Operations Leaders Feature: Cowabunga Pizza

By Cassie Ebinger

Operations Execution Best Practices

It might be called last-mile delivery, but it takes the hard work and commitment of training for a marathon.

Domino’s pizza franchise Cowabunga Pizza is an organization that knows the meaning of achieving goals over time through a lot of hard work and accountability. Founded in 1990 with nine stores, the franchise operator has grown exponentially to 108 in three states in seven different markets, with more than 2,000 employees.

Jay Gaines, vice president of operations for all of Team Cowabunga’s Dominos locations, started with Cowabunga at age 18, working his way up through the company. He’s seen how the dawn of mobile technology has impacted the pizza delivery business, and he recognizes that when used correctly, the same technology could help the company reach its goal: elevating the customer experience with “a great product, great service and great image.”

In pursuit of greater efficiency and accountability, Gaines turned to Zenput, an operational execution platform that helps companies in the restaurant and retail space be able to execute better in the field and at the store level.

Taking into account his personal experience as well as his experience with the Zenput platform, Gaines shares 5 best practices for franchises:

  1. Visit stores for quality control

70% of restaurant operators report that a primary hurdle to consistent experiences is stores not correctly following operational procedures. – Zenput’s Restaurant Operations Survey, Sept. 2018

Prior to Zenput, one of Jay’s key challenges was tracking the activities of regional managers, each charged with seven to eight stores. The managers were supposed to communicate store conditions and provide guidance to staff. Jay wanted the regional managers to interact with store employees during their visits and not be buried in paperwork.

“Coaching, teaching and being there for the team is more important than evaluations. The evaluations come after you’ve taught them to make sure they have all the right systems in place,” Jay explained.

Converting Domino’s paper audit to Zenput’s mobile forms freed managers of manual data entry. The app could geocode their location, easily organizing audit forms and notes by location. The ability to upload photos also provided visual communication and confirmation that assigned tasks were completed.

  1. Maintain visibility and accountability

Only 20% of respondents graded the roll-out of operating procedures and key initiatives as “very effective” in terms of store compliance.

Another challenge Jay had was store compliance, from cleanliness to rollout of promotional materials. Before Zenput, there were clipboards and pieces of paper to assign tasks, but that paper trail was often mishandled with no accountability and follow-up for time-sensitive actions.

With Zenput, Cowabunga managers can see an assigned task, return to complete a task and adhere to a deadline, whether it’s monthly, weekly or daily. Some tasks are recurring, while others are one-off directives. Jay and other supervisors can clearly communicate deadlines and provide steps that guide the managers to correctly execute a task. The platform also provides historical context for compliance, helping managers to identify weaknesses in operational execution and work towards a solution.  

“Zenput isn’t just a tool to beat [employees] up,” Jay cautions. “It’s a tool to coach them and show them where they’ve gotten better.” It’s working, he adds. Overall, Zenput has helped Cowabunga to achieve cleaner stores, better operations and better-looking pizza.

  1. Centralize operations and give teams access to actionable data

Two out of 3 respondents say it takes anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks to address issues once identified at their stores.

Jay saw opportunity beyond the regional managers and shares actionable data with key teams throughout the Cowabunga organization.

One example is in human resources management. Drivers are unable to clock in if their vehicles are past inspection. Using Zenput, store managers can conduct their own vehicle inspections, and the results are shared with HR. When the manager confirms that the vehicle is up to date on inspection, the driver is unlocked and able to clock in again. In another example, real-life photos are used to create accurate and realistic employee training modules.

  1. Immediately respond to food safety and other risks

Only 50% of respondents were confident in their ability to identify food safety concerns before they become an issue, while only 18% are able to “very quickly” identify store-level issues that may require a fix or some form of intervention.

Jay used to initiate an email chain to communicate issues that needed to be addressed immediately. Now he and other managers can immediately report a condition from their mobile devices while at the store. Zenput alerts initiate a chain of command, communicating the task to team members who can resolve the problem. Alerts can also be created through Zenput audits, which ask specific questions on food safety and handling, whether it’s the temperature of refrigerated foods or handwashing protocol.

  1. Be open to technology and change

Almost 75% of managers called out improving compliance with operating procedures a top priority over the next 12 months. A vast majority, 92%, say that they’re either using mobile tech today to enable their store operations or have plans to do so in the near future.

Jay is open to any new technology that helps stores and employees. Taking a top-down approach to implementation, Cowabunga supervisors first used Zenput’s app before it was rolled out to 108 stores. While Jay believes in leveraging technology to improve operational efficiencies, he doesn’t want a software platform to run the business. Ultimately, technology is the tool that helps facilitate change.

“Embrace the change because change is coming; it’s always there,” he advises.

Listen to the full webinar and Q&A with Jay Gaines and Zenput CEO Vladik Rikhter.

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