Starting a Mobile Strategy in the Retail Space

By Vladik Rikhter

Mobile Strategy - hand on tablet
Photo by Hernán Piñera, via Flickr

Today’s smartphones are powerful tools that solve everyday problems for customers and business professionals alike. In our experience, the best mobile strategies have two sides: one that faces the customer and one that faces the retailer for internal operations.

Let’s explore some of the components of each side, which can help you determine your own needs in starting a mobile strategy.

Customer Facing: Branded apps

According to Carson Kuehne of Verifone, a retail mobile app provider, a customer-facing initiative is “any effort which the end consumer will directly interface with.” He calls a branded mobile app “the pinnacle of customer-facing technology” because it carries on the brand experience between store visits. Just by having a smartphone, the customer provides the marketing medium themselves and there is no material cost for pushing out ads through the app.

Making it Fun

Starbucks My Rewards Mobile App
Photo by CNET

More retailers are including gamification in their mobile apps. Fun visuals and games keep customers engaged and reward them for doing so. A popular example of retail gamification is My Starbucks Rewards, which lets customers collect stars when they pay with their registered rewards card or mobile app, or when they buy specially marked Starbucks products at grocery stores. The more stars customers collect, the more rewards they earn.

Most mobile apps are available for download on both iPhone and Android devices and can be customized to each retailer’s needs, enabling smaller chains to enjoy the same features and benefits, including promotions, mobile coupons, store locater and customer feedback.

Internal Operations: Mobile Software In Your Corner

Somewhere in America, there is a lonely retail manager sitting in a room on desktop computer, with multiple screens open, manually inputting notes from a paper audit.

When we think of retail managers, we prefer to think of them as Julie Andrews in the “Sound of Music” -- spreading their arms and twirling around happily in a field. In their hand is a smartphone. They have learned to use this device as a powerful tool for retail audits, employee evaluations, maintenance report filing, security reports, and promotional rollout compliance (working in tandem with the brand’s mobile app). Ah, the wireless freedom. It’s a beautiful thing!

Retailers work hard on the customer-facing initiatives, but are they working harder to just keep their operation organized? The purpose of having a mobile strategy for internal operations is to gain more actionable insights with real-time analysis and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete routine paperwork.

Dispelling Misconceptions

Some managers and maybe even some bookkeepers may read up on mobile software for internal operations and think that it’s designed to replace their tasks, making them less valuable to the organization. On the contrary, mobile software reduces the amount of time it takes to input information from checklists and surveys so that these valuable employees can devote their brainpower elsewhere.

If half your time was spent collecting the data and the other half analyzing data, filling out a survey on their mobile device may free up another 25 percent of your time. Instead of creating a separate memo or notification about a problem, you can work through one platform to notify staff. When people become more efficient in their day-to-day tasks, the operation as a whole becomes more efficient.

Kuehne of Verifone gave some valuable advice concerning customer-facing technology but it also applied on the internal operations side. He recommended that retailers interested in starting a mobile initiative carefully choose providers and be wary of “runaway or ballooning costs by design.”

“If a retailer doesn't know exactly what this program will cost them in year one and subsequent years, then look elsewhere,” he advised.

This is definitely something to keep in mind when starting a mobile strategy. Be sure to ask questions and choose a platform that can be customized to your business’ unique needs.

Topics: Retail

Preparing Your Convenience Store for Summer Promotions

By Vladik Rikhter

stop-n-save-fire-works
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, via Flickr

As the Northeast and Midwest struggle to escape the icy grip of winter, it’s an encouraging sign when retailers display summer merchandise in their stores. It can also be fun for employees to set up new displays that will likely remain on the floor for some time.

Large displays, like patio furniture and kayaks, work well for wholesale retailers and department stores, but they can’t work in a convenience store where space is limited and the goal is to move items quickly off shelves.

What kinds of summer promotional products do you offer in a convenience store and how do you determine the best merchandise mix?

Keep It Cold & Fresh

roo-cup

Before summer arrives, reevaluate your store’s foodservice and snacks, as well as packaged beverages and cold dispensed beverages.

