For That Person Who Needs to See the Value of Mobile Tech in Retail Operations:

By Joe Skupinsky

I’ve said this in the past, but it’s worth repeating: at Zenput, we are practitioners of reality. We are the real-time operational insights provider through our mobile software solution. Our customers in the convenience store, restaurant, retail, and CPG spaces realize our value as they customize our platform to fit their own unique operational needs. We’re always talking about real-life solutions to real-life problems.

With that mindset and approach, we don’t always concern ourselves with theory and hypotheticals. So the other day, as I was reading up on industry trends, I came across a “textbook” representation, and really a validation, of what Zenput offers.

Class is in session, and I shall profess! First, check out the chart below (credit to Scott Allen Mongeau for this visual):


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First, observe the two axes: “analytics maturity” and “business value.” Notice as analytics mature, they become more transformative for your business and as business value increases, it becomes more strategic.

Now look at where the chart begins: Data Quality is the figurative “low man on the totem pole.”

How is your data quality? Are you still using spreadsheets? Paper and pencil checklists? There’s a better way to collect data than manual processes. In fact, to move upward on this trajectory, you’re going to have to use technology and automation.

So you adopt technology and you get promoted to Descriptive (business Intelligence). Say you adopt Zenput, which has the basic function of giving you the ability to document or report conditions at your locations in real-time. You essentially create a mobile checklist that you can distribute to store managers with the click of a button in real-time, and the answers are collected in real-time. Great! But you can do so much more...

The next step on your trajectory is Diagnostics. Set up Zenput to alert you of exceptions. For instance, your managers numerically rate the promotional execution from 1 to 5, and you get alerted to any display that scores a “3” or below. Zenput easily identifies those stores, allowing you to virtually check in and see what the problem is.

You also have the ability to follow-up on any shortcomings that were documented during the descriptive phase. Assign follow-up tasks and monitor compliance in real time. This is when you start to gain even more knowledge about challenges your managers have at the store level. For instance, maybe the promotion wasn’t executed correctly because the vendor or distributor did not deliver the correct materials. If this happens across several locations, it can be a major setback. But now, you’re wiser for having diagnosed the cause of the problem.

Move up another step in your trajectory to Predictive (forecasting and probabilities).When it’s time for your next retail promotion, you can now plan better with your vendor or distributor to set yourself up for success. You can better predict what might happen, all the while still documenting and diagnosing what actually does happen at the store level. Think of it as a continuous cycle of learning and adjusting.

The next promotion is Prescriptive (optimizing systems). Zenput has dashboard views with historical analysis and reporting functions. Want to know just how well that summer beverage promotion was executed? The data is right at your fingertips. You start to see patterns in your operations, which according to the diagram, can be transformative to your business.

Finally, the ultimate phase of your trajectory is Semantics (social context and perception). Honestly what is the point of this discussion about trends in data analytics? It’s to elevate your brand and deliver the best customer service experience possible. Optimizing internal operations will translate externally to customers.

You know it’s true: customers know when you don’t have your stuff together. This is what damages brands over time. Not to bust on the Golden Arches, but that is one of the areas where McDonald’s has struggled in recent history. Widespread operational inefficiencies began to affect the customer service experience and brand loyalty.

Well that concludes my business theory lesson, and I hope you’ve seen the value of mobile technology and where Zenput fits in the data analytics diagram. Share this post with that person in your organization who needs to see the value of mobile tech in order to believe!

Before I dismiss this class, I’ll leave you with one last word of wisdom, if I may: start somewhere. Start with the technology that’s right in your pocket. Consider mobile technology and how it can improve your data, diagnostic abilities, and planning. Use mobile to your advantage, because if you don’t, a competitor will!

What McDonald’s Needs to Learn from Starbucks’ Mobile App

By David Mostovoy

mcdonalds vs. starbucks.jpgOne of my least favorite phrases is “victim of its own success.” For instance, I remember that was the reason why a popular fireworks show on a riverbank was canceled. It was so popular and drew such large crowds that the police couldn’t handle the public safety demands. It became too costly—a victim of its own success.

I don’t know about you, but if a program is going to fail, I always want it to be an outright flop, not because it’s so popular that the infrastructure needed to make it successful isn’t there. However, that was the headline for Starbucks’ mobile ordering and pay app. By the numbers, 1,200 U.S. Starbucks locations saw a 20% jump in mobile pay and ordering during peak hours, which caused such bottlenecking at the counter, then sales were hampered and foot traffic fell. Let’s just say the spike in traffic got a little too hot for the coffee giant.

