Your Sales Are Falling: What Next?

By Brian Harris


Marketing and operations: In your organization, do they work together like peanut butter and jelly? Or are they more like oil and water?

If they’re the latter, you could have a problem on your hands when your sales fall or when they “hiccup.” A hiccup is temporary. You make an adjustment—drink some water, hold your hands above your head—and it eventually it goes away. But a persistent hiccup is a more serious condition that may require medical attention. In the world of sales, this attention may come in the form of a retail sales audit. Or, it may just be a matter of looking at both marketing and operations at the store level.

The “Dos” and “Don’ts” of Diagnosing the Problem

DON’T throw more money at a program without a way of measuring ROI

What change did you make in marketing? Look at changes in your loyalty programs or couponing. Although this may seem like backdoor data analysis, the success of marketing programs is very much tied to store-level processes. For instance, a change in your marketing program must be communicated at the store level in order to be successful.

DO make adjustments in the field

Once it rolls out across your network, a marketing program isn’t a framed portrait hanging on a wall. It’s living, breathing, and changing. Gathering store-level insights helps you respond to real-time challenges. Communicating those challenges to staff in a timely way is just as critical.

DON’T mistake an operations problem for a marketing problem

Let’s reconsider the hypothetical loyalty program rollout. Have your employees received proper training to explain the new program to a customer who has questions? Preparedness doesn’t have to involve a face-to-face customer interaction. With the arrival of warm weather, many convenience stores are rolling out fountain drink beverage programs. If those machines aren’t prepped and ready for higher volume, the results of that program could be disastrous. C-store shoppers pair snacks with beverage purchases, so the loss can be felt across multiple categories.

DON’T blame your staff

True, some employees are prone to underperformance. But preparation, training, and accountability are on their managers. Employees will become disenfranchised when they aren’t given feedback or if they don’t think a manager is responding to their specific needs. Listen to your staff—they’re your eyes and ears in the store.

DO audit your staff

You’ve heard the saying that your team is only as strong as its weakest link. Your regional manager doesn’t have to interrogate staff on his/her next visit to the store. But asking employees a few questions at the point-of-sale, observing their ability to assist a customer, and generally noting their whereabouts in the store (staffing behind registers, at the food ordering counter, etc.), can be helpful in understanding sales performance.

DON’T blame outside competition for stagnating sales

It could be that there’s a new competitor in the market, but their presence shouldn’t sabotage your business suddenly. Strive to perfect your greatest strengths, but also address your weaknesses. With the rise of channel blurring and added competition from quick-service restaurants and drug stores, there’s little room for error in providing “the basics”—a clean, inviting store with friendly staff.

DO create checklists to make sure the basics are being met

Use a checklist to ensure that daily operational tasks are met. Also note where expectations are exceeded. Reward managers and employees for a job well done. These recognitions incentivize employees and can do wonders for morale.

“There’s an App for That”

DO look at how technology can help your network improve.

A mobile solution like Zenput provides store-level insights and accountability. Track the progress of a marketing program rollout. Create checklists to strengthen your core operations and identify weaknesses. Upload a photo or video to get the point across faster and with clarity.

We started out with a basic question: What do you do next when sales are falling? Well, where do most people turn when they have a question or need? Nowadays, a lot of them reach for their mobile device to look up an answer! That’s what Zenput provides—real-time answers at your fingertips, readily accessible through a user-friendly platform.

Topics: Retail

Time to Reject the Status Quo in the C-store Workforce

By Brian Harris


Now in its eighth year, Convenience Store Decisions and Humetrics Human Resources Benchmarking Survey identifies the key employee issues affecting convenience store retailers and what they can do to overcome them.

Respondents represented chains of varying sizes with varying annual revenue. About 45% were corporate personnel, and store managers and human resource professionals represented another 23% each. Below, we’ve summarized some of the report’s key findings, and offered our own analysis on what can improve.