According to the NPD Group, the iced beverage market has shown double-digit growth year over year and average purchases for iced beverages nearly doubled from 2010 to 2014. Convenience stores, specifically, have become cold beverage destinations. Frozen beverage servings at convenience stores and total foodservice outlets experienced double-digit growth in 2014.

Kangaroo Express is one chain that does an excellent job of operating a highly anticipated seasonal promotion – the ROO Cup – which runs all summer long. “The Roo” also pairs discounted ROO Cup refills with snack items with the goal of getting customers in the door.

During the season of road trips, convenience stores can also benefit from high margins on fresh and healthy snacks in grab-and-go portions. Consider pretzel and carrot cups with dips, fresh salads, and seasonal produce such as watermelon and strawberries.

Keep It Fun

nerf-ad

Summer is the season of great weather and no school. Many convenience stores stock water guns, floaties for swimming, coolers, and other outdoor-related impulse items like sunglasses. If your store is located near the beach or lake, you may consider stocking towels, beach chairs, and boogie or skim boards.

Keep It HBC

sunscreen-ad

There has been a lot of channel blurring between convenience stores and drug stores in recent years.  In the summertime, convenience stores stand to profit from the health and beauty category by offering products such as sunscreen and after-sun care, lip balm and insect spray. Travelers might also need antacids, allergy remedies, tissues, wet wipes, travel-sized toothpaste, toothbrushes and other toiletries.

Keep It Regional

live-bait-sign

Obviously, a 7-Eleven in New York City shouldn’t have the same beachside offerings as a 7-Eleven in Daytona Beach, Fla. Whether you operate a five convenience stores or 50, get to know your customers and the types of activities they enjoy. Find out what the local scene is like and adjust offerings according to regional preferences.

For instance, if fishing is a popular local activity, you may want to devote part of your store to bait and tackle. If you operate near a park or outdoor concert venue, perhaps you can offer rain ponchos and umbrellas.

Communicate

The success of summer promotions largely depends on effective communication, including your ability to promote seasonal merchandise. Shout it from the rooftops! As a retailer, you can’t afford to devote valuable floor space to products and promotions without first promoting and then measuring the success of these promotions across your network.

Communicate with your employees to improve retail execution. Use real-time analytics to tweak merchandise mixes and optimize sales.

Topics: Retail

How to Improve Operations at a Home Furnishings Store

By Vladik Rikhter

room-and-board
Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr

If there’s a segment of the retail industry that knows how to weather a storm, it’s surely the home furnishings market. When the housing market plummeted during the economic recession, home furnishing retailers also felt the impact.

For example, Bed, Bath & Beyond’s net sales pre-recession in 2007 were 14 percent, and dropped to a mere 5 percent in 2014, according to Forbes.

In the first three months of 2015, consumer confidence in the United States has started improving to pre-recession levels, and unemployment decreased to 5.5 percent in February. The outlook for Bed, Bath & Beyond is optimistic, especially in light of falling gasoline prices, but the rate of recovery remains slow.

On one hand, consumers are now more careful about how they spend money, and during the several years the economy struggled, the way people shopped also changed.

As Forbes explained, Bed, Bath & Beyond saw 4-percent year-over-year growth in the 2014 second quarter. Comparable sales also grew by 3.4 percent and more than 50 percent of this increase came from online sales and mobile channels.

With renewed emphasis on technology, how do home furnishings businesses hope to survive in brick-and-mortar retail?

The Price is Right

We’ve discussed the importance of inspecting your retail property and creating well-lit, clean and safe shopping environments. For retailers like Bed, Bath & Beyond, Crate & Barrel, and Home Goods, correctly pricing merchandise and making sure all promotional materials are up to date is just as important as creating an inviting retail environment. It’s also important that employees excel in customer service and exceed customer expectations.

All of these factors give customers a reason to shop in brick-and-mortar stores in addition to any online shopping they may do.

