Brian Harris

Recent Posts

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

Operating in ‘The Now’ with Mobile Technology

By Brian Harris

mobile-shopping-in-storeIn a previous blog post about Omnichannel retail, I suggested that retailers have to “start thinking mobile” because that’s where their customers are moving. However, I also explained how it doesn’t mean that every retailer suddenly has to overhaul their business model and start handing out 3D glasses. In other words, keep doing what you’re doing—but do it with your mobile customers in mind.

The results of a recent study by the National Retail Federation’s Shop.org division and Forrester, provide some data to back this up. Forrester forecasted that in 2016, direct online sales totaled 11.6% of total U.S. retail sales ($394 billion), but digital touchpoints impacted an estimated 49% of total U.S. retail sales. This is great news for many of our retailers, particularly those in the convenience and restaurant industries, who rely heavily on foot traffic.

Here are some of the study’s other key findings that support the idea of using mobile technology in “the now”:

  • Customer service topped the list of new initiatives retailers will invest in over the next year (confirming that flashy virtual and augmented reality are not the priority… for now!)

  • 45% of retailers surveyed said mobile initiatives transformed their overall digital customer experience

  • 54% of retailers say mobile is one of their top initiatives in 2017 (followed by marketing at 46%, site merchandising at 42%, and omnichannel efforts at 22%)

  • Smartphones made up 47% of online traffic among retailers surveyed

NRF Vice President Artemis Berry noted that retailers have found “that even modest investments in mobile initiatives can result in huge returns.” And I especially love this quote: “This is no longer a new way to reach customers, but it has certainly become a highly effective method and one that boosts the level of customer engagement across the brand.”

Again, there’s no need to reinvent the digital wheel, but better that you hop on the mobile train now before it’s too late.

Forrester Vice President and Research Director Fiona Swerdlow adds that today’s customers are empowered with information and technology. “To grow, retailers know they have to operate with a customer-obsessed mindset to deliver the experiences that consumers now expect at every touchpoint,” she says. “It’s about having all aspects of the business—stores, mobile, merchandising, customer service, fulfillment and more —work together to deliver total value to your customers wherever they are, at any time.”

If how to optimize the retail industry was presented as a dissertation, I think Swerdlow just gave us the thesis statement. That’s what it all comes down to -enabling the various parts of your business to work together in real-time.

Empowering Your Employees to Communicate  

Working at Zenput is interesting because I, along with many of my coworkers, also happen to be regular customers of many of the major retailers we serve. We help major retailers that collectively serve millions of people—including their own employees, past and present. That’s what I’d like retailers to take into account when they’re proactively considering technologies that are a “natural fit” for their businesses. Your customers use mobile, your employees use mobile… so why not invest in the mobile technology that can improve your business?

Think of the various components Swerdlow discusses and what you might accomplish if you had a real-time solution to address these needs:

  • Stores - from external maintenance to internal equipment, gain the ability to report store conditions as they change, in real time.

  • Merchandising and Fulfillment - From out-of-stocks to the new promotion delivery that never came, report it in real time. Take a photo and share it with your network to confirm the latest marketing execution.

  • Customer Service – On store visits, allow your managers to observe and report on customer service best practices. It could be included in a simple checklist of whether employees are dressed appropriately for work, use courteous language, and offer customer assistance. And this goes beyond playing “big brother” on managers—it allows an organization to celebrate those employees who go out of their way to make a customer’s day easier.

Are you ready to use mobile technology to improve your business?

Learn more about how Zenput helps retailers increase their execution by scheduling a demo.

Topics: Retail, Restaurants

It’s Time for Mobile Technology in Store Operations - here's why

By Brian Harris

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If you’re not using mobile technology in your store, you’re being beaten not just by your competitors… but by your own customers! The results of a recent Deloitte study on the digital divide show that 78% of non-Millennials are now using digital devices either two or three times throughout their shopping trip. This means that mobile usage is no longer as heavily skewed toward Millennials. Now, all groups are turning to their mobile devices before and during the shopping journey.

