Why Movie Theaters Need to be Audited

By Naomi Balagot

empty movie theater

“I’ll just wait for it to come out on Netflix or Redbox.” Those are the dreaded words for movie theaters, which continue to struggle in foot traffic. The overall box office plunged 5.2 percent in 2014 as attendance dropped approximately 6 percent to 1.26 billion.

It makes sense when everyone has their own silver screen right in the palm of their hand! There has to be a more concerted effort at the corporate level than simply hoping the blockbuster releases are well-timed.

Movie theater operations should revolve around a single goal: To ensure that the movie-going experience meets -- and hopefully exceeds -- customer expectations for an enjoyable experience. Basically, theaters need to convince people to leave home.

This is why it’s crucial to regularly audit each aspect of the movie-goer’s experience, from the moment they enter the door to the time they leave. Here are three key areas of auditing a movie theater and sample form questions.

I. Promotional

  • Are the correct movie titles and showtimes displayed on the marquis outside?
  • Is the marquis well lit at night?
  • Does the board at the point-of-sale accurately display the latest releases and showtimes?
  • Are the correct promotional trailers running before each showing?
  • Are the latest promotional materials displayed for new and upcoming releases?

These may include:

  • posters
  • ceiling hangers
  • cardboard standups
  • digital signs

II. Concessions

  • Are all concession machines and condiment dispensers working?
  • Are the self-serve areas clean and organized (popcorn butter machine, straws, napkins, ketchup)
  • Are surfaces clean?
  • How are inventory levels? (You don’t want to run out of candy on a Friday night!)
  • Food safety: What is the temperature of the refrigerator for prepared foods (hot dogs, chicken tenders, pizza)?

III. The Experience

  • Safety first: Are emergency exits functional?
  • Is there adequate lighting?
  • What is the temperature of the theater?
  • Are projectors checked and serviced regularly?
  • Are films properly stored?
  • Is the cleaning schedule upheld?
  • Are theater floors swept and debris cleared after each showing?

Other operational aspects to keep in mind:

  • Audit the cash handling system.
  • Check registers, not only at the concession stand but also at the ticket booth.
  • Audit self-serve ticket machines.
  • If appropriate, regular audit your website’s ticket ordering system to ensure that it’s working properly. Accidentally overselling a show is a fast way to anger customers!
  • Check that restrooms are clean. This is crucial anywhere food is served.

Also keep an eye on staffing levels. For instance, more help may be needed ushering or selling tickets than behind the concession stand. Managers need the ability to respond to challenges in real time in order to cater to today’s average customer who wants everything on demand.

Remember: It’s important to stay positive and nimble in a challenging, multi-faceted operation.

"I remain very optimistic about our business and the future of our business, but everybody has to be smart and nimble and open to change," said Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and international distribution at Warner Bros. "It's definitely a different climate out there, but the movies are the movies, and there will always be a place for moviegoing."

Topics: Business Operations

Bowling Alley Operations & The Upscaling of an American Pastime

By Brian Harris

dirty bowling alley
Photo by Jonathan Haeber, on Flickr

Bowling is one of those versatile activities that could be at the center of a child’s birthday party, a corporate team-building event, a first date, or a professional competition. There’s something uniquely American about renting a pair of shoes and hurling a 10-pound ball to knock over some objects.

So, why are more and more bowling alleys closing?

"It's a different business than when I ran centers in the 1970s," Sandy Hansell, a former bowling alley proprietor, told USA Today. "In those days, the business was built around leagues. Those days are gone."

Bowling alley growth peaked in the mid-1960s and revenues were driven primarily by league membership. Many leagues centered around the blue collar workplace. Today, however, more young adults have white collar jobs than blue collar jobs, so league membership is down.

We’ve talked about the upscaling of restaurants, airports and hotels across America. It seems that the new American dream is the paradox of “affordable luxury.” A night out on the town is something everyone can afford. It seems like AMF Bowling got the hint with this commercial:

Today, traditional bowling alleys are competing with hybrid bowling/billiard room/shuffleboard room/arcade venues. Dave & Buster’s readily comes to mind, and USA Today points to a similar concept in Punch Bowl Social in Detroit, which also offers a karaoke bar and a full sit-down restaurant.

As one 23-year-old patron put it, “I don't like the old-time bowling alleys. They kind of smell."

You know what’s synonymous with things that smell? Things that break!

The good news is that the fundamentals of bowling alley maintenance have not changed much in the last 50 years, according to Tom Schemm, owner of Schemm Bowling Inc.

