How to Stand Out in a Gas Station Cluster

By Joe Skupinsky

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 1.54.15 PM.png(Image Source: Google Maps)

I always thought it was strange that there were three gas stations on a single corner down the street from my college—until I started learning more about the convenience and gas retail industry.

Around the time I saw this pattern, a game theorist in San Francisco noticed the same thing and attempted to get to the mathematical root. As Presh Talwalkar explains, this phenomenon is partially the result of population clusters, so a couple of thousand people driving to and from a college could warrant a cluster of gas stations.Here’s a brief explanation video:  

 

The basic reasoning using the hot dog stand example in the video is this: both stands move closer to the center to capture more of a competitor’s customers. If either stand moves, they’ll lose customers. So when competing on location, everyone wants the central location. This applies to gas stations, fast-food chains, and political candidates. Here at Zenput, it was important for us to understand this game theory concept, considering we work with two-thirds of these groups. (Sorry, we don’t currently have plans to enter the political realm anytime soon!)So if moving towards the center of the geographical market is a naturally occurring trend that makes sense for a brand, it also follows that convenience store operators should do everything in their power to stand out from their competitors.


In order to maintain revenue, it becomes crucial to be so in tune with your customer that you have the ability to react to changing conditions in real time.

Since Talkwar used the example of businesses on a beach, and we’re all longing for summer at this point, I’ll use the example of the first warm day of the season. the example of businesses on a beach, and we’re all longing for summer at this point, I’ll use the example of the first warm season of the day. Maybe that day sneaks up on you, and you hadn’t yet planned an in-store beverage promotion. Not only is it warm outside, but the day falls on a weekend. This is a prime opportunity to catch customers filling up for a weekend day trip. They’ll also be filling up right across the street at your competitor’s location. You decide to take action by launching an impromptu beverage promotion.

Now you don’t have signage on the drop of a dime, but you do have some well-positioned cold-cases located at the front of your store. You decide that every store should stock up those coolers with a selection of thirst-quenching beverages, from waters and sports drinks to lemonades and iced teas. Maybe you allow store managers to institute a buy-one-get-one deal on a well-stocked beverage. And while you’re managing the cold case, you make sure to stock it with the latest healthy snacks, yogurt and to-go fruit and veggie cups—everything that’s convenient to take on the road. Now you’re responding in real time to your customers’ needs!

So to recap what has happened in this example:

->The brand is responding in real time to forces (like Mother Nature) that are beyond your control.

-> The brand is taking advantage of a situation by offering a timely product assortment.

-> The brand is in tune with customer needs, which may earn a future visit.

Assuming the competitor across the street didn’t have a better executed promotion, your brand has won today!


Real-Time Response Is Within Reach

The example I used above may seem out of reach to some large-scale operators. But as a practitioner of reality, I’m here to tell you that any gas station and convenience store retailer with the right tools can execute and “think on their feet” in real time. Zenput’s real-time functionality enables that kind of response at the store level.

This is what the chain of events would look like:

-> Senior managers recognize a trend and make the executive decision that they want to promote certain items.

-> Senior managers push out a notification that, for instance, the cold case must be stocked immediately with certain items.

-> Regional and/or store-level managers receive that notification and move to arrange those items.

-> To ensure compliance, store-level managers are required to take a photo of the cold case once it’s stocked.

From Zenput’s central dashboard, senior managers would immediately be able to tell if stores were in compliance with this directive because Zenput would provide data on stores that weren’t. That’s right—you can virtually check into each store!

This isn’t utopia—it’s the power of real-time mobile technology. And it’s why Zenput is being used in more than 6,500 c-stores worldwide. In fact, more than 15,000 people will use Zenput today.  

Learn what Zenput can do to improve your store-level execution by scheduling a demo, or check out our testimonials page to learn more how our platform is helping other businesses like yours every day.