The study also found that customers are taking control of how they interact with a brand—a finding which has wider implications for marketers and advertisers. Importantly for the foodservice, grocery, and CPG industries, the study found that digital influence in these categories jumped 49% year over year, with health and wellness climbing 32%. To put these gains in perspective, these categories follow the most digitally influenced category, electronics.

The results of this study beg the question: If your customers are increasingly using mobile technology in your stores, why not allow your own employees to use mobile technology to manage store operations?

This is especially important considering your employees are (hopefully) your customers, too!

Mobile technology rules the day, and the power of this technology can be harnessed in practical ways. Put yourself in your store/regional managers’ shoes. These are problems that arise daily in the store environment:

Have a mechanical or equipment problem inside or outside the store?
Don’t spend a half-hour on the phone trying to determine if the store manager can fix it on their own. Take a photo and share it through a centralized platform to expedite that process.

Need to check the price of a promotion?
Don’t waste time consulting print-outs or emailed instructions. Use your mobile device to scan the barcode of the SKU.

Have an employee accountability problem at a location?
Don’t just chalk it up to a learning experience and hope it goes away on its own. Create checklists of tasks and hold employees accountability for completion of those tasks. Then reward employees for meeting goals.

The Best Part about Implementing Mobile Technology

You don’t have to buy your employees a new device! Employees can bring their own device and access important tools through an app.

Zenput is a software solution that utilizes mobile and cloud-based technologies. It’s a tool that can help address the aforementioned problems and more in real-time. The Zenput mobile app (also available on desktop) allows senior managers to easily create mobile forms and checklists that increase communication and improve accountability within organizations.

Overall, Zenput is the mobile solution for retailers and foodservice operators in the 21st century.

To learn more about Zenput’s capabilities in retail operations, click here.

The Evolution of Drive-Thru Dining

By Brian Harris

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Time for a trivia question: Drive-thru dining has evolved parallel to which two technologies?

This is a trick questions where you might first think that the answer is the evolution of the car. But if you think about it, a Model-T could roll through a drive-thru at the same rate as a 2017 Ford Focus. There’s still a human handing a bag of food to a driver through a window—something that hasn’t changed throughout the decades and probably won’t change anytime soon.

The real answer is cooking/kitchen technologies and digital signage. Preparing food quickly and efficiently, and making sure the order is right are the two factors that, together, continue to be the fulcrum of change (or stagnancy) in the drive-thru industry. The companies who really want to win this game invest in their kitchens and digital signage to improve transaction times and order accuracy. The biggest winners are the companies that have spent their resources integrating these technologies to streamline the customer service experience. These companies understand why customer satisfaction and loyalty is pivotal to the future of their brand.

OK, so if an operator is not innovating but still has 60% to 70% of its business rolling through the drive-thru, they don’t have to be too concerned, right? … Wrong!

Burgers-and-fries operators should be very concerned about the entrance of popular fast-casual players into traditional QSR territory. A good example is the Panera Bread drive-thru I recently saw on the edge of a college campus. The researchers behind the 2016 QSR Drive-Thru Study were surprised to see that total transaction times increased slightly over the past year. They were just as surprised by data that showed made-to-order chains like Panera were very close to the transaction times expected of more traditional QSRs.

If you’re the burgers-and-fries operator, here’s your “uh-oh” conclusion from this study: “If these [fast-casual brands] start to use the technology that speeds up total transaction times, they will be within a few seconds of most of the traditional operators.”

Check your rearview mirror because the competition is approaching!  

Areas of Improvement

Let’s return to those slightly elevated transaction times. Researchers also noticed a dip in service times when the numbers of cars in the drive-thru line starts to grow. The data suggests operations start to fall apart as volume starts to peak. Operators have the data and technology to anticipate the uptick in traffic, so there’s seemingly no reason why the line should start getting long. So why does it?