Stagnate Employment Indicates Stagnant Employees

It’s the perennial trend of the convenience store industry: The biggest human resources challenge in 2015 was keeping good people. Among respondents, 71% expect that to be the same case for 2016. While 26.5% expect to add more staff this year, 60% expect they will not change significantly in 2016. In terms of employee turnover, 28.3% of respondents saw an increase in 2015, but experienced an hourly employee turnover of just 55%, which is lower than what NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, reported (77%).

Analysis: CSD points out that few retailers are taking any proactive measures or doing anything differently to meet this challenge. They also point out the fact that when employees are fired, it’s mostly due to attitude issues. For this reason, pre-employment attitude screening tools can help.

We see another opportunity in increasing employee accountability in a way that keeps employees engaged. This needs to be a wake-up call for the industry. We’re not advocates of micro-managing—in fact, that’s counterproductive and quells innovation. Rather, we advocate for the clear assignment of roles and the ability of the employer to follow up on whether or not tasks are completed.

Increasing the productivity of your staff will help your bottom line, and it can also make employees more engaged. No staff member should feel they’re picking up the slack for someone else on the team. When good employees believe they are heard and treated equally, they are more likely to stay. Ideally, these good employees will advance into management roles—a win for everyone!

Training on the Upswing

Whereas in 2015, 70% of respondents reported that training programs stayed about the same, 44% expect them to stay the same in 2016. Retailers who plan to increase training will put the greatest emphasis on customer service skills (78%), followed by foodservice safety/sanitation (44%), manager/district training and teamwork (43% each).

Analysis: These stats are definitely a silver lining. It tells us that retailers are realizing the benefit of increased attention to new employee on-boarding, and perhaps they’re learning the hard lessons of the food industry over the past year. While foodborne pathogens in the supply chain may be difficult to control, retailers must do everything in their power to maintain sanitary conditions in food preparation areas. It’s no longer acceptable just to “wing it”—they must follow a checklist to ensure all appropriate measures are taken.

Missed Opportunity Through Technology

When asked about new technologies acquired to improve the hiring process and/or increase productivity, nearly 60% of retailers reported no additions in 2015 and 50% have nothing planned in 2016. The other 35% mostly mentioned new systems of payroll, recruiting and scheduling.

Analysis: What about task management through mobile technology?  The best part about implementation of mobile technology is that it doesn’t require a large investment in new equipment. Rather, it’s a matter of employees downloading an app onto their smartphones. Create a checklist for your managers, assign specific tasks to specific stores, and monitor completion of critical tasks. In the convenience industry, a real-time solution—one that includes GPS locator and the ability to attach a photo—just makes sense.

It’s time to stop settling for the status quo in the convenience store workforce. From retailers to technology providers, let’s make it a goal to work together to increase productivity and improve the adaptability of this ever-changing industry.

Read CSD’s full report

Topics: C-store

McD's Channel Blurring with All-You-Can Eat Fries

By Brian Harris


Let’s all take a moment to consider two facts about McDonald’s:

  1. Seventy percent of business comes through the drive-thru window. (Bloomberg, Nov. 15)
  2. A franchisee in Missouri is about to test a McDonald’s sit-down restaurant prototype. (St. Joseph Press-News)

Both are true—and truly opposite!  What gives?

It’s not exactly news that channel blurring has been on the rise for the past few years. Dubbed the “McDonald’s of the Future,” the restaurant will combine everything customers enjoy about modern, convenient dining. Earthy tones will evoke the feeling of a fast-casual dining atmosphere (think Panera) complete with couches, arm chairs and self-order kiosks. Touchscreen menus are not a new concept either. In another show of channel blurring with convenience stores, McDonald’s has expanded its “Create Your Taste” concept, featuring self-ordering kiosks, across the country.