Here is a sample checklist for inspecting a home furnishings store:

  • The store is neatly landscaped, well-lit and has curb appeal.
  • The store is organized according to various sections of a home and each section flows naturally. For instance, living room furnishings/bedding are on one side of the story, while kitchen/dining room items are on the other side.
  • Store signage is clear and facilitates a customer’s movement through the floorplan.
  • Shelves are clean and not holding too many heavy objects.
  • Merchandise is arranged neatly on shelves.
  • Products in each section are not dented, scratched, opened or otherwise damaged.
    Products are priced correctly on shelf.
  • Product pricing reflects current sales/promotions.
  • Registers and point-of-sale systems are up to date and honor the latest coupons/promotions.
    Back room is organized and orderly.
  • Employees can quickly find and/or restock an item.
    Employees are trained in how to reorder out-of-stocks.
  • Employees engage customers in stores and ask if they need help locating items.

Imagine there’s a glass paperweight sitting on your desk. Over time, you’ve let your desk get cluttered and disorganized. One day, you’re bustling around your office looking for something. You start to shift around the binders and notebooks on your desk and (crash!) the paperweight falls to the ground and shatters. This could have been prevented had you organized your desk all along.

A home furnishings store should  be viewed through the lens of organization and urgency. Retailers must approach day-to-day operations like they are fragile and can “crack” at any time from the pressure of online retail competitors. Creating a highly responsive environment of customer service can improve operations and make a positive impact on a retailer’s bottom line.

Sample Retail Store Evaluation Form

Topics: Business Operations, Retail

Utilizing Bluetooth Technology In Restaurants & Retail

By Julia Burnett

coupa-cafe-ibeacon
Photo via TechCrunch

Each year, more retailers are learning that everything is, in fact, better with Bluetooth Smart technology. Bluetooth is defined as a wireless communications system intended to replace the cables connecting many types of devices. It’s amazing that the Bluetooth movement, which began in 1998 as a special interest group with just five companies, is now poised to have a very big impact on the entire retail industry.

Now when you walk into Coupa Caféin Palo Alto, Calif., you have the option of ordering and paying with your iOS device thanks to a small box sitting on your table. Coupa Café’s payment solution was developed by Downtown, a tech startup that uses those small boxes, better known as iBeacons, to allow customers to order and pay for their meals with their smartphones.

Bluetooth wasn’t just designed to make the process of ordering a latte smoother, however. The technology has much broader potential.

Three New Ways to Use Bluetooth

1. Temperature Monitoring and Control

Bluetooth temperature sensors can now be placed anywhere you need to log the temperature, including restaurants, shipment containers and HVAC ducts. Sensors can also be used to track temperature at the time of pickup, en route and by delivery, and on industrial equipment to monitor machine conditions.

2. Tracking In-store Staff Levels

Managers can equip staff with what’s called a Bluetooth “fob.” All fobs will signal their distance in real time to small BLE (Bluetooth low energy) hub receivers placed around the store. Managers can now track staffing levels in real time, and can pinpoint where staff members are spending most of their time in stores. This extra layer of “visibility” is achieved without recording employees, and can help managers improve efficiency and productivity.

3. Tagging Shopping Carts or Baskets

Similar to using a heat map, store managers can use Bluetooth technology to know which areas of their stores are being visited most by customers. Tags are placed discreetly on the bottom of shopping carts and baskets to track movement within the store. This information can help maximize the entire retail space and managers can direct employees to these areas to improve customer service. In foodservice operations, seeing how customers move throughout the store – and at what times – can also help with dayparting.

It’s not too premature to get on the beacon bandwagon. According to a report by Computerworld, retailers are adopting Bluetooth technology at a rapid rate. However, they must be careful not to overuse it as a marketing tool by bombarding customers with messages.

"We will come to a time when there are too many irrelevant messages firing at consumers," Puneet Mehta, CEO of Mobile ROI, told the magazine. "In 2015, brands have to not only adopt beacons into their stores, but must clearly articulate the benefit consumers will get for...beacon communication."