Here are the top five perennial bowling alley problems and how to fix them:

  1. Balls that wind up in the gutter  - Lanes should be sanded, smoothed, and kept dry and level. After the lanes are dry, they are treated with a combination of base coats, top coats and sealers.
  2. Bowling balls that don’t return – The ball return is a system of conveyor belts and steel rails that need to be serviced and cleaned regularly.
  3. Pins that aren’t reset when knocked over – Pinsetters need to be cleaned daily and their mechanical parts should be wiped down at least once per week.
  4. Glitchy computers  – Computer support is usually the scoring system’s area of expertise. However, maintenance staff should be prepared to replace a broken monitor if needed.
  5. Yucky bowling balls and dirty-looking pins – Bowling alleys are meant to “pop” visually. Pins should be on a rotating schedule and stored in a cool, dry place. Bowling balls should be regularly wiped and polished.

All of these issues have something in common: consistency. Bowling is a game of wear and tear. Things will break, putting the new hybrid bowling alleys and old-time alleys on an even playing field when it comes to operations.

The Final Frame

Bowling remains a $6 billion industry in the U.S., according to the USA Today report. Bowling alleys don’t need to operate an indoor amusement park to offer something that will get customers in the door. However, they should look to carve out a niche.

For instance, The Gutter in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, brands itself “a bar with a bowling alley” and caters exclusively to an adult crowd. Pinz in Los Angeles caters to a younger crowd by offering roller lights, pins that glow in the dark ,and a state-of-the-art sound system.

Don’t be afraid to innovate, but be consistent with maintenance to deliver a satisfactory customer experience.

Topics: Business Operations

How to Audit Your Gym Like a Boss

By Naomi Balagot

globo-gym-ben-stiller

A gym or fitness center is like its very own small city where all the residents – or members – are working toward the common goal of better health and wellness.  

You may think that the sole purpose of auditing a gym is to check for hazardous equipment and cleanliness. These are certainly the top priorities when inspecting a fitness facility, but it’s more complex.

Today, many gyms have the following amenities:

  • Locker rooms/showers
  • Mixed martial arts (MMA) area
  • Pool
  • Sauna
  • Cardio theater
  • Boxing ring
  • Kids club
  • Café/smoothie bar

It’s important to create checklists and audit each area separately because…

Gym Members Can be Annoying

As a manager, you may scoff and say, “Not my members!” Your loyalty is admirable, but let’s be honest. Not everyone is a model gym citizen. In a facility where people are supposed to have the amenities of home, some people act like that – like they are in the gym alone! Not everyone is neat and tidy… or sanitary.

Machines need to be in working condition and cleaned regularly. Ripped seats or arm cushions need to be replaced or repaired – not duct taped. There should be paper towels and spray bottles with cleaning solution readily available to encourage members to wipe down their machines after use. Towels, if provided, need to be collected and washed.

Of course, barbells, medicine balls, jump ropes and weights should be organized neatly on shelves. It not only looks neat, but also prevents tripping.

But wait, there’s more! I decided to investigate what average people find most annoying about going to the gym, and translate that into what managers can do to improve the experience. An article in the Huffington Post, “13 Annoying Gym Pet Peeves That Makes You Just Want to Quit Working Out” seemed promising.

Here’s a quick rundown:

Sweat
You can’t tell members to stop working out so hard, but you have to be prepared to clean up their sweaty mess if they’re not courteous enough to do it themselves. Members will be turned off if management doesn’t do their part.

Excessive grunting
It’s usually  guys who do this, but to be fair, you could have Maria Sharapova yelling in your gym. It begs the question: Is there enough space on the gym floor?

People working out on top of each other
Are there enough machines and are they spaced out appropriately? Again, this is a personal space issue.

TV hogs
Some machines have their own TVs. Make sure they are in working condition, or some machines might not be used. What channels are TVs set to in the gym? News and sports channels may be appropriate, but not the Food Network.

Loud music
How is the PA system in your gym? Most people will listen to their own tunes, but trainers will need to communicate. Don’t blast music. Also, find a balance between grunge and the soundtrack of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Keep it lively, but not too angry or depressing.

Locker room/restroom etiquette
Nudity is generally frowned upon, and so is theft. While it’s usually the responsibility of gym members to use their own locks, they may forget. Be sure that your gym’s locker room policies are clearly posted and that members are removing their belongings at the end of sessions. Of course, restrooms and showers must be cleaned regularly.