While the minimum wage debate continues, self-ordering kiosks are not designed to replace employees. Rather, they are designed to enhance customer service by allowing patrons to personalize their orders, from burgers and sandwiches to desserts. But the most “restaurant-y” features of them all in the McDonald’s of the Future? All-you-can-eat french fries and tableside service!

Convenience stores have worked hard to shake their old “cokes and smokes” image. It seems that McDonald’s is also trying to reinvent itself from “fry and fly.” Indeed, the futuristic McDonald’s restaurant will encourage customers to come in and take their time. Kiosks can actually slow down the ordering process as customers select more fresh ingredients, customers can linger with a McCafé in the lounge area, and kids won’t want to leave the revamped play area, complete with digital play and tabletop video games. A separate party room with a dedicated staff will allow families to have birthdays and special occasions.

The Importance of the Other 30 Percent

Let’s revisit the first fact we shared about McDonald’s. While the 70% of customers visiting the drive-thru are crucial to success, the company is very wisely not overlooking the other 30% of its business.

Customized menu options tend to have higher prices, so the opportunity is to upsell on menu items. It’s also about brand-building and creating more loyalty with a better restaurant environment. When the foot traffic segment increases in value, the business benefits as a whole.

That’s an interesting proposition, whether you operate in the convenience store or QSR space. It’s smart to take the strongest area of your business and strive to become the best at it. But it’s just as wise to look at other areas where you can better serve your core customer. In this case, it seems McDonald’s is taking steps to appeal to Millennial parents, the upcoming generation of big spenders.

Testing these concepts at the store level will only broaden McDonald’s horizons. As a brand, these are the kinds of insights they’ll need if the restaurant of the future is to become a reality nationwide.

Topics: Restaurants

Bottom Line: Car Washes Increase Revenue

By Jennifer Hoffman


With convenience stores selling an estimated 80% of the gasoline purchased in the U.S., adding a car wash may seem like a good idea. It gets even more promising when 86% of U.S. car wash equipment manufacturers reported a collective revenue increasing of 20% last year, according to a 2015 industry survey.

The study appeared in a Convenience Store Decisions article about car washes becoming a high-margin opportunity for convenience stores. “Presuming there is a market to be served and the site has the ability to process the demand, the car wash can contribute significantly to the bottom line,” Eric Wulf, CEO of the International Carwash Association, told CSD. He added that convenience store operators have more options than ever before due to new models and technologies. From mini-tunnels that minimize land usage to RFID technology that automates payment, more retailers are having success by increasing their throughput of cars per hour.

Car Wash Fundamentals

Like the convenience store or gas island, a car wash must be clean and functional, and offer a positive customer service experience. Car wash promotions are connected to the store’s marketing efforts and can tie into loyalty programs; the profit margins are intertwined.

CSD profiles Idaho-based Stinker Stores, which operates two touchless and eight soft-touch car washes. The select number of stores offering those services is notable, considering Stinker Stores operates 65 locations throughout the state. All of the systems have upgraded equipment to maximize efficiency and ensure that customers are getting the best experience.

Remember the Nationwide insurance commercial which depicted a rather large human baby as a car? Don’t mess with your customer’s baby! They will take to social media to complain, including on platforms like Yelp, and this can damage your brand.

Honk if You Have a Process

Whether installing or maintaining a car wash operation, it’s essential that you audit your operations both for functionality and marketing program compliance.

Sample audit questions:

  1. On average how long does it take a car to be washed, from the time it arrives at the terminal to the time the customer is ready to leave?
  2. Is equipment operational? (Can be more specific: brushes, rinsers, wipers, blow dryers, etc.)
  3. Is the car wash terminal an inviting, well-lit environment?

If the survey was built with Zenput, an answer of “no” to questions 2 and 3 would elicit a photo or explanation that could alert senior management that service is needed. Senior management could also set the average service time for Question 1. Therefore, they would receive an alert when the service time was taking too long. There might be a malfunction inside the tunnel or simply a traffic jam on a bright, sunny day when everyone wants a wash.