But a 20% jump in mobile pay and ordering? It’s an excellent problem to have, if you can handle it! As cited in the Chicago Tribune, a Deloitte study revealed that customer visits in fast-food increase by 6% and spending rises 20% when technology is used to place an order. You can see why more and more chains are pushing for mobile ordering.

When I heard that McDonald’s is about to jump on this bandwagon, I started to feel some mild level of concern. This is a chain that isn’t just preparing coffee, but a number of food items, and some of their problems with execution have, in recent years, been well-documented. But CEO Steve Easterbrook seems to understand the challenge ahead. "We've been very mindful that if we're going to be creating demand, can we meet that demand?" he told CNBC. “Can our kitchens keep up and our managers do a great job? So, we will actually link from end to end as you place your order, and it's integrated into our kitchen operation so we can actually meet the demand that we'll be creating, so we're confident there's no hurdles as we grow our business."

The Chicago Tribune reported on some specific adjustments McDonald’s is making as it tries to regain the 500 million U.S. customers it has lost since 2012, when it phased out the Dollar Menu. Kitchen assembly lines are getting shorter to allow for more volume, while rows of order kiosks are being added to scan phones and bring up personalized orders and custom offers. Parking lot spaces will be dedicated for curbside pickup.

Unlike Starbucks, McDonald’s will incorporate location-tracking technology to notify the kitchen when a customer arrives, and to therefore avoid filing an order too early. McDonald’s app will send a notification to mobile customers once they enter the parking lot, giving them a choice about how they pick up their food, counter or curbside. And perhaps the best feature—I say this as someone who once bought movie tickets for the wrong theater—customers can place an order and pick it up at any McDonald’s location. Now THAT is innovation and communication across a chain!

Meeting Operational Needs

Easterbrook has said mobile pay and delivery, which McDonald’s is also expanding, is about “meeting customers where they are.” I think McDonald’s has also learned it’s about meeting their restaurants’ needs where they are—hence all the preparation and store-level updates. From what has been reported, it doesn’t sound like Starbucks took enough precautionary measures to meet the elevated demand. Something was not measured and planned for correctly.

For McDonald’s specifically, this will come down to kitchen and counter execution because for fast-food, it’s really all about the food. Let’s face it: If you were going on a date, are you choosing the ambiance of Starbucks (and assuming it’s not a peak-hour rush) or a McDonald’s? But hey, maybe you ARE going to McDonald’s because you and your date want to try one of those new fresh burgers they’re cooking up. (In that case, you’ve found a keeper and my advice is to get married at the nearest chapel on the way home.)

But seriously, it all comes down to food and whether the customer wants to return. One thing you can say about McDonald’s: When you thought they were against the ropes, they’ve fought back by embracing new opportunities through technology. I’m rooting them on during their comeback.

Food for Thought

Are you a restaurant operator that’s exploring new technologies, particularly mobile technologies?

Zenput is used in more than 9,000 restaurants worldwide. Every day, we enable multi-unit restaurant operators to gain visibility into store operations by tracking and assigning tasks to store employees, identifying store-level problems, and analyzing location data to better understand employee and restaurant productivity.

Check out some of our mobile forms for restaurant operations, and if you have any questions/comments, feel free to reach out!

Topics: Restaurants

How to Stay on the Winning Side of Digital Disruption

By David Mostovoy

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If your high school was anything like mine, you were required to read the “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens Workbook”.  I feel like this is very much an early 2000s/Millennial experience (we are the gold-sticker, trophy-loving generation after all).

From the Amazon excerpt: “In this interactive volume, teens will find in-depth tools to improve self-esteem, build friendships, resist peer pressure, achieve goals, get along with parents, and strengthen themselves in many other areas.”

I’m a firm believer that there are some things that can’t be taught in a handbook—like the natural ability to get along with people and not be a complete knucklehead. However, I do agree that improving one’s self-esteem, staying on task, and working towards goals do require some skills that can be improved with time and practice. This handbook, and our freshman year course in Leadership, was designed to prepare us to meet the pressures of being in high school and become young adults in—let’s face it—the traditional sense.

As we sat in that class, little did we know that social media platforms would change our lives forever, whether we realized the impact right away or not. The invention of social media platforms was about to majorly disrupt traditional systems. The idea of a 20-year-old digital influencersomeone who could personally reach more people than the CEO of any given companywas about to be a possibility.

If you think about it, social media platforms are “babies” compared to 100-year-old brands that are now suddenly forced to play by the rules of the digital age. This is what’s referred to as the “digital disruption.” Technology came along and threw a major wrench in traditional notions of advertising and networking. Say what you want about their cultural impact, but social networks might be why you’re reading this story on your phone right now! They get the content to the people.