What the data doesn’t always account for is the human factor. Is the staff prepped and ready to go? Are they carrying out best practices in the kitchen throughout their shift? Is your digital signage and intercom in the drive-thru functioning properly? If it’s not, has anyone noticed? These are just some of the questions a sales sheet can’t answer. But they are questions your managers can answer by regularly auditing locations.

One such solution comes from Zenput, a mobile solution that can help drive-thru operators discover and resolve issues that can hurt their business. Auditing isn’t a “gotcha” game between restaurant employees and management. Rather, it’s a way to gain actionable insights to address real concerns at the store level, improving customer service, boosting team morale, and improving sales.

Learn more about auditing a drive-thru operation with Zenput by downloading our free drive-thru audit guide.

 

Topics: Restaurants, drive-thru

What Restaurants Considering Third-Party Delivery Need to Consider

By Brian Harris

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I recently came across a post on the website of a business loan provider. They must be in the food space because their post was about increasing restaurant delivery sales. The top two suggestions the firm offered, in this order, were: Online partnerships with delivery services and ensuring quality.

But based on the results of a recent Technomic study, I would have to reverse those in order of importance. Quality earns repeat customers and new customers. Quality is how you grow your business. Quality improves with better communication, and the restaurant is ultimately responsible for quality, even if you’re using a third-party delivery service.

Third-party delivery will make mistakes, but ultimately your restaurant is still on the hook.  This isn’t just my opinion—your customers are thinking it. Technomic’s study, “On Demand Delivery: Disrupting the Future of Foodservice,” confirms that even if restaurants have a formal agreement with third-party ordering portals and delivery services, the majority of consumers (76%) hold the restaurant at least partially responsible for any errors.

“This puts operators’ brand reputation at risk each time a customer orders delivery through these services,” said Melissa Wilson, a principal at Technomic. “Even if delivery is not a current strategic initiative, operators should educate themselves about and understand the dynamics of the third-party delivery market so they can put guardrails in place to maintain quality and brand reputation.”

Other than demanding the best service from your third-party delivery service, what can a restaurant do to minimize risk? Maybe it’s a matter of moving faster in food preparation. Or maybe it’s using better packaging that improves presentation.

Maybe we need to find out where to start!

So here’s a better question: When a delivery problem is reported, and you know it’s something the restaurant could have done differently, do you have a way of addressing it at the restaurant level?

For instance, if the wrong meal arrives or a meal is prepared incorrectly, does the restaurant have the ability to respond quickly?  Delivering a replacement meal or missing item might depend on the contract you have with a third-party delivery service. But maybe you should set a standard policy to email the person who files a complaint a coupon for a free appetizer or a percentage off their next bill. The restaurant that doesn’t respond loses customers.

And although mistakes happen, that doesn’t mean restaurants should write off third-party delivery services. The fact remains that third-party services are generating additional business for casual dining restaurants and other concepts that do not offer delivery. More than a third of third-party users (34%) reported ordering from casual dining restaurants and 14% had ordered from family-style restaurants that did not offer delivery on their own.

Here are more important insights from the Technomic study:

Chains on top

Chain restaurants are almost twice as likely as independents to receive delivery orders. Two-thirds of delivery orders either placed with a restaurant (69%) or via third-party service (66%) were from a chain restaurant.

Burger-happy

One in five third-party service users ordered a burger. Pizza is still king in restaurant delivery, but the fact that 20% of restaurants are comfortable ordering items that restaurants have previously feared delivering themselves bodes well for the industry. It’s a sign that users are taking advantage of the wider variety of options available.

These findings are further evidence that restaurants have to think more critically about quality and how it translates to delivery of various menu items. Moreover, chain restaurants have an opportunity to create a set of best practices that can be shared across their network.

Zenput is a mobile solution that can help share those best practices and track compliance. It also provides a means of communicating real-time insights at the store-level. To learn more about how Zenput helps improve restaurant operations, click here.