We usually say Zenput provides store-level insights. In this case, wash-level insights—down to a lack of soap—could be accounted for during an audit. It’s yet another example of how mobile technology can empower business operators to explore profit-building opportunities—without the fear of losing your shirt in the wash!

Topics: C-store

FDA’s New Rule on Sanitary Transportation Drives Home Importance of Technology

By Brian Harris


On April 5, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule. This is the sixth rule of seven that implement FDA’s landmark Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). According to FDA, “the rule will require those involved in transporting human and animal food by motor or rail vehicle to follow recognized best practices for sanitary transportation, such as properly refrigerating food, adequately cleaning vehicles between loads, and properly protecting food during transportation.”

Quick History

The rule implements the Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 2005 (SFTA) as well as the requirement in section 111 of FSMA. The rule was proposed in February 2014 and builds on the transportation industry’s best practices for cleaning, inspecting, maintaining, loading and unloading, and operating vehicles and transportation equipment.

What/Who is Impacted

The sanitary food transportation rule establishes requirements for shippers, loaders, carriers by motor or rail vehicle, and receivers. Limitations in the law exempt transportation by ship or air. The rule does not apply to companies who ship food through the United States by motor or rail vehicle if the food does not enter U.S. distribution. However, companies involved in the transportation of food intended for export are covered by the rule until the shipment reaches a port or U.S. border.

Key Requirements

There are four key requirements of the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule.

  1. Vehicles and transportation equipment must be suitable for the task. They must be able to maintain temperatures necessary for the safe transport of food.
  2. Transportation operations must account for food safety. Temperatures must be controlled, ready-to-eat-foods must not come in contact with raw foods, and foods must not have contact with allergens or non-food items.
  3. Personnel must be properly trained in sanitary transportation practices and the training must be documented. Training is required when the carrier and shipper agree that the carrier is responsible for sanitary conditions during transport.
  4. Records must be properly maintained for written procedures, agreements, and the aforementioned carrier training. Retention time for recordkeeping varies depending on the type of record and when the activity occurred; however, it does not exceed 12 months.


Failure to comply with the Sanitary Transport Rule, including recordkeeping requirements, is a “prohibited act” under the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act. Violations carry the risk not only of civil enforcement but also strict liability criminal penalties. A person who commits a prohibited act under the FD&C Act can be subject to misdemeanor and felony liability regardless of negligence and regardless of whether the person knew of the violation. A second misdemeanor is a felony. FDA intends to coordinate enforcement with the Department of Transportation and potentially with state personnel.

As attorneys on point out: “[...] covered entities should clarify the scope of what might appear to be routine inspections… Companies that are covered by the new regulations should review their practices and procedures to ensure compliance and to avoid regulatory and litigation risks.”

Why You Need Technology Today  

In the age of technology, FSMA mandates such as the new sanitary transportation rule shouldn’t be as daunting. Technology exists to track shipments with GPS and digital thermometers can record temperatures of food. However, the rules can pose a problem when an organization doesn’t have a good grasp on accountability. At any given time, a carrier should be able to know whether or not its best practices have been followed. It should be able to measure compliance.

Mobile software solutions like Zenput help ensure that crucial tasks are being completed and that your staff has the information they need to ensure best practices are being upheld. With Zenput, checklists can be assigned to managers at specific locations, and a bird’s eye view of compliance—who completed the task, who didn’t, and problems encountered—is readily accessible. Importantly, Zenput provides the opportunity to identify and address compliance issues before they go beyond your organization.

The best part about this cloud-based technology is that no new devices are needed to implement it. The platform is readily accessible on a mobile device.

Topics: Restaurants

The Minimum Wage is Rising… As Should Employee Accountability

By Jennifer Hoffman


In California, the “fight for $15” didn’t have to reach a ballot vote, as was initially expected. Just the prospect of the November ballot incentivized lawmakers to form a plan to raise the minimum wage in a way that would appease groups on both sides of the issue. Governor Jerry Brown signed SB3 into law Monday, April 4, making California the largest state to improve the standard of living for low-wage workers, approximately 3.3 million men and women in California.