So now a few years into this disruption, everyone has adjusted and is killing it on these exciting new platforms…right?

As it turns out, not so much.

Most Leaders Are Unprepared for Digital Disruption

To study responses and needs in the age of digital disruption, The Global Center for Digital Business Transformation (DBT Center) surveyed more than 1,000 executives across 20 different sectors. This study had “heavyweight” backing as an initiative of IMD business school, Cisco, and HR consultancy metaBeratung.

Perhaps not surprisingly, 92% of the leaders surveyed said they are feeling the effects of digital disruption, with one third rating the impact as “very significant.” Now here’s where it starts to get a bit uncomfortable for us in the mobile tech space:

-> Less than 20% of respondents indicated that digital technologies, such as analytics, mobile and social media, are fully integrated into their organizations.

->Only about 30% of respondents either rarely or only occasionally use digital tools and technologies.

Moment of truth: Are you trying to be a “cool” brand, yet not exploring options in digital?

While you’re in good company, according to this survey, you could be so much more...effective, if I may borrow the word!

Being a Highly Effective Operator

The DBT Center has identified four competencies and three behaviors that business leaders need in the era of digital disruption. (When 4+3 = 7, you can see why this reminded me of my high school workbook.)

I’ll briefly summarize the “HAVE” competencies:

Humble - Own what you don’t know about digital and seek help from inside and outside your organization.

Adaptable – Adapt or die. If you can’t adapt with new technologies, your competitors will take advantage of your weakness.

Visionary – Keep your “eye on the prize.” What is your end goal in becoming more efficient through technology? Navigating digital disruption can be demanding.

Engaged – Not to keep using cliché phrases, but don’t “lose the forest for the trees.” Your vision is important, but engagement—finding out what works and what doesn’t in practice—is how you’ll bring your business to the next level.

If you’re succeeding at the HAVE competencies, DBT calls you an “Agile Leader.” And when it comes to tech, they run circles around non-agile leaders.

According to the survey:

26% of Agile Leaders use digital tools and technologies frequently, compared to just 7% of non-agile leaders.

28% of Agile Leaders use virtual networks and forums

32% of Agile Leaders seek disruptive approaches to deal with challenges.

It takes an Agile Leader to say, “Hey, you know what? Let’s try something new with tech.” However, the smart Agile Leader has done their homework. Nearly half of those Agile Leaders (42%) said they were making more informed business decisions as the result of three behaviors:

  1.  Well-directed data gathering
  2.  Effective analysis
  3.  Good judgment

And logically speaking, they must occur in that order!

Collecting “well-directed” data starts with the right platform that helps you analyze and make better judgments. The right platform can also improve engagement and interaction throughout your organization.

For instance, a mobile app like Zenput encourages managers and store-level employees to communicate about their everyday challenges in real-time through a streamlined platform. Communicate with tasks and forms, and send a photo or video to get your point across faster. Get out of email and create a better chain of accountability than phone or fax.

The 21st century has arrived and with it, so have digital disruptions. Will you resist the change or start using technology to your advantage?

Topics: Business Operations

How to Spot a POS Vulnerability Before It Becomes a Security Breach

By Vladik Rikhter

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If you’re a restaurant operator and you haven’t heard of the blog Krebs On Security, definitely check it out. Former Washington Post journalist and self-taught computer security expert Brian Krebs is often the first to break major news about restaurant security breaches.

For instance, in February, Krebs got Arby’s to acknowledge a data breach at its fast-food restaurants. Frankly, the cause is enough to lose your lunch: malware on payment systems once again!In a 2015 interview with Eater, Krebs warned that any restaurant company that uses point-of-sale (POS) systems is vulnerable to attack. POS systems are often set up to be accessed remotely, making them vulnerable to hackers.

As identified by Krebs, other security vulnerabilities with POS systems include enabling the same password for each system and running on outdated operating systems that don’t offer security updates and are simpler to hack. It’s no coincidence that chain restaurants are being hacked with greater frequency; often, several restaurants are linked to one internal system.Now you might be asking (because I definitely did): how a guy like Krebs breaks a story. As it turns out, hacked credit cards are often sold on the black market, usually web forums, and when there’s a major breach, there’s an influx. Krebs then reaches out to banks to see if they’re seeing or hearing anything suspicious. If there’s a pattern, Krebs then reaches out to the suspected chain to confirm whether or not they had a breach. Voila! That’s what led him to Arby’s in February. The company confirmed that it had recently remediated a breach, but had not publicly revealed the incident at the request of the FBI.