For this reason, it may be wise for retailers to use beacons in a data collection capacity first, and then explore options for using the devices to promote brands.

Topics: Retail

The Key to Successful Department Store Operations

By Brian Harris

Macys
Photo By Mike Mozart, via Flickr

Think about your last big family gathering where there were a lot of different personalities in a contained area. The kids are running around, your liberal brother and conservative uncle are arguing over politics, and your spouse enters unwillingly into a conversation with your nosy cousin. Meanwhile, you’re just waiting for the food to arrive.

In a way, a noisy family gathering is a bit like managing a department store. There are so many different “personalities” or departments under one roof. You know each section like it’s your family -- you know what makes each one tick.

Just like a department store is designed to appeal to an entire family, you must treat each department of the store like it’s a family member; no area should be neglected. Conducting inspections is a great way to give each area of the store the attention it deserves and optimize department store operations.

What to Check During a Department Store Inspection

The key to success in a department store -- and really any retail environment -- is to achieve harmony between front-of-house and back-of-house operations. One can’t operate without the other running smoothly; it’s a symbiotic relationship.

Here are the most important qualities to look for in each:

I. Front of House

  • The store has curb appeal with neat landscaping and good lighting.
  • The merchandise is organized according to planogram.
  • Products are priced correctly.
  • If appropriate, merchandise has security tags and expensive products are kept in closed cabinets.
  • Displays and shelves are clean and hooks are not broken.
  • The merchandise is not cluttered and displayed in an appealing way in each section, from bracelets in a jewelry display case to clothes on hangers.  
  • Associates are responsive to questions and ask customers if they need assistance.
  • If applicable, the café/restaurant area is sanitary and in compliance with food safety standards.
  • Dressing rooms are kept neat and orderly and merchandise is returned to the main floor in a timely fashion.
  • The point-of-sale is orderly. Gift cards with envelopes are available for purchase.
  • Floor is vacuumed or swept, and restrooms are clean.

II. Back of House

  • Trucking loading/unloading areas are clear of debris (e.g. boxes, Styrofoam, packing materials)
  • Inventory is properly managed to avoid out-of-stocks.
  • Employee records and schedules are routinely updated.
  • Employee break rooms are clean and maintained.
  • Storage areas are neat and orderly.
  • There are no signs of water damage in storage area.
  • Security systems are in working condition.  
  • eating and cooling systems are working, and the store is properly ventilated.
  • Property inspection tips: Any standing water on the floor is cause for investigation. Check roofs routinely for leaks.
  • Cash handling practices are up to date and being followed accordingly.
  • Managers are tracking daily cash flow to calculate the profit and loss of each store.

While the checklist for the front of the house ensures that the store provides a positive ambiance for shoppers, the checklist for back-of-the-house operations ensures that adequate steps are being taken to prevent loss of inventory and stock.

Pay careful attention to your cash handling processes. We’re a highly civilized society, but the Internet is still the Wild West. No one is safe from hacking and other cybersecurity crimes that steal from your business and damage your brand in the eyes of customers. As a result of recent and major security breaches, even more emphasis is being placed on behind-the-scenes operations in department stores.

Remember: The most successful retail operations exceed customer expectations beyond what meets the eye.

Topics: Business Operations, Retail

How to Perform a Pizza Franchise Inspection

By Naomi Balagot

pizza-inspection

If you’ve ever visited New Jersey, you know it’s not uncommon to find five pizzerias in a square-mile-radius, and that’s just in a suburb! It’s truthfully more difficult to find a national pizza chain than a mom-and-pop pizza place.

New Jerseyans, and New Yorkers too, are notoriously judgmental about pizza. They might give a pass to a pizza place that delivered an undercooked pie or short-changed the cheese. Do it twice, and they’ll take their business to one of the other pizzerias down the street.

Maybe you’re a franchisee operating as part of a national or regional chain. You might have the market cornered with limited competition. Still, approach pizza franchise inspection like you’re a mom-and-pop place in New Jersey. Be that meticulous about your franchised operations and execution, and your brand will benefit.