Under California’s new law, the minimum wage will rise by 50 cents in each of the next two years to $10.50 in 2017 and $11 in 2018. It will then rise by $1 for the remaining four years to reach $15 in 2022. The law grants small businesses with 25 or fewer employees an additional year to comply.

April 4 also saw the passage of a New York law that gradually raises the minimum wage from $9 to $15. This law is two-tiered, meaning a higher $15 per hour minimum in New York City and a lower legal minimum for less-costly areas. The bill also contains a “safety valve” that from 2019 allows state budget officials to consider the effects of the wage increases on regional economies and determine whether they should continue or be suspended. New York City businesses with up to 10 employees are given four years instead of three to comply.

Employee Accountability Should Rise With Minimum Wage

Not surprisingly, reactions to both laws in California and New York varied dramatically. Low-income workers and their advocates were elated, while business owners and officials expressed disappointment and concern about long-term effects on the competitive environment in each state.

Regardless of where business operators stand on the issue, there’s one point everyone can agree on: When you pay an employee more, you expect a comparable return from your employees. Likewise, customers increasingly demand a better customer service experience. They expect this on their own, but especially when they know workers are making more money. In light of these factors, it just makes sense that accountability within organizations should increase with rising wages.

Employee accountability begins with the onboarding process and clear communication of the standards that reinforce your brand’s mission. It ends with your organization’s ability to account for its own practices and procedures. Employee accountability comes down to having processes you can quantify.

Quantifying includes retail employee performance reviews, but extends well beyond that. It involves auditing the main floor, whether it’s a store or restaurant. It prioritizes cleanliness, whether it’s in the kitchen where employees work or in the restrooms your customers use. It accounts for the exterior of the premises, from the tidiness of the landscaping to the proper disposal of trash.

Are the tasks that support your brand’s image being completed? That’s the question business operators need to answer in order to gain actionable insights.

In theory, minimum wage increases can be good for the economy. When employees earn more, they spend more. The issue is that legislative decisions don’t exist in a vacuum. Businesses want to attract and retain good employees. In order to build and maintain a positive work environment, business owners and operators—especially those in high-turnover segments—must “take the temperature” of their operations. Implementing these processes will ensure that the employer is getting the most return for higher hourly wages.

See Also
How to Conduct a Retail Employee Performance Review
How to Conduct a Property Inspection
Brand Auditing for QSRs

Topics: Restaurants

Donating Unsold Food: It’s All in the Process

By Vladik Rikhter


Starbucks recently announced that it would donate 100% of unsold food that’s still safe to consume to help feed the hungry. With 7,600 Starbucks stores set to participate, coordinating this effort was going to require a well-planned system.

To properly develop a way to safely donate fresh food, Starbucks has been investing in research and quality assurance testing. Starbucks has named the program FoodShare, and will rely on an existing collaboration with Food Donation Connection and a new partnership with Feeding America. The program will focus on the donation of ready-to-eat meals. Food Donation Connection will pick up the food from Starbucks locations in refrigerated vans and deliver it to Feeding America for distribution to food banks.

According to Starbucks, the program had to be piloted because they had to make sure fresh items would remain cold enough to ensure their safety for consumption. Compliance is key. The temperature, texture, and flavor of the surplus food were all taken into account, a brand manager on the Starbucks Food team told USA Today.

The fact that a Starbucks brand manager commented is interesting. No matter how noble the deed, a donation to charity must be treated similarly to a marketing program rollout. The reason is simple: Your brand’s good name is attached to it.

In the first year alone, Starbucks FoodShare will be able to provide 5 million meals to individuals and families in need. Starbucks plans to scale this program over the next five years, eventually “rescuing” 100% of its food available for donation from participating company-operated stores. The effort could amount to 50 million meals by 2021.