Arby’s confirmed that malware was placed on payment systems inside corporate stores, but franchised locations were not affected. In other words, the Arby’s breach was evidence of the vulnerabilities Krebs warned about two years ago!

Learning the Lesson

Here at Zenput, we try to provide our customers with the mobile tools to communicate better about their POS audits as well as possible breaches. We’ve discussed measures to prevent ATM skimming, and we offer a mobile form for audits of payment terminals in stores or at the pump. See below screenshot for an example:

POS audit on mobile

But in the case of Arby’s, they were a victim of a malware attack through their central system. Of course, we’re not privy to the inner workings of Arby’s security system, but you have to hope that they regularly ran updates and that software was updated. Keeping systems updated and making sure employees understand the POS terminal and its functionalities are critical tasks for any restaurant operator. When you create a procedure to protect against physical POS breaches, you can also create a checklist for POS employee training. Security is a team effort and one that’s executed from the top down, so make sure your team is in compliance with best practices. Also make sure they know the right steps to take if a breach is detected. That kind of preparedness can go a long way when recovering from an attack. Arby’s now faces class-action litigation with strong accusations: “The Arby’s Data Breach was the inevitable result of Arby’s inadequate data security measures,” says a credit union suing on behalf of its customers. Arby’s denies those allegations and plans to offer a vigorous defense.

But one company’s struggles are a reminder that any multi-unit restaurant operator is at risk, and it begs—or rather, demands—the question: are you up to date on your security measures?

Topics: Business Operations, C-store, ATM skimming, gas stations

How to Get Your Store’s Litter Problem Under Control

By Brian Harris

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I’ve always had great respect for people in custodial services. A family friend emigrated from Europe to start cleaning offices, and another high school friend’s father had a business that cleaned gyms and clubs in New York. In fact, he was allowed to borrow his client’s Lamborghini one day, and drove it to pick up my friend from school. It’s the first and only time—and quite possibly the last—that I’ll sit in a Lamborghini (I barely had my license at the time, so no driving).And why is it that in news stories and movies, the underdogs are always the janitor or custodian? Think of the Columbia University janitor who earned his undergraduate degree after 12 years, and Will Hunting from “Good Will Hunting.” Rooting for the janitor is the American way, and so is respecting the work they do. In other words, clean up your stuff!That’s why I was glad to read this recent NACS article, where the nonprofit organization ‘Keep America Beautiful’ shared some dirt on litter at convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. It turns out that there’s a psychology behind littering - approximately 85% of littering is the result of people’s attitudes. Simply put, people who see litter are more likely to litter. Notably, food packaging from convenience stores and fast-food restaurants makes up 5% of all litter in the United States. However, it accounts for approximately 19% of the “visible” litter stream, or those items that measure more than 4 inches.Time to get the litter situation under control!

‘It’s the Small Trash After All’

Other than the cast of lovable characters, part of Walt Disney’s legacy was how to operate an amusement park with world-class efficiency. He wanted to create the ultimate customer experience—and that included taking out the trash. Trash cans in Disney World are 30 feet apart based on Walt’s personal observation of guests moving throughout the park with food. How often do you go to a store and either can’t find the trash can or you feel like you need a hazmat suit to approach it?A team effort is required to regularly pick up the trash and properly dispose of it in a larger receptacle or dumpster. There must also be a concerted effort to clean up food and beverage trails and traces, lest you attract unwelcome, pesky visitors.If your customers are like the people in my apartment building, your recycling will be overflowing, too, because taking care of the environment is very important to Millennial consumers. And there’s no butts about it—smoking is on the decline, with only about 15% of U.S. adults lighting up in 2015, according to the CDC. So sweep up those cigarette remnants before they become a turn-off to customers thinking about entering the store, especially for foodservice.

Raising the Bar on Cleanliness

Mediocrity is a dangerous place for a brand. If you’re not raising the bar, you’re either operating with a false sense of complacency or on the decline in areas you may not even realize. It’s time to give teeth to the otherwise toothless memo for stores to “clean up their act.”

Distribute mobile forms that track the compliance of basic tasks that can elevate a brand. For example, in the form below, a regional manager would have to answer a 'Yes' or 'No' question about trash being at a reasonable level. Be able to pinpoint the store that keeps getting “no” on this question, or if enough “no” responses are recorded across the region, it might be time to adjust your trash disposal methods and/or pickup schedule.

Also, take note of the option to rate trash levels on a sliding scale. Receive an alert for any store ranked “1” with overflowing garbage. Add a video (or photo) to document the problem. Senior management will be able to see these results in real-time and choose to respond in real-time if they wish. That’s how technology raises the bar - through transparency and accountability.