Topics: gas stations

Where Yelp Doesn't Help: How to Stop Restaurants from Failing Health Inspections

By David Mostovoy

yelp

Once you hear a story (good or bad) about a restaurant, you never quite forget it. For instance, I still remember how my friend walked past a deli she regularly frequented—closed at that hour—to see an employee smoking a cigarette behind the counter. And then there’s my friend in another state who went to order ice cream from a small shop where the employee was a on a cigarette break. The same employee scooped the ice cream without washing her hands. And then I’ve already told you about a friend on the East Coast who was in the awkward situation of attending a company dinner knowing that the restaurant was recently cited for a health citation.

Even though I don’t live in those cities, I still remember these stories well. No city is above these kinds of problems. In fact, I recently saw an article about the 54 businesses that failed health inspections right here in San Francisco.

Now it’s no secret that we San Franciscans love our restaurants. In fact, in 2012 (if you find more current data, drop us a note) real estate website Trulia found that San Francisco is the top city for dining out, with 39.3 restaurants per 10,000 households. So in the grand scheme of things, the restaurants that failed are a small representation of our culinary empire. For those who don’t know how San Francisco’s restaurant rating system works: The city’s Department of Health rates San Francisco restaurants on a 100-point scale that’s similar to school grades. If you score 100 or in the high 90s, you’re the equivalent of an A+ student. But unlike Los Angeles and New York, letter grades aren’t posted in the windows, so it’s less apparent how restaurants scored.

And that’s where a local technology company stepped up to the plate. In 2013, restaurant review site Yelp added San Francisco’s health inspection information to its platform in an effort to improve transparency around food safety. Then, in 2015, Yelp began testing consumer alerts to warn customers about the results of recent health inspections. And in 2016, Yelp began flagging businesses that sued customers for leaving negative reviews.

Bottom line: Technology is changing how people learn about restaurant safety. Yelp brings attention to the problem, and in that way, it’s a great industry watchdog. However, it doesn’t provide the actionable insights that help restaurants fix their problems.

If you are the restaurant operator, you need to use technology to improve your operations. It’s the 21st century—there’s no reason not to! The saying “there’s an app for that,” is absolutely true. Here at Zenput, we set out to develop the app that would help remediate common problems that retailers, including foodservice operators, experience.

Take a closer look with us….

Use Technology to Help the Process of Improving Standards

In a related posted, I highlighted the 5 standards to uphold in order to maintain a clean restaurant. For every recently cited restaurant—and for other restaurants who are concerned about being named in the future—the issue comes down to staff retraining.

Develop your procedures, disseminate them to managers, train staff, start documenting progress, and follow up on progress. Then “rinse and repeat.”

Maintaining restaurant cleanliness is not only about changing behaviors, but also about making individuals accountable for their own behaviors. If you’re a restaurant operator who is concerned about the time commitment or extra manpower needed to implement these changes, you are probably not considering what’s available to you in the mobile technology space. And if you’re a restaurant operator in San Francisco, that’s where another locally-based technology company, Zenput, is here to help!

Our platform helps restaurant operators communicate better at a store level to improve their execution. Get a bird’s eye view of compliance while also having the ability to virtually check into a store to find out why benchmarks aren’t being met. You don’t need more employees or equipment to do this. You simply empower your current staff with a cloud-based, real-time technology on the mobile device of their choosing.

Whether you want all your managers to review new guidelines with employees, or want a specific location to clean up its act, Zenput allows users to issue those directives and follow up on compliance.

We’re used in 9,000 restaurants and growing… Is your business next?

Click here to see what Zenput offers to restaurant operators.

Topics: Restaurants, restaurant cleanliness, health inspections

How C-stores Can Turn Social Media Interaction into Employee Action

By David Mostovoy

 

Social media convenience stores

Chances are that your convenience store chain has an active social media presence. Considering that the “big guys” like Wawa, Sheetz and Speedway have well more than 1 million followers, you definitely want to get in on that extra brand visibility, if you haven’t already.

But being on social media is more than just posting your new products and promotions; it’s about being a good community member. And like any other aspect of your operations, it requires a good strategy.