Looking at Starbucks’ press release, I noticed the word “rescue.” That’s a term tied to Feeding America, and it’s actually more powerful than the word “donate” when describing this program. “Donate” connotes something was unneeded or unwanted. “Rescue” connotes that it was both valued and wanted. Again, the word choice is very much tied to branding.

In the future, Starbucks is hoping to expand its program and offer the service of its refrigerated vans to other restaurants. Considering 70 billion pounds of food is wasted in America each year, according to Feed America, Starbucks is hoping other businesses join the effort.

The Takeaway

The simple, underlying fact is that throwing out unsold food is easier than developing the process to donate or rescue it. That process is going to cost time and money. But a company has to ask itself this question: Do the benefits outweigh the cost?

Starbucks has positioned itself as the market leader in this effort because it invested the time and resources into developing a system that’s measurable. As a values-oriented company, Starbucks wouldn’t settle for less. In fact, if you visit the homepage of their website “Responsibility” is the tab next to “Coffeehouse.”

“We make sure everything we do is through the lens of humanity—from our commitment to the highest quality in the world, to the way we engage with our customers and communities to do business responsibly,” Starbucks writes under Company Information.

Starbucks is certainly not the first to come up with this food bank idea. However, they’re the first major foodservice chain to develop a program as comprehensive as FoodShare. There are other brands in the foodservice industry that haven’t lived up to lofty promises to donate unsold food—or maybe they have but they don’t have a means of sharing that information.

These brands should re-evaluate their presence in the communities they serve. They must keep in mind that actions speak louder than words, and through the lens of marketing, actions can be more influential when you have a means of sharing their progress.

Topics: Restaurants

Norovirus Prevention Can Be Measured

By Jennifer Hoffman


Google “norovirus” and what appears is basically all you need to know—“winter vomiting bug.” But what should also appear is a “reoccurring nightmare for the restaurant industry.”

Norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, about 50% of all outbreaks of food-related illness are caused by norovirus. Some foods are more commonly associated with outbreaks, including leafy greens, fresh fruits, and shellfish such as oysters. However, any food that is raw or handled after being cooked can become contaminated.

Health care facilities accounted for nearly 63% of norovirus outbreaks from 2009 through 2012, according to the CDC. The restaurant industry was the only other double-digit source at 22%. Infected food workers are frequently the source of outbreaks, meaning they touched food with their bare hands.

The Real Cost of Norovirus

While the CDC findings are important to understanding the scope of norovirus, it’s equally as important to drive home the dollar and cents of an outbreak. A recent norovirus outbreak at a Chipotle in Massachusetts serves as an example of how quickly things can spiral out of control for a brand.

Four of the employees at a Boston-area Chipotle came down with norovirus after being infected during an outbreak at their high school. One of the employee’s parents decided to alert the media as well as the local health department, which temporarily shut down the store. This incident was on the heels of Chipotle’s brush with a multiple-state E.coli outbreak. What followed was a mass exodus of investors and a $750 million loss in the company’s market cap in two days. Notably, the employees had not come to work sick and there were no reports of ill customers.

Given this perfect storm of foodborne illness, you might just think Chipotle has exceptionally bad luck. But you would have to say the same for Buffalo Wild Wings, which faced its own norovirus outbreak in Kansas right before Super Bowl Sunday. Once state officials confirmed the outbreak, the company’s stock fell 13% in one day to a 15-month low.

Don’t Leave Norovirus Prevention Up to ‘Luck’

Restaurant and foodservice brands must make every effort to prevent norovirus outbreaks. It start with training employees and ends with accountability; both can be documented.


Every employee must receive norovirus training during their on-boarding. Document when each employee has completed training, and have them sign off that they understand their responsibility to notify management if they contract norovirus or experience symptoms.