See more of Zenput’s mobile form examples, and explore the platform’s functionality for convenience stores and restaurants: https://www.zenput.com/mobile-forms/
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Topics: C-store, cleanliness

How Employees Can Help Prevent Costly Restaurant Repairs

By Vladik Rikhter

Restaurant repair

We recently learned about a Manhattan-based startup that aspires to be the Uber of restaurant repairs. SendaGuy Now targets independent restaurants in New York who are in need of repair and maintenance service. In a savvy move, SendaGuy Now is incentivizing small operators to develop a preventative maintenance schedules by helping restaurants locate quality contractors who can provide important services when required without a service contract.Think about it: if the grill goes out or the refrigerator suddenly stops working on a holiday weekend in the summer, this restaurant is suddenly faced with enormous monetary loss or, worse yet, a possible health risk to customers.

A same-day repair can be costly, so SendaGuy Now can help small operators establish a preventative maintenance schedule based on their specific needs. It averts disaster and ultimately saves money by prolong equipment life.It’s a manageable scenario when a single restaurant knows its specific needs and communicates them through a mobile platform. However, knowing the needs of a dozen, maybe even 100 restaurants in a region, is definitely more challenging. Whether you have on-staff maintenance personnel or have contracted those services with a third-party firm, store-level managers and senior managers need to get on the same page with preventative maintenance.

As SendaGuy Now has helped to identify, these are the common “on-demand” maintenance services:

· Grease traps and exhaust systems (crucial to employee and customer safety)· Commercial kitchen equipment· Fire extinguishers· Fire suppressions systems· Backflow preventers· Refrigeration· Ice machines

So now comes decision time for restaurant chains, and this is what they need to remember: If you don’t have the resources to have a maintenance staff member or third-party contractor doing regular prevention audits, is it possible to have your managers and/or employees pitch in?

It’s more feasible than you think: Sit down with your maintenance staff or pay a third-party contractor to come up with a list of maintenance best practices at each location. See what tasks non-maintenance employees can handle safely, develop those practices into a daily checklist or weekly checklist depending on the need, and distribute those checklists to stores. Forget fax and email which may or may not be received—send the checklist right to your managers’ mobile device and track the response. What Came First: The Preventive Maintenance or the Audit? In restaurant operations, it’s definitely the baseline audit that comes first. Like in any experiment, you need to establish the “control group” before you attempt to test new protocols and procedures.

There are three basic components of a baseline audit:

1. Safety – The health and physical well-being of employees and customers needs to be the No. 1 priority at all times. For instance, let’s find out if there’s hand soap in the kitchen, and let’s get on the same page about kitchen thermometer readings.

 

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2. General Cleanliness – What defines “clean”? There’s what’s required by law, of course, but there’s also best practices you can implement between shifts, which can be unique to your business and the type of food you serve. Your baseline audit, especially one that requires photos, is going to help you determine those needs.

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3. Staff Guidelines – You can’t hold your staff accountable on what they don’t know. It all starts with senior management developing protocols and management carrying them out at the store level. Then, the only way to know if stores are in compliance is for regional managers, or unbiased store managers, to visit locations and use a checklist/audit form to document their observations. Everyone can have an “off” day or a miscommunication with a new employee. But if a store (or region of stores) is routinely being flagged for poor practices, that’s usually a sign of a bigger management problem that needs to be addressed. For those instances, it’s helpful to have a bird’s eye view and to be able to virtually “check into” a location for better understanding and follow-up.

Zenput puts proactive and preventative maintenance procedures within reach—literally, through mobile audit forms! Learn more about Zenput for restaurants by clicking here.

Topics: Restaurants, repairs

How to Stand Out in a Gas Station Cluster

By Joe Skupinsky

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 1.54.15 PM.png(Image Source: Google Maps)

I always thought it was strange that there were three gas stations on a single corner down the street from my college—until I started learning more about the convenience and gas retail industry.

Around the time I saw this pattern, a game theorist in San Francisco noticed the same thing and attempted to get to the mathematical root. As Presh Talwalkar explains, this phenomenon is partially the result of population clusters, so a couple of thousand people driving to and from a college could warrant a cluster of gas stations.Here’s a brief explanation video:  

 

The basic reasoning using the hot dog stand example in the video is this: both stands move closer to the center to capture more of a competitor’s customers. If either stand moves, they’ll lose customers. So when competing on location, everyone wants the central location. This applies to gas stations, fast-food chains, and political candidates. Here at Zenput, it was important for us to understand this game theory concept, considering we work with two-thirds of these groups. (Sorry, we don’t currently have plans to enter the political realm anytime soon!)So if moving towards the center of the geographical market is a naturally occurring trend that makes sense for a brand, it also follows that convenience store operators should do everything in their power to stand out from their competitors.