Topics: Restaurants

Menu Pricing Matters in Fast-Food Segment

By Brian Harris

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It seems that if there’s one thing fast-food restaurants have learned in recent history, it’s to keep the menu simple and inexpensive—all while shouting your limited time offers (LTOs) and new products from the rooftop. Of course, fast-food innovation is often easier said than done and customer preferences change, as Burger King learned the hard way last year with the Halloween Whopper.You may also recall how Taco Bell went through 40 recipes before finalizing Doritos Locos Tacos. The hard work paid off in what became the most successful product launch in the brand’s history. Just as important as innovation (but sometimes not as fun to talk about) is pricing structure. The 2012 launch price of a Doritos Locos Taco was $1.29 for a regular and a $1.69 for a “Supreme.” These prices have since climbed 20 cents, respectively.

Now Taco Bell is poised to try a new item with another Millennial-favorite, cheese-covered snack: Cheetos Burrito or the “Bur-Cheeto.” The product is being introduced for $1 in an Ohio test market.

The “just-a-buck” offer has been successful in driving customers to stores. For instance, Arby’s sold 29 million sliders at the $1 price point last September. The brand began testing the sliders in April of last year in a select few markets and at a suggested retail price of $1.29, but also started offering them for just $1 during “Happy Hour” in participating markets.

Meanwhile, Del Taco has a two-tiered menu structure to drive average check growth. The menu that is based around the $1 price point also succeeds in driving traffic. Once customers are at Del Taco, they can decide whether they want to spend more on premium ingredients or LTOs. It’s a winning recipe. In the fiscal fourth quarter of 2015, Del Taco reported 6.1% growth from Q4 2014. Notably, company-owned comparable restaurant sales growth comprised check growth of 6.0%, including over 2% of menu growth, and approximately flat transactions.

So what about system-wide check growth? How did franchisees perform with menu and LTO promotion?

Perhaps you need to go beyond sales data for store-level insights—and it’s possible to do that with the right technology platform.

Digging in at the Store Level

When it comes to pricing, LTOs, and introduction of new menu items, you have the greatest control over your corporate-owned stores. You have to do some more legwork at the store level to ensure “participating locations” are not only participating, but also executing the marketing plan appropriately.

Marketing programs don’t exist in a vacuum. At an operational level, they are living, breathing and changing. Taco Bell will need to find out best practices for the “Bur-Cheeto” before rolling it out nationally. Even after an item is made available nationwide, the first few days of availability are crucial in driving sales and building awareness.

Is your restaurant network ready for the challenges of your next big promotion? Learn how Zenput provides real-time, actionable insights by clicking here.

Topics: Restaurants

Healthy Food Promotions: A ‘Must’ for Retailers

By Brian Harris

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Across the food industry, healthy, better-for-you food promotions are becoming more than a “nice thought.” They’re becoming essential to attracting new customers and retaining current traffic. More retailers are launching promotions and reorganizing product assortments as they realize the opportunity to increase their bottom line.

Family Express of northwest Indiana is an example of one such retailer. Convenience Store Decisions recently reported on a new better-for-you initiative at this 68-store chain. For the next two months, children 12 and under who visit one of Family Express’ locations will be offered a free banana, pear or apple while their parents shop. The retailer is also working towards displaying its healthier food options to make it easier for customers to find and select healthy foods. Eventually each store will have a “Better for You” section.

Convenience store competitors are also making an effort to improve their healthy snack offerings. In June, CVS Pharmacy announced the expansion of its assortment of healthier foods and beverages to more than 2,900 stores nationwide. This includes the expansion of better-for-you snacks at checkout lanes and healthy trend zones. Raw snack foods are currently on display in the summer, and they’ll be followed by vegan options in the fall.

The CVS promotion adapts with the changing seasons and recognizes that healthy snacks are here to stay. Packaged Facts recently released data that should get every retailer fired up about this category. In the past half-decade, healthy-ingredient snacks have seen steady growth. In fact, the market’s compound annual growth rate of 4.7% has outpaced overall food and beverage sales growth. That rate is expected to jump to 5.7% between 2016 and 2020. That translates to $25.4 billion in sales by 2020.