As part of their Social Media Awards, Convenience Store Decisions recently addressed the fact that studying the data of your social media following can pay off when it comes to promotional and partnership opportunities. Data can also help you to understand where your base customer spends the most time, so you can tailor your paid media accordingly to further extend your reach. It can also help you target the social media followers known as “influencers,” the people who share posts. Inviting followers to give their feedback on promotions, offering contests on social media and asking trivia questions are all valuable ways to engage your audience and ensure that visibility.

CSD also discusses the benefits of being an “active listener” on social media. Again, using data can also help you “cut through the noise” of competing viewpoints over a product update or promotion. If you’ve made a decision to change a yearly promotion or pull a product, it could very well be that the complainers are going to be the most vocal. Not overreacting to the naysayers and taking your quieter social media followers into account is important, and data can help inform those decisions and essentially make your brand a better listener.

However, there’s another important part of being an active listener, and that’s being an active responder.

Turning Complaints into Store-Level Action  

How does a convenience store brand respond to a customer complaint? A look at any Facebook comments section for an active retailer shows you plenty of “love” (great for sharing with your audience) and “hate” (wish you could bury it). DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT, delete negative feedback. There’s nothing worse than being accused of censoring customer feedback because it shows an unwillingness to address real concerns and improve your brand. Plus, no one likes being ignored or flat out rejected!

To that point, streamline your interactions. Most convenience store operators with a regular social media presence are in the habit of asking customers to send them a private message with their contact information. The assumption is that the convenience store operator will offer the customer a coupon or discount off their next purchase. This can turn a negative interaction into a positive outcome that reinforces customer loyalty.

So once you’ve addressed an individual customer’s concern you can close the book on this interaction, right? Not even close!

Chances are that when you’re asking the customer for their personal contact information, you’re also asking them to provide the store number from their receipt. This is a prime opportunity to follow up with the store in question. For instance, if an employee forgot the bacon on a customer’s sandwich, you don’t have to play “Big Brother” and immediately fire off a message directed at that foodservice team. However, if several complaints are being logged against one store, then that indicates a more significant operations problem that’s worth addressing.


With the right platform, you can follow up easily and, if necessary, in real time!

With Zenput, it’s possible for a senior management team to take the social media interactions log, break it down by location and assign tasks to the regional manager and/or store manager. A senior manager may choose to start with a directive to the regional manager: “Multiple customer complaints about missing sandwich components at store #14. Please visit store and report back.” The directive would appear immediately on the regional manager’s mobile device and would remain an open task until they reported back.

Upon investigation at the store level, the regional manager may find a staffing problem or an inventory problem. They could report this in their notes to senior managers, who might then ask the regional manager to address the issue and provide an update in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, in that same time, the resolution will be evident through a lack of customer complaints on social media.

Assigning tasks creates a chain of accountability and improves communication. It’s also collaborative and supports teamwork. If a customer reports that a store manager or employee made their day, be sure that message gets relayed at the store level as well!

Consider taking your social media interactions to the next level by turning comments into real action. Learn more about Zenput’s checklists, audits, forms and reports by clicking here.  

The 3-Part Call-to-Action Against Rising Convenience Store Operating Costs

By Joe Skupinsky

 

 

cutting operating costs

We’re living in politically uncertain times. While the new Presidential administration has promised to be pro-small business, there’s no guarantee that convenience store operators will experience change at the local level. That’s the American democratic process and the power of states’ rights. It’s also part of the frustration for business owners who don’t see change—they just see rising operating costs while their gross margin dollars slow down. That was the key point of this recent article in NACS Magazine. Direct store operating expenses (DSOE), including wages, payroll taxes, health-care insurance, card fees, utilities, repairs/maintenance and supplies, are all on the rise. These rising costs jeopardize the operator’s profitability.