In order to maintain revenue, it becomes crucial to be so in tune with your customer that you have the ability to react to changing conditions in real time.

Since Talkwar used the example of businesses on a beach, and we’re all longing for summer at this point, I’ll use the example of the first warm day of the season. the example of businesses on a beach, and we’re all longing for summer at this point, I’ll use the example of the first warm season of the day. Maybe that day sneaks up on you, and you hadn’t yet planned an in-store beverage promotion. Not only is it warm outside, but the day falls on a weekend. This is a prime opportunity to catch customers filling up for a weekend day trip. They’ll also be filling up right across the street at your competitor’s location. You decide to take action by launching an impromptu beverage promotion.

Now you don’t have signage on the drop of a dime, but you do have some well-positioned cold-cases located at the front of your store. You decide that every store should stock up those coolers with a selection of thirst-quenching beverages, from waters and sports drinks to lemonades and iced teas. Maybe you allow store managers to institute a buy-one-get-one deal on a well-stocked beverage. And while you’re managing the cold case, you make sure to stock it with the latest healthy snacks, yogurt and to-go fruit and veggie cups—everything that’s convenient to take on the road. Now you’re responding in real time to your customers’ needs!

So to recap what has happened in this example:

->The brand is responding in real time to forces (like Mother Nature) that are beyond your control.

-> The brand is taking advantage of a situation by offering a timely product assortment.

-> The brand is in tune with customer needs, which may earn a future visit.

Assuming the competitor across the street didn’t have a better executed promotion, your brand has won today!


Real-Time Response Is Within Reach

The example I used above may seem out of reach to some large-scale operators. But as a practitioner of reality, I’m here to tell you that any gas station and convenience store retailer with the right tools can execute and “think on their feet” in real time. Zenput’s real-time functionality enables that kind of response at the store level.

This is what the chain of events would look like:

-> Senior managers recognize a trend and make the executive decision that they want to promote certain items.

-> Senior managers push out a notification that, for instance, the cold case must be stocked immediately with certain items.

-> Regional and/or store-level managers receive that notification and move to arrange those items.

-> To ensure compliance, store-level managers are required to take a photo of the cold case once it’s stocked.

From Zenput’s central dashboard, senior managers would immediately be able to tell if stores were in compliance with this directive because Zenput would provide data on stores that weren’t. That’s right—you can virtually check into each store!

This isn’t utopia—it’s the power of real-time mobile technology. And it’s why Zenput is being used in more than 6,500 c-stores worldwide. In fact, more than 15,000 people will use Zenput today.  

Learn what Zenput can do to improve your store-level execution by scheduling a demo, or check out our testimonials page to learn more how our platform is helping other businesses like yours every day.

Topics: gas stations

Where Yelp Doesn't Help: How to Stop Restaurants from Failing Health Inspections

By David Mostovoy

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Once you hear a story (good or bad) about a restaurant, you never quite forget it. For instance, I still remember how my friend walked past a deli she regularly frequented—closed at that hour—to see an employee smoking a cigarette behind the counter. And then there’s my friend in another state who went to order ice cream from a small shop where the employee was a on a cigarette break. The same employee scooped the ice cream without washing her hands. And then I’ve already told you about a friend on the East Coast who was in the awkward situation of attending a company dinner knowing that the restaurant was recently cited for a health citation.

Even though I don’t live in those cities, I still remember these stories well. No city is above these kinds of problems. In fact, I recently saw an article about the 54 businesses that failed health inspections right here in San Francisco.

Now it’s no secret that we San Franciscans love our restaurants. In fact, in 2012 (if you find more current data, drop us a note) real estate website Trulia found that San Francisco is the top city for dining out, with 39.3 restaurants per 10,000 households. So in the grand scheme of things, the restaurants that failed are a small representation of our culinary empire. For those who don’t know how San Francisco’s restaurant rating system works: The city’s Department of Health rates San Francisco restaurants on a 100-point scale that’s similar to school grades. If you score 100 or in the high 90s, you’re the equivalent of an A+ student. But unlike Los Angeles and New York, letter grades aren’t posted in the windows, so it’s less apparent how restaurants scored.

And that’s where a local technology company stepped up to the plate. In 2013, restaurant review site Yelp added San Francisco’s health inspection information to its platform in an effort to improve transparency around food safety. Then, in 2015, Yelp began testing consumer alerts to warn customers about the results of recent health inspections. And in 2016, Yelp began flagging businesses that sued customers for leaving negative reviews.