People taking gym selfies
Most gyms post signs asking people to limit cell phone use. This is not only an etiquette issue, but also a matter of privacy. No one wants to feel they’re being creeped on or wind up on the Internet as a joke.

Here are two pet peeves that can be grouped together: People misusing exercise equipment and people who are not trainers intruding on people’s workouts. This translates to a staffing issue. Is there a trainer on staff who can walk the floor and offer help to members in a non-intrusive way?

Don’t forget the exterior and entrance!

Most gyms have well-lit signs and inviting entrances. Working out in front of others can be intimidating enough for some people, so be sure to create a clean, safe and inviting environment.

Also be sure that the front desk is well-staffed for signing up new members, checking the lost and found, and addressing other membership concerns.

Topics: Business Operations

Why Hasn’t the Stockout Problem Been Solved?

By Brian Harris

vitamin-water-out-of-stock-new

I’m going to start suggesting that retailers hang up a mirror in their office, tack a piece of paper above it on the wall and write, “The Reason You Have Stockouts.”

Running out of inventory is an industry-wide problem that some retailers would much rather blame on their vendors and CPG companies. Research shows, however, that retailers are very much at fault.

More than 10 years ago, the Harvard Business Review published the results of a study of more than 600 retail outlets in 29 countries. The study concluded that most retailers -- 72 percent -- were responsible for most stockouts due to faulty in-store ordering and replenishment practices.

More than ten years later, OOS (out-of-stocks) are still a big problem, and not just for small retailers. Last year, Walmart reported it was missing a whopping $3 billion as a result of OOS.

When it comes to stockouts, a former McKinsey Management consultant writes, a business must consider every possible source of financial impact of stockouts, including lost revenues, follow-on business, and goodwill and reputation.

In their defense, some retailers have to operate in a way that more easily leads to stockouts. For instance, their product may be either costly or highly perishable; customers don’t have easy alternatives (for example, specialty products); or the inventory costs a lot to store and maintain relative to the profit it generates. It’s a very fine line.

What Can Be Done to Finally Solve the Stockout Problem?

 recently read a 2013 article published in Supply Chain News which cited multiple out-of-stock studies throughout the years, including one of the first from a 1968 article in Progressive Grocer magazine. This problem certainly isn’t new. The author of the article, Dan Gilmore, asks point blank: “Why haven’t we done a better job improving out-of-stocks?”

The question led to a rather insightful discussion among supply chain management and software professionals. The general consensus is that there is a problem in the information supply chain.  Retailers are disconnected from manufactures, which slows down the ability to respond to demand changes in the store.

“One of the consequences of supplier and retailer cost "optimization"/reduction, expanding product portfolios and increased channel differentiation is a reduction in the accuracy of inventory placement and timing,” writes Jeff Stites, senior vice president and chief information officer at Diamond Foods. “Each element has increased variability and our ability to mitigate that variability has not kept pace or has been constrained (longer runs due to cost reductions in manufacturing combined with a longer tail of SKUs to produce). Technology can only do so much; supplier and retailers must create a more effective planning ‘environment’ to begin mitigating those elements that are increasing variability.”

Two other participants agreed that the “information supply” is the real cause of out-of-stocks and suggested that a possible resolution is having the retail supply chain implement a system where it checks products that have been bought off shelves and sets a re-order point through an automated process.

In other words, a combination of human and automatic processes relying on real-time data and notifications are key to solving this problem.

“Loss sales due to OOS (out-of-stocks) have been plaguing retailers for quite a while now and if they can make a change in their supply chain, there will definitely be a huge change in profits,” one participant concluded.

Topics: Business Operations, Retail

How to Better Manage Your Field Sales Team

By Vladik Rikhter

map-visualization

In my experience, the best salespeople are the ones who don’t view closing as part of their job – it’s part of the fun. The excitement of making a sale is what drove them to enter this line of work in the first place.

I found this to be true especially among field sales representatives. Being on the road is a tough gig. The hours start to add up when you factor in the extra preparation and paperwork field sales teams must complete.

Paperwork is a necessary evil. Without forms and reports, there’s no way to track progress, and you can’t improve what you don’t track. Thankfully, there’s a better — and smarter — way to work in the age of mobile technology. Digital forms stored on a secure cloud make collaboration easy and more efficient.

“Having the right information is critical to closing deals, and an organization that isn’t using the latest tools available could risk losing out to its competition,” writes Sharmin Kent of TinderBox, a sales productivity software company. “Every effective sales team has the same goals: spending time with customers, building relationships, maintaining a consistent process, staying agile and closing deals. With the best 21st century tools — some new, some unexpected — sales teams can set themselves up for even more success.”