Those in the convenience store industry with strong political convictions and a penchant for activism know the reality: When it comes to costs that are not under your direct control, business owners are at the mercy of government action (or inaction) at the state and local levels. But this is not to say that business owners are not in control over efficiency. In these challenging times, it’s crucial to make every dollar count and to generally increase accountability in your organization.

There are the 3 areas every convenience store operator needs to focus on in 2017:  

  1. Document and be proactive about the “little things.” The so-called little things are often part of a bigger picture of efficiency. Your managers know what’s working in their stores and what’s not. They know the faulty equipment, they know when the promotional placement isn’t working, and they know their staffing needs. And if your store managers are too wrapped up in the day-to-day operations to report it, then that’s a task for regional managers. The question is: are you providing your team the tools of communication to report these issues before they become larger problems? Are you responding to these concerns in real-time?  

  2. Manage labor costs. According to NACS data, health care and wages comprise more than 48% of DSOE. More states are raising their minimum wage above the $7.25 federal wage. Leroy Kelsey, director of industry analytics at NACS, points out that convenience store operators have direct control over the decision to offer a higher hourly wage. More convenience store operators may choose this path considering that more mass retailers are bumping up their hourly wages to $10 per hour. However, the key is to retain good employees. “You’ve got to close the loop on training people, acknowledging them and presenting them with opportunities to grow. The best retailers are doing that right now,” he advises.  

You’ve probably seen these graphics floating on LinkedIn and other social networks. Employees stay when they are paid well, challenged, promoted, involved, on a mission, empowered, and trusted. Creating such an environment requires a grassroots effort that needs the support of regional managers and store managers. It will require the ability of the organization to identify and recognize talent. If you think it’s impossible, think again. The right tools make it possible for daily or weekly reporting of employee achievements at the store level.

  1. Treat each store like a microenvironment for efficiency. Speaking of a grassroots effort, convenience store operators need not wait for the next big promotion to follow up with stores. Senior managers and regional managers are likely on the same page when it comes to best practices for operations, but they need employees to comply. Standardize those best practices with checklists that become a routine part of a manager’s reporting system. Then, assign tasks based on those checklists, as needed.

If the thought of a paper checklist immediately turns you off, we don’t blame you! It’s time to go paperless with your process, especially for operators with dozens, maybe even hundreds of locations. Imagine having the ability to make a change, whether it’s the way a store is restocked or the way your foodservice team handles the afternoon rush, and then having the ability to observe and document that change over a period of time. Mobile tools like Zenput give managers that flexibility.

Zenput Helps Improve Accountability

I could happily extol the benefits of using Zenput for the next 500 words, but I don’t think that would be as effective as if you heard it from a major convenience store retailer, MAPCO, which uses our platform. Watch MAPCO’s testimonial or read about the eye-opening operational insights they have gained and acted on, and please feel free to reach out to us with questions that pertain to your specific needs.

Download the MAPCO case study

Also, while you’re visiting, please check out examples of the mobile forms retailers can customize for store-level insights. Remember: Forms are distributed in real-time to mobile devices via cloud-based technology. No Internet in the store? No problem! The information will sync online once a connection is restored.

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

Can an Organic Fast-Food Restaurant Play the Value Game?

By Vladik Rikhter

organix.pngDid you notice that QSR magazine upped their 9 fast-food trends for 2016 to 12 trends for 2017? They kept the descriptions more succinct and business-focused rather than about the food itself. I have a theory for why this is… because today’s customers are all over the place!  Wouldn’t the foodservice industry be much simpler if everyone just wanted a salad for lunch and a craft pizza by night? (Answer: Yes it would be, but it would also be completely boring!)


We’re living in an age of fast-food paradoxes. Let’s face it: What tastes good isn’t always good for you. What’s good for you can’t always be delivered quickly and with real ingredients.

Dashboard dining is not exactly synonymous with mindful eating…. until now. Finally! Someone brave enough to try bridging all these gaps!