Bottom line: Technology is changing how people learn about restaurant safety. Yelp brings attention to the problem, and in that way, it’s a great industry watchdog. However, it doesn’t provide the actionable insights that help restaurants fix their problems.

If you are the restaurant operator, you need to use technology to improve your operations. It’s the 21st century—there’s no reason not to! The saying “there’s an app for that,” is absolutely true. Here at Zenput, we set out to develop the app that would help remediate common problems that retailers, including foodservice operators, experience.

Take a closer look with us….

Use Technology to Help the Process of Improving Standards

In a related posted, I highlighted the 5 standards to uphold in order to maintain a clean restaurant. For every recently cited restaurant—and for other restaurants who are concerned about being named in the future—the issue comes down to staff retraining.

Develop your procedures, disseminate them to managers, train staff, start documenting progress, and follow up on progress. Then “rinse and repeat.”

Maintaining restaurant cleanliness is not only about changing behaviors, but also about making individuals accountable for their own behaviors. If you’re a restaurant operator who is concerned about the time commitment or extra manpower needed to implement these changes, you are probably not considering what’s available to you in the mobile technology space. And if you’re a restaurant operator in San Francisco, that’s where another locally-based technology company, Zenput, is here to help!

Our platform helps restaurant operators communicate better at a store level to improve their execution. Get a bird’s eye view of compliance while also having the ability to virtually check into a store to find out why benchmarks aren’t being met. You don’t need more employees or equipment to do this. You simply empower your current staff with a cloud-based, real-time technology on the mobile device of their choosing.

Whether you want all your managers to review new guidelines with employees, or want a specific location to clean up its act, Zenput allows users to issue those directives and follow up on compliance.

We’re used in 9,000 restaurants and growing… Is your business next?

Click here to see what Zenput offers to restaurant operators.

Topics: Restaurants, restaurant cleanliness, health inspections

How C-stores Can Turn Social Media Interaction into Employee Action

By David Mostovoy

 

Social media convenience stores

Chances are that your convenience store chain has an active social media presence. Considering that the “big guys” like Wawa, Sheetz and Speedway have well more than 1 million followers, you definitely want to get in on that extra brand visibility, if you haven’t already.

But being on social media is more than just posting your new products and promotions; it’s about being a good community member. And like any other aspect of your operations, it requires a good strategy.

As part of their Social Media Awards, Convenience Store Decisions recently addressed the fact that studying the data of your social media following can pay off when it comes to promotional and partnership opportunities. Data can also help you to understand where your base customer spends the most time, so you can tailor your paid media accordingly to further extend your reach. It can also help you target the social media followers known as “influencers,” the people who share posts. Inviting followers to give their feedback on promotions, offering contests on social media and asking trivia questions are all valuable ways to engage your audience and ensure that visibility.

CSD also discusses the benefits of being an “active listener” on social media. Again, using data can also help you “cut through the noise” of competing viewpoints over a product update or promotion. If you’ve made a decision to change a yearly promotion or pull a product, it could very well be that the complainers are going to be the most vocal. Not overreacting to the naysayers and taking your quieter social media followers into account is important, and data can help inform those decisions and essentially make your brand a better listener.

However, there’s another important part of being an active listener, and that’s being an active responder.

Turning Complaints into Store-Level Action  

How does a convenience store brand respond to a customer complaint? A look at any Facebook comments section for an active retailer shows you plenty of “love” (great for sharing with your audience) and “hate” (wish you could bury it). DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT, delete negative feedback. There’s nothing worse than being accused of censoring customer feedback because it shows an unwillingness to address real concerns and improve your brand. Plus, no one likes being ignored or flat out rejected!

To that point, streamline your interactions. Most convenience store operators with a regular social media presence are in the habit of asking customers to send them a private message with their contact information. The assumption is that the convenience store operator will offer the customer a coupon or discount off their next purchase. This can turn a negative interaction into a positive outcome that reinforces customer loyalty.

So once you’ve addressed an individual customer’s concern you can close the book on this interaction, right? Not even close!

Chances are that when you’re asking the customer for their personal contact information, you’re also asking them to provide the store number from their receipt. This is a prime opportunity to follow up with the store in question. For instance, if an employee forgot the bacon on a customer’s sandwich, you don’t have to play “Big Brother” and immediately fire off a message directed at that foodservice team. However, if several complaints are being logged against one store, then that indicates a more significant operations problem that’s worth addressing.


With the right platform, you can follow up easily and, if necessary, in real time!