As part of a pre-shift checklist, each restaurant manager should ask employees if they have experienced any norovirus symptoms in the last two days.

Note: In the form, be sure to clearly list what those symptoms are, including diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. Other symptoms include fever, headache, and body aches.

Reacting to ‘Yes’

Let’s consider when your employee genuinely is sick and tells you. Management should be notified immediately. The employee should be sent home and the reason should be indicated in the form. If the employee was sent home mid-shift, the areas where the employee worked should be cleaned thoroughly.

Note: Set the guidelines for what constitutes a thorough cleaning. For instance, if the person was in charge of handling fresh vegetables, discard those vegetables and wash utensils/equipment they handled. Document when the food was discarded.

More Than an ‘Honors System’

To a certain extent, the success of accountability procedures comes down to the honors system.

  • Does every employee stay home when they are sick? No.
  • Do other employees want to “tattle” that a colleague is sick? Probably not.

Still, that doesn’t mean employees can’t be incentivized.  There should be a safeguard of anonymity, and perhaps even an incentive, if an employee alerts management that a colleague is ill with norovirus symptoms and handling food.

Depending on the size of the network, regional managers could verify the norovirus checklists of individual stores during a routine audit. Through a platform like Zenput, senior management could receive an alert about any store that’s not in line with training and accountability.

When it comes to compliance, food safety is too important not to follow up for compliance. In the event of an outbreak and subsequent investigation, your documentation and ability to take corrective action will make all the difference in moving past the incident.

Topics: Restaurants

First USDA-Certified Restaurant is Well-Timed Alternative

By Jennifer Hoffman


Like most good ideas, it started with a problem. Erica Welton, a former Costco food buyer, was frustrated by the lack of clean, quick options at lunchtime or on busy weekends. She would see people order organic greens in restaurants and then pour non-organic dressing on them—it defeated the purpose.

Welton’s restaurant, The Organic Coup, is reportedly the country’s first USDA-certified organic fast-food restaurant. USDA certification is not an easy benchmark. It means 95% or more of the ingredients served at this restaurant come from certified organic growers and farmers, as required by the USDA to receive certification.

Now you may be thinking, “Great. Another place where I can get a kale smoothie!” But that’s not the case, at all. In fact, the main menu item is The Coup Signature Sandwich—a fried chicken sandwich made with all organic ingredients and served with a side of popcorn. You can also get a chicken wrap or salad.

Welton has an aggressive growth plan for The Organic Coup. The first location in Pleasanton, CA, opened in November, and 25 are expected to open in the next 14 months. The chain will depart from the typical QSR in another big way: the starting salary at The Organic Coup is $16, which is $3.75 more per hour than the current minimum wage.

The Organic Coup is carrying out three trends we’ve witnessed in the QSR and fast-casual dining spaces in recent months:

  1. Better-for-you ingredients
  2. Simplified menu
  3. Paying employees higher wages.

For point 1, a parallel can be drawn to Panera, who made a commitment to drop artificial ingredients from its food, including 150 food additives, by the end of 2016. In the QSR segment, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Burger King have introduced healthy and nutritious food items to their menus. According to research firm Technavio, these new items, including fruits, salads, and low-fat chocolate milk will likely contribute to market growth in the Americas through 2019.

Point 2 is reminiscent of McDonald’s realization that their menu was too complicated. In early 2015, they rolled out a simplified menu with fewer items to reduce confusion and increase speed. The Organic Coup is starting out with just three menu options and two sides.

Menu prices are tied to both menu quality and employee wages. Point 3 can be compared to Shake Shack’s recent decision to raise menu prices while paying employees more, ahead of minimum wage increases which some cities have already enacted or are currently working to legislate. There’s also something to be said for quality: Shake Shack charges more for a premium burger. Similarly, a chicken sandwich from The Organic Coup will cost you around $9. It’s a good hike from a dollar menu, but with USDA certification, you’re confident in the quality of the product you’re purchasing.