Meet the Brittsans, a couple who dared to open Nic’S Organic Fast Food: the nation’s first certified-organic fast-food restaurant with a drive-thru (two trends in one description)! Like many good food ideas, it all started with a pregnant woman who craved a burger. The Brittsans, who met while enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu, know fine dining, but they’re just like the rest of us—sometimes you have a hankering. It’s why their concept features a menu of burgers, fried and grilled chicken, AND salads. Breakfast (yet another trend) will also be served and will feature freshly squeezed juices and organic coffee.


“The organic lifestyle doesn’t mean you’re eating any healthier in terms of the food,” CEO Benjamin Brittsan told Chicago Eater. “What you’re benefitting from is from what’s not in the food.” (Do you feel the sun’s warmth? I believe the clouds just parted.)


This makes so much sense for describing what appeals to today’s consumers who actually don’t know what they want on any given day—they want it all and NOW! At Nic’s, they can order a healthy or indulgent meal without feeling bad about it either way. And an indulgent meal is less guilt-inducing when we know the ingredients are free of hormones and chemicals, and that the meat was sourced from a farm that uses ethical practices.


Brittsan is confident in his concept and bold enough to forecast opening 50 locations in the next three years. In fact, he wants to take his concept west from Chicagoland to California, right to the doorstep of competitors like The Organic Coup, which is opening its eighth location after launching in late 2015. The Organic Coup was billed as the country’s first USDA-certified organic fast-food restaurant. That’s a distinction from Nic’s, which is certified organic by Quality Assurance International, but it’s an organic certification nevertheless.

The Takeaway

New concepts like Nic’s and The Organic Coup represent an exciting opportunity for foodpreneurs with big dreams. It also presents an urgency for major fast-food industry players with menus that can’t be revolutionized to this extent. What is a red-headed gal, a stately colonel, and the Golden Arches to do?


The answer is to double-down on operational efficiency. The last listed trend in QSR’s article is “fast casual embraces value.” I think they saved the most important trend for last! As one industry expert put it, quick-service in infringing on fast-casual’s space, so fast-casual will have to compete on value. This is yet another paradox—organic, fresh ingredients usually carry a premium that’s passed onto the customer. Nic’s menu isn’t available, but we know The Organic Coup Signature Sandwich is $10. Fast-food will offer you a premium, non-organic version at half the price or less.


So will these newer fast-food restaurants flourish or have the growing pains of expanding businesses finding their way?

Will traditional fast-food players continue to tweak their menus or capitalize by offering more immediately recognized value?

We’re staying tuned to see how this one plays out!

Omnichannel is Here to Stay: 3 Ways Conventional Retailers Can Adapt

By Joe Skupinsky

omnichannel3-revd.gif

Here’s a fact: Not all retailers Zenput works with are equipped to offer the online shopping experience... yet—but they also don’t have to right now.

Plenty of retailers we work with have core businesses that rely on foot traffic and/or drive-thru operations. Your customers may be just “catching up” to the technology of ordering groceries or food delivery online or through an app. But in the convenience industry, especially, as long as people have to physically stop to fill up a tank, there will be an opportunity for in-store traffic.  

So how common is omnichannel retail? It appears to be fundamentally changing the way customers approach major retail channels, and it’s starting to change retailers’ approach to how they serve customers.

Of course, we also know that in December, Amazon opened a store for employees in its hometown of Seattle that has no checkout line. Just scan in with the new Amazon Go app and the store’s computer vision and technologies tracks the items you’ve purchased. It’s pretty cool, but also a little creepy at the same time!

As referenced in this CNN Money report, the political climate may not be ready for that level of automation in the workforce. Still, the point must not be lost: brick-and-mortar retailers are incorporating more aspects of the streamlined, fast, and convenient digital experience. Retailers of consumer products must start turning their attention to digital outreach and learn how to accommodate customers who shop in a world of instant gratification.