It’s All About Quality

You’ve heard the saying that we “eat with our eyes first.” This certainly applies to pizza, arguably more so than other foods.

Below are the three main elements of conducting a pizza franchise inspection, as well as suggested checklists for each step.   

I. Sanitation & Food Preparation

Sanitation Checklist:

  • Handwashing is treated like a ritual, sacred practice. (Don’t be the place that gets shut down because handwashing protocols aren’t in place. It does happen!)
  • Employees with long hair should be required to tie it back neatly.
  • Aprons are washed regularly and replaced after some time due to staining. Utensils to prepare ingredients, including cheese graters and pizza cutters, are washed and sanitized.
  • Any cleaning chemicals or agents are properly stored in a back room, away from the food preparation area.
  • The floor and bathroom are cleaned regularly.

See also: Conducting a Food Safety Audit: 7 Principles

Food Preparation Checklist:
  • Dough is properly refrigerated and prepared in advance of busy ordering times.
  • Sauce made from canned tomato products and spices that are within their shelf life.
  • Cheese, meat and vegetable toppings are freshly prepared and refrigerated.

II. Property and Equipment

  • Ovens are properly ventilated and meet safety requirements.
  • Ovens are set to the right temperature.
  • Ovens are cleaned regularly to prevent smoke hazards and burning smells.
  • Utensils to prepare ingredients, including cheese graters and pizza slices, are washed and sanitized.
  • Employees are placing and removing pizza from hot ovens or conveyor racks according to safest procedures.
  • Pizza boxes are prepared and stored in dry, sanitary conditions.
  • Warming areas function properly – no cold pizza!

See also: How to Conduct a Property Inspection

III. Food Quality/Consistency

  • Dough is prepared with the right consistency.
  • Pizzas are being prepared according to the right size – personal, medium, large, extra-large.
  • Artisan, specialty and flatbread pizzas are prepared accordingly with correct ingredients.
  • Toppings are evenly distributed on the pizza.
  • Crust color, thickness, and texture. (Is it crispy or undercooked?)
  • Pizzas are kept warm while waiting to be picked up or delivered.

Of course, delivery could have its own audit for punctuality, safe driving and money handling.

There’s a lot that goes into preparing and delivering America’s favorite food. Get the basics down on food safety, preparation, quality and consistency, and you’ll get your slice of success.

Topics: Restaurants

What the FDA’s Menu Labeling Rules Mean for Food Retailers

By Naomi Balagot

menu

Ready, set, re-label your foodservice menu!

Ah, if only it were that easy. Following government mandates can be tedious, and when it affects an industry as large as restaurants and hospitality, there are bound to be many questions and concerns from those affected.

Here’s a brief recap of events over the past year: The U.S. Food & Drug Administration released its final rules on menu labeling in November 2014. Based on comments, the FDA extended the compliance date to Dec. 1, 2015.  Vending machine operators were granted an additional year to comply.

The rationale behind the law is that posting calories on menus and menu boards, and providing other nutrient information in writing in chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments will fill a “critical information gap and help consumers make informed and healthful dietary choices,” the FDA stated on its website.

What Food Retailers are Affected?

To put it simply: everyone.

This law affects virtually every retail food business that is part of a chain with 20 or more locations, including locations doing business under the same name (franchises), and offers for sale substantially the same menu items. Each standard menu item must have a calorie declaration and there are also rules on type size and font color on menu boards.

Not included are certain foods purchased in grocery stores “or other similar retail food establishments that are typically intended for more than one person to eat and require additional preparation before consuming” e.g. deli meats, large-size deli salads and cheeses.

What Does It Cost?

When the FDA first introduced the guidelines in 2011, the agency estimated that 1,640 unique chains, including restaurants, convenience stores and supermarkets, would need to comply with the new menu labeling law. The average cost per chain were as follows:

Restaurant chains: $45,720
Grocery store chains: $22,500
C-store chains: $22,889

Making the Most Out of the Opportunity

It’s been well documented that more Americans are seeking healthier food options. Therefore, menu labeling presents both a challenge and an opportunity for retailers. The challenge is having to spend money to analyze menus and make improvements. The opportunity is the chance to revamp menus with healthier, more appealing options.