Help Your Team Bridge the Gap in Sales Reports

In the 21st century, we now have the point-of-sale technology to tell us the basics about sales performance. Here are three questions your standard sales report can answer without a field rep visiting a store:  

  1. How many customers purchased your product last month?
  2. How many product facings does your company have per store?
  3. What promotions were most successful?

Here are three questions your standard sales report can’t answer:

  1. How many upsell opportunities were attempted and what were the outcomes?
  2. Were point-of-sale promotions and other marketing tools executed properly?
  3. Why are sales consistently underperforming at a certain location?

The only way you can gain these insights is by deploying your field sales representatives and capturing real-time data, including photos of your product displays. Errors are bound to happen across a network. For instance, maybe promotional sales were underperforming at that location because the products were not placed in the store according to the planogram.

Communication & Understanding

Tinderbox echoes what we often say; it’s important to communicate with your team constantly.

“Constant interaction between the management and the sales team is critical for sales success,” the staff writes. “What are the problems they are facing? Where do they need help? Is there something more you need from them? Does the team need to shift their attention to something else? The lines of communication should always be open.”

When evaluating your team members’ progress, don’t just track how close they were to making the sale, TinderBox advises. It’s sage advice. Focusing too much on failures can be bad for morale and distract you from your next big opportunity.

Keep your historical data in mind and look at the bigger picture. With time and diligence, you’ll get to the point of having a “model store,” a location where product sales are optimized. Compare your data against your model store’s sales. Call on your most successful sales team members to share their own insights and recommendations.

Encourage your field sales team to embrace 21st century connectivity. Happy selling!

Topics: Business Operations

How to Prepare a Hotel for Summer Guests

By Brian Harris

hotel-rooftop-pool

The warmth of a mid-afternoon sun.
The summer breeze that gently rustles the trees overhead.
The dirty swimming pool that hasn’t been vacuumed in a week.

Sorry to ruin the imagery! If you’re in the hotel business, you’re well aware that someone is footing the bill for paradise. Maintenance and housekeeping tasks aren’t completed without responsible, well-trained staff members who adhere to a strict schedule and prioritize tasks.

Running a hotel is a 24/7 exercise in customer service. Operations are always better as an exercise than as an experiment!

Here are the five areas of hotel operations that need the most attention during the summer months:

1. Swimming Pool and Spa

Families beeline for the swimming pool upon arrival. Who is cleaning the pool and/or whirlpool and when? Maintaining the correct pH level is a matter of safety and sanitation. Unless you have someone on staff experienced in commercial pool maintenance, this task is better left to a professional company.

2. Terrace

It’s not just the pool that needs constant upkeep. The surrounding terrace and lounging areas also require maintenance. A sample checklist may include:  

  • Chairs cleaned
  • Patio stones powerwashed
  • Pool showers working/water temperature normal (not too hot or cold)
  • Drinking water fountains clean and functional
  • Restrooms clean and routinely checked
  • Trash/recycling collected and removed
  • Landscaping properly maintained

3. Foodservice

Some hotels feature a tiki bar or a small café near the pool area. Of course, the same rules of running a hotel restaurant and upholding the quality of the hotel brand also apply to this area. Temperatures will fluctuate in an outdoor setting. Food safety, proper refrigeration and sanitary surfaces are crucial.

Foodservice tip: Keep in mind that not everyone wants French fries on a hot summer’s day. Offer creative lighter fare such as to-go picnic boxes and fresh-cut fruit. Smoothies and frozen slushies can be a big hit.

4. Beach Access

If the hotel is oceanfront property, be sure to provide adequate passageways for guests coming on and off the beach. Also provide a shower or outdoor faucet so that guests can easily rinse sand from their feet. Sand will inevitably make its way into the lobby, elevators and possibly even first floor restrooms. Beachside hotels have the added challenge of routinely cleaning these areas.

5. Gift Shop/Hotel Convenience Store

When it comes to family vacations, there are two facts of life: 1. People forget things. 2. Kids get bored and parents need ways to entertain them.

Seize the opportunity by carrying the essentials as well as some fun items:

  • Sun tan lotions
  • SPF lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Small coolers
  • Beach umbrellas
  • Swimmies/floaties
  • Shovels and pails
  • Beach balls, frisbees, footballs and other games

Create Fond Memories, Get Repeat Customers

Above all, think like a guest. When was the last time you stayed in a hotel while on vacation? What was satisfactory or unsatisfactory? Was there an amenity that could have made your stay more enjoyable?