How Retailers Can Adapt in the Short-Term

We tend to focus so much on what a giant like Amazon is doing, but just as important is the why. Why is Amazon looking at brick-and-mortar grocery stores and bookstores? Because the stores, which are experimental right now, partly serve as an advertisement for Amazon’s digital products! In this way, Amazon embodies the omnichannel approach of integrating a digital and physical shopping experience. It’s lofty “stuff” of the future, but not entirely relevant to Zenput’s customers who are just looking for ways to be more efficient and live in “the now.”

So while it’s crucial that retailers recognize the opportunities presented by digital integration, it’s equally as important that they recognize their strengths outside of the digital world. Here are 3 ways retailers can begin to adapt to the omnichannel mindset without losing sight of who they are and how they can best serve their core customers:

  1.  Personalize – Automation streamlines and makes things similar. It can also potentially remove the fun, memorable parts of shopping. I wouldn’t be able to tell you if I enjoyed scanning my grocery items at Store A over Store B. But if Store B recognized my loyalty and gave me something for it, I’m more apt to return. This is a reason why loyalty and other rewards programs are becoming increasingly important, and why well-trained staff and customer service will continue to be paramount.

  2. Curate — Very much tied to personalization, curating is more than simply knowing what customers want; it’s about quality. Don’t be just good at where you excel—be GREAT! For example, you can make certain products or foodservice items your specialty. The preparation, selection and placement of products will be crucial, as customers return for consistency and an easily navigable environment. Convenience stores already have an advantage in offering a smaller footprint store, so they should take advantage by carefully considering product placement.

Remember: Unique retail experiences drive in-person visits and thankfully, it doesn’t require a song and a dance—the basics done right will do just fine!

  1. Start thinking mobile – From social engagement to rewards programs, your customers are on their phones—and you need to be there, too! Aside from your customers, who else is on their phones constantly (at least when they have a break)? Your employees—and probably you, too! The culture towards mobile technology is slowly changing from a nuisance you lock in a break room or an office drawer to a practical tool that can be utilized appropriately during the workday.

So let’s stop cursing the fact that everyone has a computer in their pocket and embrace it instead!

What can you learn with the right mobile apps and real-time insights?

…to be discussed next time!

5 Musts for Every Restaurant Inspection

By David Mostovoy

restaurant inspection photo.jpg

When a city’s health department decides to inspect restaurants, they can cover a tremendous amount of ground in what seems like a relatively short amount of time. For example, the Philadelphia Department of Health inspected nearly 500 restaurants, delis and other eateries between Nov. 9 and Nov. 21. Good news for local restaurants: they only found a few serious offenders.

In today’s click-bait world, restaurant health inspection stories seem to be on the rise. The Business Journal publications are especially in tune with the latest reports in various municipalities across the U.S. Some of these journals make it a point to publish the findings as they’re reported. Years ago, if a restaurant was cited for an offense, it could make the paper, but then eventually it would go away. The restaurant would fix the problem, reopen if it had closed, and life would go on. In today’s news environment, bad publicity has a permanent home that’s just a quick search and a click away. It’s imperative for restaurants to not wind up on the “naughty” list anywhere because it can do irreparable damage to their brand.

Based on our experience working with restaurant operators, these are the top 5 things to audit weekly in a restaurant:

  1. Food Safety/Cleanliness – Well, this may get a “duh” response since it’s a restaurant, but you’d be surprised with what turns up in some reports, especially when it comes to food that isn’t stored at correct temperatures. This is one of the most egregious offenses because it’s so simple to avoid, yet so costly to all involved parties if not appropriately addressed. It all comes down to working thermometers (for food storage and cooking of meats), adherence to food preparation guidelines, and adherence to proper cleaning procedures.

 P.S. If the food thermometer issue is a sticking point, you can use the BluTherm food thermometer to digitally record readings, which makes auditing process easier.

  1. Make sure employees are adhering to rules – Because that’s the reality: there are rules that are more than guidelines or suggestions. You may have heard this past week that Hawaii may become the next state (among just a handful) to require food handler certification at either a state or county level. If you are in one of those states, your restaurant audit needs to include employee records. Other routine tasks, that include cleaning and inventory management, must also be accounted for on a regular basis.