In the coming months, it will be very interesting to see what happens once menu labeling goes into full effect. Even healthy can rack up calories. For example, a recent New York Times study revealed that the average Chipotle order contains 1,070 calories.

Eyes will pop when calories are counted. Menus will change and so will customers’ purchasing decisions… or not. Only time will tell how much this law actually costs to implement, and whether or not these sweeping changes did, in fact, have a positive impact on public health.

Topics: Business Operations, Restaurants

How to Improve Category Management Efficiency

By Vladik Rikhter

Category Management

It seems that once we entered the 21st century, people in a variety of professions were expected to do more and know more with the use of technology. Technology leads to better communication, which in turn leads to improved oversight, greater efficiency and more responsibility on the employee level.

Nowadays, retail category managers are men and women who wear many hats. Their job is to oversee their categories from start to finish, from creating a strategy, determining merchandise assortment, developing planograms, pricing products and promoting them to market.

Category managers need technology to be effective communicators. Essentially, they’re bringing a corporate strategy into the real world, which has a direct impact on the customer experience.

How do they do it all? Most importantly, how do they do it well?

Global management and strategy consulting firm Kurt Salmon identifies seven facets of modern category management. Effective category managers should do the following:

1. Walk in their customers’ shoes because the modern retail environment is all about the customer experience.

2. Truly integrate with software platforms to bridge the gap between planning and execution.

3. Develop strong category strategies by using data to drive unique insights and linking them back to the category management process in an efficient way.

4. Use clean, accurate data because accuracy is key to the company’s ability to harness analytics that drive decision making which in turn improves the customer experience.

5. Translate data into actionable insights to drive smart decision-making. Kurt Salmon found that category management teams spent 80 percent of their time gathering and organizing data, and only 20 percent of their time developing actionable insights. The uneven time split indicates a missed opportunity for retailers.

6. Localize and personalize the customer experience, particularly in terms of merchandising and pricing. Retail companies can no longer afford to have a “one-size-fits-all” approach to retail execution; they must have flexibility at the store level.

7. Start planning for the future today. Retailers need a clear roadmap to manage and measure progress. They need to develop new processes that enable them to respond in real time to changing customer preferences and real-life scenarios, from changing weather that could affect sales to changes in vendor delivery schedules.

The Takeaway

Today, online competitors are knocking at the door of every brick-and-mortar retailer. Survival -- and hopefully success -- depend on efficiency in category management, the heart of the business.

Time will prove that the most successful retailers are nimble, self-sufficient in their processes, responsive to customers, and highly aware of the surrounding competitive environment.

The Secret Sauce to Fast Casual Restaurants’ Success

By Naomi Balagot

McDonalds Big Mac Special Sauce

Q: What do college students, stay-at-home parents and corporate executives have in common?

A: You’ll find them all in fast casual restaurants on their lunch hour.

Fast casual restaurants are convenient and an affordable option that places emphasis on fresh ingredients. It’s the fastest-growing segment of the restaurant industry, and with total annual sales of $38.5 billion last year (Technomic), the numbers speak for themselves.

Denver has become the capital of fast casual innovation. It makes sense since it’s also the No. 1 destination city for Millennials. The top two chains listed in FastCasual.com’s Top 100 Movers & Shakers of 2014 -- Smashburger and Chipotle – call this city home.

The fast food industry, lead by burger giant McDonald’s has faced a steady stream of backlash over the last few years primarily due to health concerns, so it’s interesting that a burger concept is the leader of fast casual. What’s even more interesting is the fact that Smashburger’s CEO is a former Taco Bell and Pizza Hut executive. All three of these chains have something in common: menu innovation outside of the traditional fast food hamburger joint.

Smashburger scores big on the better-burger concept. The chain offers certified angus beef burgers and rosemary-and-garlic seasoned fries, and even your vegetarian friend can order a fresh salad.

