Mr. Brian Berger
Mr. Berger is a founding partner of JBH.  He is an industry expert with extensive knowledge in food service management, healthcare support services, concept development, contractual agreements and negotiations, operational and financial analysis.

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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 to the left) .

Franchisors – Why You Should Use Mediation before Litigation

Our guest contributor, James A. Meaney shares his insights on why franchisors should seek mediation when settling disputes with franchisees. saving costly legal fees not only benefits both parties but often times leads to a better outcome.

Why I Love Mediation and You Should Too!
By James A. Meaney – Franchise Attorney
The majority of franchise agreements that I come across or create these days have a mediation clause. For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, when a dispute arises, the disagreeing parties have only a few options: do nothing, file a lawsuit, go to arbitration, or sit down and try to work it out a/k/a MEDIATION.

Avoid spending a fortune
This is not the first time I have addressed this important topic and you can find earlier posts here. And, full disclosure: I serve as a mediator when selected by the parties or their counsel. But, here is why I love mediation and you should too! To help your clients or your company resolve disputes before spending a fortune.

Litigation and arbitration can burn up a very large sum of money. Remember it is a battle. The courtroom or the arbitration room is the battleground and counsel are the warriors. Let’s not get too carried away here but some of these disputes run from tens of thousands of dollars to over hundreds of thousands of dollars.

WORK TOGETHER
Mediation is a process that allows parties to work together, usually with the help of a trained and experienced mediator (often a lawyer but not universally), to settle a dispute before an action is filed and sometimes after. Mediators come in all types (ex. commercial law, domestic disputes) and styles (ex. objective neutrals, aggressive, evaluative). But the hallmark of an effective mediator is keeping the parties engaged, keeping them talking and negotiating. Also, an astute mediator may offer “creative” solutions that the parties did not consider.

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So counsel, if you have a long-standing client, wouldn’t you want to save them time and money? Wouldn’t it be the best advice you can provide under the circumstance? Besides, litigation or arbitration is always on the table but why not think of it as a last resort? Company officials or franchisees, not only could you save those precious funds, but you may find a solution that preserves the relationship. The earlier you seek resolution, the more latitude you have.

Of course some disputes cannot be resolved through mediation but, even when there is a small chance of resolution, it seems like a wise investment. And, as any commercial lawyer knows, whether a litigator or transactional lawyer, serving our clients’ needs is our top priority.

About The Author:
James A. Meaney is an Attorney on the Zaino Law Team. Zaino Law Group, LPA, in Dublin, Ohio, serves clients in Columbus, Dayton, Springfield and communities throughout Central Ohio. Our lawyers offer a unique blend of practical advice and a thorough understanding of legal issues. We recognize the importance of being part of a total planning team. Our attorneys consult and work closely with your accountant, your financial planner, your insurance professional and other attorneys in order to provide comprehensive legal counsel.