  2. Ability to report to management. How many times do you mean to send that email or follow up by phone, but something comes up and suddenly you’re pulled away from the task at hand? It happens to all of us. But not reporting issues as they arise in restaurants is where it can get dangerous or, at the very least, negligent. “If you see something, say something” needs to apply to restaurant operations and managers need real-time tools to confidently report any issues they encounter during audits.

  3. Restaurant condition – To the point of reporting any issues, part of the restaurant audit needs to address the condition of the facility. “Standing water” can appear as a note on a health inspector’s record because it can lead to mold, mildew and invite pests. Routinely check for leaks on the interior/exterior walls, ceilings and other permanent fixtures. Also be sure to check the lighting and utilities like gas and water.

  4. Ensure marketing materials are in compliance – Restaurant audits aren’t just about the nuts and bolts of the facility. Have the menus been updated to reflect the latest items? Is there signage in the store reminding customers of the latest promotion? Are prices accurate? The restaurant audit is the perfect opportunity to check these finer details, as they reflect on your brand.

Zenput is the mobile, cloud-based solution that helps restaurant operators gain location-by-location insight on key metrics and maintain accountability across the organization. Learn more about Zenput’s functionality for restaurant operators by clicking here. 

Topics: Franchise, Restaurants

Contactless Payments: A Passing Fad or Slow Adoption?

By David Mostovoy

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Just a couple of years ago, it seemed like contactless payments—Apple Pay, Android Pay and Google Wallet—were the way of the future. These mobile payment systems rely on near-field communication (NFC) technology. Essentially, holding up your smartphone at the point-of-sale terminal digitizes and replaces the credit-debit card chip and PIN, or the (now outdated thanks to EMV) magnetic-stripe transaction at point-of-sale terminals. Just tap and go, and you’re on your way. Seems easy, right?

So why hasn’t this technology gained more traction? Computerworld recently interviewed industry analysts and asked them that very same question. Nitish Patel of Strategy Analytics narrowed it down to two reasons: 1. Conventional payments are not broken. 2. Consumers aren’t clear on the benefits of switching to mobile payments. Another analyst, Jordan McKee of 451 Research, put it even simpler: Mobile wallets haven’t yet proven they are measurably better than incumbent payment mechanisms, “which generally work quite well,” he added.

Indeed, getting the average U.S. consumer to adopt contactless payment technology may be like teaching an old dog new tricks. I have to admit, recent retailer hacks and ongoing credit/debit card fraud makes me think twice about using my card at certain locations like gas stations. But just because a technology is slow to take off doesn’t mean that it can’t be more widely accepted later. Case in point: the personal computer, which took decades to evolve and gain traction. Analyst Bryan Yeager of eMarketer told Computerworld that he believes we’re still in the early-adopter phase, while yet another analyst believes it will take another three years before NFC payment terminals are widely available in the U.S. Not surprisingly, the biggest adopters of mobile wallets are under the age of 35, according to a study by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Three key facts about mobile payment technology from the Computerworld report:

  1. Not every store accepts mobile wallets.

  2. Coffee chain competitors Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as big-box retailer Walmart, are successfully using QR codes via smartphones for transactions.

  3. NFC payments have yet to integrate with loyalty/rewards programs in a way that incentivizes mass market adoption.

Widescale change may happen only if credit card companies and backing banks get on board because so far, mobile device providers have not yet been able to sway the market by themselves. As convenience store retailers are well aware, the current regulatory and legal environment often puts retailers at the mercy of banks.

The most convenience store retailers can do is keep an open mind and consider adopting new payment technologies. We already see some retailers, including QuikTrip, Sheetz and Buc-ee’s accepting Apple Pay, as reported by CSP. Sheetz and QuikTrip previously backed the retailer-led, mobile-payment effort from MCX, which worked in conjunction with Visa and other major credit cards. However, the MCX platform has struggled to gain traction. Retailers, unfortunately, are just along for the ride at this point.

