Operations Leader Feature: John Richards, COO of RPM Pizza

By Vladik Rikhter

When it comes to creating great customer experiences–whether in restaurants, convenience stores, grocery stores and more–the efficiency and consistency of how stores operate is critical. The cleanliness of the store entrance, the crisp freshness of food on display, and other aspects of a visit may or may not always be noticed by visitors, but operations leaders know that the consistency of your stores’ operational execution is often the difference between creating a repeat customer or a disappointing one time visit.

One such leader is John Richards, Chief Operations Officer for RPM Pizza. From his first days as a multi-unit supervisor to today running nearly 200 Domino’s franchise locations across five states, he’s had a passion for identifying ways to improve operational efficiency. “As my role expanded over the years I found out that stores were really doing their own thing and didn’t really have any fact based decisions around how to set up their individual locations,” Richards says. “I’ve been able to work with my team and clearly define and enforce our standard operating procedures, or as we call them, the ‘RPM Way.’”

Today, the use of technology has bolstered RPMs ability to deliver great customer experiences via the operational execution that drives them. We recently sat down with John Richards to learn more about how he drives operational excellence, from delivering strong operating procedures to ensuring food safety and more.

How do you ensure consistently great customer experiences across hundreds of restaurants?

Richards: At RPM Pizza we know that when you execute our standard operating procedures (the RPM Way) we can ensure that our customers get a great experience.  It’s our job to ensure that everything from New Orleans, LA to Kalamazoo, MI operate the exact same way.

“We have embraced technology to help what I call the “trust but verify” system. I trust that you are doing what we ask you to, but I need to verify it.”  

– Richards

We also like to train our teams to have a customer service mindset. ‘Create Smiles by making lives easier’ is basically our people side of the business vision statement. If there is something that we can do to make lives easier, while staying within the RPM WAY, then we want to encourage the team members to do so.

What are some of the main challenges that you’ve overcome to achieve operational excellence?

Richards: Some of the hurdles to driving operational excellence has been for our teams to adopt technology.  When we first started 38 years ago, we had one size pizza and classic Coca Cola. Today we have four crust types and 230+ different SKU’s, not to mention self driving cars, driver GPS, and all forms and documentations are paperless, done on a tablet.  Having our team adapt to these type of advancements has been some of our biggest struggles, but we have developed strong rollout plans and fine tune our usage, training, etc. to continue getting better and better.

Describe the hurdles to maintaining high brand standards across all your stores?  How have you made progress?

Richards: To me the biggest operational standard that we have struggled with is maintaining our #PerfectProduct philosophy. At the end of the day we aren’t robots and we make everything fresh by hand, but we are also in the speed business. So making great looking pizzas made to our standard and not just something that passes the eye test is our biggest hurdle. I’ve always said a picture is worth 1,000 words, and we have utilized technology to post pictures of products and coach on it. It’s not just telling the team that they had some bad pizzas. Now you are able to show them what the bad and good product actually is.

Ultimately if enforcing brand standards is something that you really believe in and know it’s going to make you better, then it can’t just be a focus. It needs to be part of your organizational culture. #PerfectProduct #Perfectimage

How do you proactively avoid food safety issues before incidents actually arise?

Richards: Make food safety part of your culture. Work with your vendors to educate your team and put policies in place to make sure those procedures aren’t broken. We partnered with a third party vendor to inspect our stores quarterly. These aren’t cheap visits either, so you better believe we utilize the data and information that we get to proactively make ourselves industry leaders in food safety.

What are some novel ways you’re raising the bar on employee performance through training?

Richards: We always try to be on the cutting edge of all training techniques. We utilize all kinds of digital and in-person training. We’ve utilized Zenput to help us ensure the training is complete when running shifts by incorporating opening and rush checklists. These are on a timer and must be completed by a certain time so we know that the Team Member knows what to do by that time and has it completed.

With the trends you’re seeing both within Domino’s and in the industry more generally, what’s the store of the future going to look like?

Richards: I think the store of the future is going to be very technology focused and very open to the customer eye. I think our customers want to know what is going on with their food at all times and as the world gets more tech savvy I think you will see less customer service team members and more automated order taking stations.

Further reading:

To learn more about how RPM Pizza has used technology to boost adherence to critical operating procedures like food safety, cleanliness, and marketing program compliance, read our case study.

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