According to Smashburger founder Tom Ryan, the three must-haves of fast casual are fresh ingredients, friendly service and a high-energy atmosphere. Ethnic flavors, from Thai to Greek, lend themselves to fresh ingredients and flavors. The key is to make delicious menu items that put your customers in a “food coma” -- not have an atmosphere that does it for you!

See Also: Top 3 Franchised Restaurants Trends for 2015

Going forward, Ryan says, fast casual’s main challenge will be delivering food as quickly as fast food chains, if not faster. He also predicts that fast casual restaurants will have an impact on full-service restaurants. We’re already seeing it happen as some restaurants are offering guests more affordable menu options and the option of ordering from the counter.

Brand Consistency is Key

The fact remains that every fast casual champion -- no matter if they’re selling burgers or a plate of noodles -- is a master of brand consistency across the franchise. If you walk into any Chipotle in the country, you’re going to expect the same ordering experience and the same quality of food.

The next time you visit a fast casual restaurant, take notes. Observe their process and see what makes them both consistent and efficient.

Remember that every one of these chains started with a unique concept that was perfected over time. The sauces may be secret, but it always gets bottled!

Topics: Restaurants

Digital Menu Boards: What Foodservice Operators Need to Know

By Vladik Rikhter

digital-menu-board

Once thought to be a luxury for large-chain operations, digital menu boards are becoming increasingly popular in quick-service restaurants and other foodservice businesses.

According to Mazen Naser of Dynamic & Static Digital Signage, digital signage has seen several advancements in commercial-grade LCD TV technology as well as improvements in the display’s content management software and digital media players. This has lowered the cost of digital signage, including menu boards, for small, medium and large businesses.

How do you know if digital menu boards are right for your foodservice operation? Before making this decision, gather as much sales data as you can and develop a strategy.

Here are some important things to keep in mind:

1. Menu strategy

Tom Cook, an expert in the digital menu space, calls this the “missing link” to menu board optimization. Where are sales and profits coming from in your stores? Identify strengths and weaknesses in your sales. Consider the local market, demographics, economic climate and regulations.

Tip: Digital menu boards allow you to experiment by introducing new items and following foodservice trends. However, you’ll want to develop a schedule for implementing changes so your brand won’t seem fickle. Sudden menu changes could disappointment loyal patrons, so gather their feedback before making major updates.

2. Equipment

Screen size, screen resolution, media players and content management systems are all decisions that will need to be made. Will updates be made from a cloud-based solution or will each store use a computer to update their menu boards? Will you use Wi-Fi Internet or a 3G network?

Tip: Unless you have someone on staff with this level of technical knowledge, it’s probably best to consult with a technology provider. Many companies offer services from design to implementation and will advise you on customizable features, including the ability to update your menus from a mobile device.

3. Design

How will items appear on screen? Customers are going to look at certain areas of the menu first. As Cook explains, the bestselling, highest-margin items need to be more impactful than low-margin items.Also, will your menus have high-resolution still photos, video or a combination of both on rotation? Video will likely have higher production cost, so consider your budget. Remember branding and promotion when designing.

Tip: Analyze sales data along with menu item profitability. You must understand where your sales are coming from in order to determine how you place items on the screen. Digital menu boards will help you simplify dayparting and franchise management.

4. Placement

Determine where to place the screens in your store. If you want to understand how your customers order, put yourself in their shoes. Make sure the screens aren’t too far away and angle them for readability.

Tip: Early on in the process, when you’re deciding where screens will be placed, make sure there are enough wall electrical outlets for screens and players.

Remember to train your staff before the screens go live. On a store level, review how to properly clean the screens. It may depend on the size of your operation, but you should determine who will be responsible for updating menus. Decide if franchisees will be given guidelines to make changes or if the screens will be controlled from a central location.

If not done in unison, such changes can result in confusion that negatively impacts your brand.

See also: Using Retail Digital Signage to Boost Your Brand

Topics: Restaurants