The key takeaway from the Pew report: The biggest obstacle to mobile payment use is concern about financial security. And it’s not your aging parents or grandparents who are most concerned—Millennials led the pack at 74%!

Where Retailers Are Responsible


While retailers may be at the mercy of payments industry forces, they do have direct control over one important aspect of the point-of-sale: The security of payment terminals.

In a time of transition, when customers are increasingly concerned about adopting new technologies, make payments at your store a secure and smooth process. Security is a pillar of customer loyalty in the 21st century, and there’s simply no excuse for not regularly auditing payment terminals. If retailers regularly conduct POS audits, and are generally transparent about security policies and protocols, they will be better positioned to transition their systems—and their customers—to the next technology.

Zenput helps store-level employees ensure the functionality of payment systems and report issues to senior managers. Learn more about how Zenput helps retailers conduct their own security audits in our whitepaper, “Minimizing the Risk of ATM and Gas Pump Skimming with Security Audits." Or check out our Credit Card Reader Audit – POS Form by scheduling a demo.

Related:

ATM Skimming: An Old Battle in Need of a New Solution

Prevent C-store Robberies With Regular Security Audits/Inspections

 

Topics: payment, nfc

Using Technology to Preempt the C-store Customer’s Path to Purchase

By David Mostovoy

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It’s the age-old proposition in the convenience store industry: How do you move customers from the forecourt/gas pump area inside to the store?

There are so many factors here working in tandem. If you write a flowchart, it may look something like this:

Clean, well-lit, inviting environment for the customer to want to fill up →  well-placed and accurate promotional signage → (if available) working TVs/digital signage at the pump.There’s a similar flow inside the store:

Clean, well-lit store → well-placed, accurately priced products and promotions → adequate customer service and POS technology to complete the sale.

You begin to see that upselling to an in-store purchase basically comes down to 3 components:

  1. The manual component: a clean, well-maintained forecourt and a clean, well-stocked store
  2. The technology component: ensures vendor/retailer promotional prices are properly reflected
  3. The labor/staffing component: for exceptional customer service

The reality is that in-store sales software is just that—in-store. It can tell you how many iced teas you sold in the summer, but it’s not going to tell you if the promotional signage in the forecourt told customers they should come inside for a buy-one-get-one free deal. Software won’t tell you if your employees at the foodservice counter promoted the new food item or handled the food with the proper food storage and handling techniques.

Software doesn’t provide information on the environment—it only informs about the result.

Pre-Empting the Result

So who are the retailers that answer the age-old proposition? They’re the ones who manage to pre-empt the result by creating informed processes based on what they know works. They’ve broken the 3 key components down to task management as follows:
  1. Processes to clean the store to maintain a welcoming and safe environment.

  2. Working technology—and that doesn’t necessarily mean digital pumps. It could mean conducting a security audit of payment terminals, especially in a time of targeted criminal activity. These are the kind of safeguards that are crucial to your brand.

  3. Real-time store-level insights that could note staffing levels and any other issues that may occur. Say for a period of a month, you send a district manager to a group of stores to complete an operational audit during the peak time of the weekday. Sample questions could be:

- Are there enough attendants at the pumps?

- Are the foodservice attendants following safe food handling and preparation procedures?

- Are there at least two cashiers manning the registers?

- Are gas pump payment systems secure and showing no signs of tampering?

Using a mobile solution like Zenput, senior management can not only create the audit to ensure key tasks are completed, but they can also customize the parameters and get automatically notifiy the appropriate employees when exceptions arise. These are the actionable insights that help retailers improve their operations and as a result, their bottom lines.

Learn more about Zenput’s real-time retail execution capabilities by clicking here.

See Also:

Converting Your Forecourt into a Moneymaker

Today’s Forecourt: Opportunities to Convert Customers from the Pump

Auditing Branded Gas Station Forecourts Can Increase Supplier Payments 

Topics: C-store