According to Packaged Facts, snack bars are still the largest category of healthy-ingredient snacks, followed by sales of nuts and seeds. In terms of growth, meat snacks continue to be the fastest-growing category within the segment, particularly in supermarkets and convenience stores.

Retailers across different channels are getting the message: Healthy foods attract customers and the expansion can be profitable.

The public sector is also taking note as it considers ways to support retailers who want to expand access to fresh produce, particularly in urban areas. For example, Philadelphia launched the Philadelphia Healthy Corner Store Initiative to support neighborhood stores that are trying to expand healthier offerings. “The representative from the program showed me data that I could make as much money selling two tomatoes as I could soda,” one c-store owner told NACS Online. “I didn’t realize produce could have such a decent markup.”

A Checklist a Day Makes the Apples Stay

The success of healthy food initiatives is dependent on three factors:

  1. Getting the word out via promotions
  2. Product selection
  3. Execution of display

Remember: No promotion in an ever-changing retail environment falls under “set-it-and-forget-it.” If you’re going to test the effectiveness of a new healthy foods campaign, you have to mobilize your team and follow up in each store.

For instance:

  • Is promotional signage up and accurate?
  • Is there enough product available? Are products priced correctly? (Don’t make the Whole Foods pricing error!)
  • Are individual stores executing the marketing plan? (In the case of Family Express, is every age-appropriate child provided a piece of fruit? This observation can be recorded.)

Having regional or store managers account for a promotion’s various elements via a checklist is smart, intuitive, and enables you to react in real time. It could mean the difference between a promotion increasing your bottom line or failing to make a return. Tools like Zenput increase accountability and increase returns by providing real-time, actionable insights. To learn more about how this mobile solution works in the c-store environment, click here.

Topics: Retail, C-store

Wanna ‘Pizza’ Your Restaurant Competition? Customization and Technology Are Key

By Brian Harris

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BDO USA’s Restaurant Practice recently released its Benchmarking Update for FY 2015. This report is based on quarterly compilations of operating results. The good news is that restaurant sales were solid throughout 2015 largely due to an improving economy. Many brands increased menu prices, which worked well for those with higher traffic.

The pizza segment experienced the most significant growth with an increase of 6.4%. Domino’s was the leader of the pack and saw a 12.2% increase in same-store sales in 2015. The company sustained that growth throughout the year by emphasizing online ordering and capitalizing on convenience and food delivery.

Pizza has long been center stage in the evolution of food convenience. In fact, it could be argued that pizza chains like Domino’s and Pizza Hut helped pave the way for ethnic food customization. Chains like Chipotle, Qdoba and Moe’s Southwestern Grill then took burritos to a whole new level. Today, I went to the Chipotle of Greek food where my salad was prepared in a completely customizable format with optional meats and vegetables.

New-age pizza chains are now using the build-your-own model to their advantage. Following take-and-bake, delivery efficiency and online ordering, build-your-own/customizable pizza is the next frontier. Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza is set to open its 150th restaurant this year as it expands its national footprint. MOD Pizza is now expanding to the U.K. and is expected to reach 200 restaurants in the U.S. by the end of this year. Investors are feeling confident in this space, as evidenced by the $106 million MOD raised thus far.

Considering these trends, it’s no surprise that BDO’s Benchmarking Update shows that fast casual (4.9%) and quick serve (3.8%) followed pizza in same-store sales increases. Notably, these segments had a commanding lead over upscale casual (1.7%) and casual (1.6%).

Where the ‘Dough’ Could Rise More

The fast-casual and pizza segments both saw increases in labor costs, whereas casual/upscale casual remained flat and quick serve labor costs decreased by -0.1%. Pizza lead the way with a 0.7% increase. BDO points to the fact that Domino’s is providing larger bonuses and seeking out the proper labor mix to keep up with steadily increasing sales. With cost of sales and prime costs both decreasing across all segments in 2015, the way to drive higher profit margins is now more focused: Control costs through strategic inventory and labor management.

There are two opportunities here.