I’m fond of an oceanfront hotel in Florida that offers cookies in the lobby at night and a free continental breakfast. It’s not a boutique hotel. It’s just a quality hotel that knows the importance of saving families an average of $30 each day. They must be onto something. It’s always booked solid during peak season!

Topics: Business Operations, Hospitality

How to Improve Hotel Operations ‘Hotel Impossible’ Style

By Brian Harris

anthony-melchiorri

A tough-talking New Yorker can give a good kick in the pants. That’s exactly what Anthony Melchiorri provides as host of Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible.”

Melchiorri, a 20-year veteran of the hotel industry, is an expert at identifying problems and finding solutions that generate profits. The hotels featured on the show are independent or family-run businesses. However, these lessons can be applied to any hotel in the industry, no matter the size.

Melchiorri’s audit can be broken down into three components: property, management/operations and marketing. Here are just some of the things he hones in on during a typical visit:

1. Property

Upon arriving at a hotel, Melchiorri always conducts a property inspection to get a sense of the ambiance and to note any surface or maintenance issues that might be turning off guests.

Outside, he takes note of curb appeal, the tidiness of the exterior, and the upkeep of recreational grounds, including walkways, pools and spas.

Inside, he takes note of common areas. For instance, he wasn’t happy when he walked into a hotel lobby and a cat was sitting on the front desk.  He also notes if the interior design feels worn or outdated. Clad in a full suit and tie, he lies down on beds and even sits on toilets to see if the bathroom feels too small.

Reality check: Are you maintaining a property that’s appealing from the curb to the room?

2. Management & Hotel Operations

On one assignment, Melchiorri found the assistant general manager (GM) of the hotel waiting tables in the restaurant. Meanwhile, the bookkeeper was working a 100-hour week to maintain back office operations. The GM clearly had a passion for the restaurant industry, but Melchiorri pointed out that the restaurant should be operated as a hotel amenity, since more money per visit is typically made on hotel stays.

See Also: So, You Want to Open a Hotel Restaurant

When Melchiorri stepped into this office he was overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork and clutter. At one point he asks the managers, “Did you ever think about going paperless?”

As the heir to the family business, the assistant GM has to step up and take ownership of his role. However, he wasn’t good with numbers and hadn’t otherwise received training on how to manage a hotel. Melchiorri is frustrated when managers don’t know their numbers offhand.

See Also: How Hotel Night Auditors Should Spend Their Time

Reality check: What aspects of your operation are cumbersome? How would your business benefit from responsibility tracking and enhanced employee training?

3. Marketing

This particular hotel had an active Facebook page, but it was virtually invisible through online search engines. Even more frustratingly, the booking engine on the website was not functional at peak season.

“Social media is very important but it doesn’t’ book the majority of your rooms,” Melchiorri said to a hotel’s web/marketing manager. “The best way to bring in new business is to have a good website and high ratings on third-party travel sites.”

Reality check: When you visit your hotel’s website, is the “call to action” to book a hotel room apparent? Are you listed on the industry’s leading travel booking sites, including Expedia and TripAdvisor?

The Takeaway

A hotel runs responsibly and efficiently when employees communicate well about individual and shared responsibilities. You’re in the business of putting a roof over people’s heads, even if it’s just for one night. Always look for ways to improve operations in order to deliver on the promise of an enjoyable stay.

Topics: Business Operations, Hospitality

The Most Important Weekly Report for Restaurant Owners & Operators

By Vladik Rikhter

restaurant-management

While there’s no business like show business, there’s no business quite as challenging as the restaurant industry.

Perhaps some non-foodservice retailers will protest that statement, but they’d have to agree that restaurant hours are just as demanding as retail and pleasing customers can be a lot more stressful against a backdrop of food safety. It’s like the perfect storm of difficult business conditions!

Are you more likely to remember when someone told you not to shop at a department store, or when they told you not to eat at a certain restaurant? When something is wrong in restaurant operations, irreparable damage may be done to the brand if action is not taken quickly.

Luckily, there is something that can be done to uncover problems before they become losses. Instead of hiring Chef Gordon Ramsay and turning your restaurant into Hell’s Kitchen, you can instead collect better data that will lead to actionable results. There’s one report, in particular, that restaurant operators can’t afford to overlook.