With Zenput, it’s possible for a senior management team to take the social media interactions log, break it down by location and assign tasks to the regional manager and/or store manager. A senior manager may choose to start with a directive to the regional manager: “Multiple customer complaints about missing sandwich components at store #14. Please visit store and report back.” The directive would appear immediately on the regional manager’s mobile device and would remain an open task until they reported back.

Upon investigation at the store level, the regional manager may find a staffing problem or an inventory problem. They could report this in their notes to senior managers, who might then ask the regional manager to address the issue and provide an update in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, in that same time, the resolution will be evident through a lack of customer complaints on social media.

Assigning tasks creates a chain of accountability and improves communication. It’s also collaborative and supports teamwork. If a customer reports that a store manager or employee made their day, be sure that message gets relayed at the store level as well!

Consider taking your social media interactions to the next level by turning comments into real action. Learn more about Zenput’s checklists, audits, forms and reports by clicking here.  

The 3-Part Call-to-Action Against Rising Convenience Store Operating Costs

By Joe Skupinsky

 

 

cutting operating costs

We’re living in politically uncertain times. While the new Presidential administration has promised to be pro-small business, there’s no guarantee that convenience store operators will experience change at the local level. That’s the American democratic process and the power of states’ rights. It’s also part of the frustration for business owners who don’t see change—they just see rising operating costs while their gross margin dollars slow down. That was the key point of this recent article in NACS Magazine. Direct store operating expenses (DSOE), including wages, payroll taxes, health-care insurance, card fees, utilities, repairs/maintenance and supplies, are all on the rise. These rising costs jeopardize the operator’s profitability.

Those in the convenience store industry with strong political convictions and a penchant for activism know the reality: When it comes to costs that are not under your direct control, business owners are at the mercy of government action (or inaction) at the state and local levels. But this is not to say that business owners are not in control over efficiency. In these challenging times, it’s crucial to make every dollar count and to generally increase accountability in your organization.

There are the 3 areas every convenience store operator needs to focus on in 2017:  

  1. Document and be proactive about the “little things.” The so-called little things are often part of a bigger picture of efficiency. Your managers know what’s working in their stores and what’s not. They know the faulty equipment, they know when the promotional placement isn’t working, and they know their staffing needs. And if your store managers are too wrapped up in the day-to-day operations to report it, then that’s a task for regional managers. The question is: are you providing your team the tools of communication to report these issues before they become larger problems? Are you responding to these concerns in real-time?  

  2. Manage labor costs. According to NACS data, health care and wages comprise more than 48% of DSOE. More states are raising their minimum wage above the $7.25 federal wage. Leroy Kelsey, director of industry analytics at NACS, points out that convenience store operators have direct control over the decision to offer a higher hourly wage. More convenience store operators may choose this path considering that more mass retailers are bumping up their hourly wages to $10 per hour. However, the key is to retain good employees. “You’ve got to close the loop on training people, acknowledging them and presenting them with opportunities to grow. The best retailers are doing that right now,” he advises.  

You’ve probably seen these graphics floating on LinkedIn and other social networks. Employees stay when they are paid well, challenged, promoted, involved, on a mission, empowered, and trusted. Creating such an environment requires a grassroots effort that needs the support of regional managers and store managers. It will require the ability of the organization to identify and recognize talent. If you think it’s impossible, think again. The right tools make it possible for daily or weekly reporting of employee achievements at the store level.

  1. Treat each store like a microenvironment for efficiency. Speaking of a grassroots effort, convenience store operators need not wait for the next big promotion to follow up with stores. Senior managers and regional managers are likely on the same page when it comes to best practices for operations, but they need employees to comply. Standardize those best practices with checklists that become a routine part of a manager’s reporting system. Then, assign tasks based on those checklists, as needed.

If the thought of a paper checklist immediately turns you off, we don’t blame you! It’s time to go paperless with your process, especially for operators with dozens, maybe even hundreds of locations. Imagine having the ability to make a change, whether it’s the way a store is restocked or the way your foodservice team handles the afternoon rush, and then having the ability to observe and document that change over a period of time. Mobile tools like Zenput give managers that flexibility.

Zenput Helps Improve Accountability

I could happily extol the benefits of using Zenput for the next 500 words, but I don’t think that would be as effective as if you heard it from a major convenience store retailer, MAPCO, which uses our platform. Watch MAPCO’s testimonial or read about the eye-opening operational insights they have gained and acted on, and please feel free to reach out to us with questions that pertain to your specific needs.

Download the MAPCO case study

Also, while you’re visiting, please check out examples of the mobile forms retailers can customize for store-level insights. Remember: Forms are distributed in real-time to mobile devices via cloud-based technology. No Internet in the store? No problem! The information will sync online once a connection is restored.