1. Offer customization 

So maybe your restaurant or foodservice operation isn’t set up for Chipotle-style service. Don’t let that deter you. Play into customization on your menu by offering different toppings, breads, cheeses and condiments. Give customers the option to build their own, whether it’s a burger/sandwich or salad.

2. Tap into technology

BDO expects more restaurants to leverage technology in “new and innovative ways” to keep inventory and labor in check. Zenput is a solution that offers digital checklists, task assignment, and real-time analysis all on one mobile platform. These tools improve communication between your team and vendors, and provide a process of accountability in your organization. Better yet, this technology is applicable to any segment of the restaurant industry.

To learn more about how Zenput helps companies in the restaurant industry, click here.

Related
Managing by Checklist: NASA Does It and So Can You!
Zenput Moment: Optimize Operations to Increase Sales, Save a Sandwich
Pizza Hut’s $5 Flavor Menu Raises Stakes in QSR Competition
How to Perform a Pizza Franchise Inspection

Topics: Restaurants

Zenput Moment: Optimize Operations to Increase Sales, Save a Sandwich

By Brian Harris

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Yesterday, I attempted to eat a tuna sandwich that appeared as if it had been prepared by a blindfolded Kindergartener. Lettuce, tomato and onion were slapped together carelessly while the tuna was applied to everything but the bread. I had the misfortune of learning this as I unwrapped the sandwich at my computer and was rendered immobile with tuna salad hands. Through this experience, I’ve learned that when eating a tuna sandwich, it’s unnatural to feel like you’re consuming a Sloppy Joe worthy of five napkins. Overall, it was a gross experience, and it makes me want to take a break from that restaurant. I paid a good price for that half sandwich and side salad, so they’ve temporarily lost me as a customer.

To make matters worse, I had paid at an in-store kiosk intended for faster service and watched as everyone around me received their order before me. “Can we hurry up on order #30?” a manager asked. It was her job to check the contents of the plates and take-out bags to ensure that the kitchen was filling orders accurately. Perhaps the comment rushed the employee preparing the “tuna Picasso” because my order was a disaster. I was having a full-fledged “Zenput moment.”

Lesson Learned: Operations Come Down to the Basics

Here’s a quick way to lose a customer: Make them wait long only and deliver their food poorly. Without a solid grasp of basic operations, you’re at the risk of losing sales and damaging customer loyalty.

If a regional manager had walked into the restaurant (part of a major national chain) that day, I believe they would have been displeased with what I saw. One employee was frantically filling orders by herself and then had to pause because a side dish needed replenishment. She clearly didn’t have enough support. On multiple occasions, this restaurant has been low on iced tea in the beverage dispenser. I now always check before I order an iced tea and sometimes I don’t when it hasn’t been replenished—another lost sale.

Who’s preparing my order? Have they received training on how to esthetically prepare food?  The kitchen staff seemed overwhelmed, yet I overheard a manager asking customers seated at a table if she could remove plates for them. There are no waiters or waitresses at this establishment, so you have to wonder if this employee’s time would have been better spent elsewhere. So who’s running the ship and how do we steer it back on the right course?

Documentation Increases Accountability & Sales

What if a store or regional manager, on their next visit, was charged with the task of filling out an operational checklist that could document inefficiencies? Imagine if that checklist existed on a digital, mobile platform that provided real-time feedback. The manager would report a critical shortage, maintenance problem, or another serious condition that is impacting sales. They could also have a checklist that accounts for best practices like organization and cleanliness. Through a digital platform, they could share these findings with senior management and discuss ways to improve various challenges that arise store to store.

At the end of the day, that’s what retail operations are about—optimizing efficiency to increase sales and profits.

The Takeaway

Even though I’m on a break from this particular brand, I will return. You may be wondering why I would do that when I noticed so many areas in need of improvement. If there’s one thing I’ve come to know by working at Zenput, it’s that imperfection in the convenience and foodservice industry exists. However, there are always opportunities to improve. This brand is at least trying, and I appreciate that effort.