The Takeaway

In many ways, The Organic Coup represents the future of fast-food. Not all restaurants will be able to make the transition to USDA-certified menus, but the point isn’t lost. The industry is well aware of changing consumer preferences.

The decision is not one that can be made overnight, but more QSRs can start the conversation now. They may have to reformulate products, switch vendors, and possibly change how a product is made at the store-level. Such decisions may affect prices, but they can also be a great promotional opportunity for your brand.

Don’t wait too long to start the process. There are competitors at every turn, and your customer might just go for that new chicken joint down the block.

Topics: Restaurants

Brand Auditing for QSRs

By Brian Harris


Anyone familiar with our software solution knows that we’re staunch advocates for executing at the store level. But sometimes you need to zoom out and look at the brand itself. You can become too focused on perfecting individual processes that you lose sight of what the processes are designed to accomplish.

Look at each process in your organization as if it’s a piece of a puzzle. When put together, the puzzle creates your brand image. So what does that image look like right now? It is possible to audit your brand just as you would audit at the store level. It comes down to designing a checklist that will help you determine if certain goals are being met.

Here are some questions to consider:

1. What is your brand strategy and brand promise?

This is equivalent to a mission statement. It will vary in wording, but no matter what kind of business you have, it probably should mention what each customer should expect on their next visit.

2. How is your brand positioned?

  • Knowing your market size and competitors.
  • Knowing what you do better than competitors.

3. Who is your typical customer? Does your brand speak to them?

Remember Taco Bell’s 2013 decision to remove their kids’ menu in an effort to focus on their core, Millennial customers. The strategy has been working. Taco Bell saw 8.2% sales growth in 2015—the second strongest performance among chains behind Starbucks, according to Technomic Inc.’s latest report.

4. How do customers perceive your brand?

This is where ­­investing in research can help.­ Unbiased polls and surveys can reveal important perceptions about your brand. It can also serve as a report card for how your brand aligns with its goals.

5. What are your brand elements?

URLs, social media presence, symbols, characters, spokespeople, jingles, slogans, packages and signage. The list goes on. All of these should reflect your brand.

A broader-focused brand audit can point you in the right direction for what you need to fix, but you’ll have to investigate at the store level to find out how the brand is being delivered.

The Measurable Parts of Your Brand Audit

Remember these 5 P’s:

1. Product

If you want to be the best burger joint in your local market, your offerings need to reflect that.

Check for compliance: See if your product is prepared correctly at the store level.

2. Placement

Stores need to be set up according to brand standards.   

Check for compliance: Franchised QSRs should be in compliance for the same tables, chairs, fixtures and art.  This also relates to signage placement and drive-thru operations.

3. Price

To be the best product in town, you have to have competitive prices. This comes down to awareness of competitor pricing.

Check for compliance: A simple photo of menu boards can help verify your pricing strategy across a network.

4. Promotion

The “big picture” aspect of auditing promotions is how you’re promoting, whether it’s TV, radio, or print. Customers expect locations to participate in the promotion, and they expect a similar experience from store to store.

Check signage for compliance: Signage is something that can be verified easily—it’s either present and placed correctly, or it’s not.

5. Property

Nothing can damage your brand faster than a dirty restroom, a sticky floor, or litter on the premises. 

Check for compliance: A thorough property inspection comes down to a good checklist. So maybe you don’t want to share a photo of a toilet. But maybe on your next visit to a store, a regional manager rates what he finds on a scale of 1 to 10 with “10” indicating the highest marks. Any area that gets rated a 5 or lower will be reviewed further.

Be sure to tell store managers and employees what you expect prior to auditing. It’s not about intimidating or micro-managing your staff; it’s about improving communication. Encourage them to provide input on how your brand can improve, and incentivize them to do their part in raising the bar. The brand can only improve when everyone works together in unison.

Topics: Restaurants