For instance, the digital ordering kiosks and order accuracy manager are a step in the right  direction. The food always tastes good with fresh ingredients, and this location is convenient to where I work. And yes, last time I ordered a tuna sandwich, it was prepared normally.

That’s the opportunity for this franchise. They have a respected brand name and excellent customer volume during lunch hour. They shouldn’t take that for granted. Don’t just meet brand expectations—strive to exceed them. You can with the right tools.

Topics: Restaurants

Brand Auditing for Convenience Stores

By Brian Harris

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Previously, we’ve discussed the basics for building a brand audit for quick-service restaurants. While the same can be applied to convenience stores, we want to focus on a key aspect of brand auditing that’s especially relevant to convenience stores: brand identity.

How’s your identity these days? Is it strong and vibrant? Are you conveying to customers what makes you special? Better yet, are you wondering how on earth you can be expected to measure something like brand identity?

Well, there’s good news—it is possible to audit your c-store brand.

Consider this: QSRs have an advantage of being distinct from one another just by their signature food items. A customer isn’t going to McDonald’s because they have better ketchup than Burger King. They’re going because they have a craving for a Big Mac or a McFlurry. But it’s trickier for convenience stores that offer many of the same packaged goods and have a history centered around the gas island.

Fortunately, consumer perception of the industry—especially in terms of foodservice—is slowly changing. C-store retailers that are winning the brand identity game are those who have strong products and packaging. Think of the 7-Eleven Slurpee and Wawa Hoagie. Sheetz has branded its own Made to Order menu while QuikTrip offers QT Kitchens.

Promoting those unique products—whether it’s a fountain drink special or a proprietary snack—can be do wonders for brand identity in the short and long term.

However, clever marketing ideas are only as good as your ability to follow through and execute. So let’s revisit this idea of building a brand auditing survey, while taking a closer look at some areas a convenience store can check for compliance.

Brand Auditing with SWOT

You may already be familiar with SWOT, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Completing a SWOT analysis at the store level may be the answer to finding out how your network can reach the next level of success. Here’s an example of building a convenience store brand audit with SWOT:

Strength - Individually branded/proprietary products

  • Quantity of product
  • Date packaged
  • Price
  • Placement in the store (Verify your planogram.)
  • Promotional displays and/or signage

Weakness - Cleanliness

For now, assume this is a weakness because it is a classic thorn in the side for the industry. No one wants to buy your food when they’re grossed out.

  • Cleanliness of fuel islands
  • Cleanliness/clarity of windows
  • Condition of floor
  • Cleanliness of counters/customer food prep areas (coffee bar/beverage dispensers/grab-and-go islands)

Opportunity - Increased Exclusive Product Offerings

  • Inventory quantity (Do stores have more floor/shelf space for more proprietary products?)
  • Product quality (freshness, dates, price, etc.)
  • Effectiveness of retail promotions (Verify promotions. Are products, signage, and placement correct?)

Threats – Competitive Promotions

  • Category awareness
    Vendors are your retail partners, but they are also competitors in proprietary products. How are they pricing products and what kind of products do they offer?  Knowing this can help optimize sales. An example is the success of Wawa Iced Tea. Wawa chose not to complete with major soft drink manufacturers in the soft drink space. Rather, there was more opportunity to compete in proprietary iced tea.
  • C-store competitor awareness
    Do you know what promotions your competitor down the street is offering? If not, it’s time to find out. Make this a part of your regional manager’s routine store visit.

The Takeaway

If you’re going to devote time to creating a brand audit survey, at least make sure it will provide actionable insights. Keep in mind it’s not about the quantity of questions you ask—it’s about the quality. Importantly, create a survey that goes beyond “yes” and “no” answers. Go in with the mindset that you want to fix any problem that may be uncovered. Ask for photos, gather data by scanning barcodes, and evaluate store conditions on a sliding 1-10 scale. Following this process over a period of time will reveal both exceptions and successes you may not have initially recognized.

Topics: C-store