Calculating Prime Cost Weekly

When you receive a monthly profit and loss statement, it’s not the time to try to figure out what went wrong in the last 30 days. To identify problems more quickly, industry experts recommend calculating prime cost weekly.

Prime cost is calculated by combining food and beverage costs, salaries and wages, payroll taxes and benefits. According to Jim Laube of RestaurantOwner.com, the most profitable restaurants in the country know their food and beverage costs at the end of each week.

“Weekly food cost reporting changes the entire culture in the kitchen because of the awareness and the sense of ongoing accountability it creates.” – Jim Laube, restaurant consultant

To calculate weekly food costs, restaurants must keep an invoice log, or a record of their daily food and beverage purchases. Hourly labor costs should also be calculated daily.

Did You Know? Prime cost usually runs between 60 percent to 65 percent of total sales in a full-service restaurant and 55 percent to 60 percent of sales in a quick-service restaurant.

According to Laube, many restaurants end their week on Sunday and have the prime cost report by noon on Monday. Some restaurants have the managers prepare the entire report or have a bookkeeper or clerical assistant do this work Monday morning.

To make it easier, Laube suggests having vendors prepare separate invoices for each major product type, and having them break down your food items by category, including grocery, poultry, meat, seafood, etc.

Did You Know? When done correctly, restaurants can lower their food costs by 2 to 4 percent of sales by calculating food cost and tracking inventory levels each week.

Food for Thought

Any time a process has a lot of paperwork and manual input, there’s also a lot of room for error. Electronic forms can reduce the clutter and confusion of collecting this data, especially in chain restaurant operations. Formulas to automatically calculate results can also be programmed, drastically reducing the amount of time it takes to get results.

So, instead of a manager or employee spending Monday morning crunching numbers, they can focus on kitchen culture and communicate with staff about the results that impact your bottom line.

Topics: Business Operations, Restaurants

3 Lessons from Managing Partner and Vendor Relationships

By Julia Burnett

bud light delivery truck

Recently, I was reading up on vendor management best practices when I came across this passage about selecting the right vendor. “The vendor selection process can be a very complicated and emotional undertaking if you don’t know how to approach it from the very start,” the author wrote.

I was intrigued by the “emotional undertaking” aspect of negotiations. Dealing with various partners to reach an end goal can be highly rewarding, yet exhausting. You know the saying “it’s not personal – it’s just business!” Well, we’re all human. Success and failure in our business can most definitely feel like our personal success and failure.

It’s especially frustrating when a partner doesn’t hold up their end of an agreement, negotiations sour, and a business relationship ends. You may be quick to condemn the other party out of frustration, but there are always two sides to every story.

Have you ever asked yourself: Could I have done anything better to communicate problems before they reached the point of no return?

Working at Zenput provides me a unique experience. On one hand, we provide a service to our customers and in a way, act as a vendor. On the other hand, many of our partners are retailers looking for ways to improve vendor management with companies that deliver tangible goods. Since I see both sides of the equation, I want to share some practical advice for maintaining good relationships with vendors:

1. Communicate with Vendors From the Start

When I enter into a new agreement with a customer, whether it’s a retailer, a restaurant chain or a distributor, I want them to explain their business goals clearly from the start. I know customer service is important to any company, but if I can understand how they want to improve their business, I can better execute our strategy.

At Zenput, we also encourage our partners to communicate their expectations with vendors delivering good and services. Of course, it’s always recommended to put the finer points of the contract in writing.

2. Vendors are Not Mind Readers

If only we had this ability! Zenput relies on our partners to tell us how we can better meet their needs and improve our service. Similarly, we encourage our customers to notify their vendors of exceptions in real time. If there’s an issue affecting contractual obligations, retailers can provide visual evidence and resolve the issue in an up-front and efficient manner.

3. Request Progress Reports from Vendors

Vendors and customers rely on each other to reach their goals. With Zenput, our customers have options to change the way data is collected and presented to them, which is the chief advantage of a flexible platform. Similarly, a retailer’s vendors and partners can collect data on your behalf, and you can control their account access and privileges.

The purpose of these custom reports goes back to point No 2. You want to identify and address issues as they arise and before they impact your business.

Remember: Neither side of the vendor/customer relationship likes to be blindsided with complaints. Communicate consistently and give your vendor a reasonable chance to resolve issues that may arise.

Topics: How to be Successful with Zenput, Business Operations

How to Improve Operations at a Home Furnishings Store

By Vladik Rikhter

room-and-board
Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr

If there’s a segment of the retail industry that knows how to weather a storm, it’s surely the home furnishings market. When the housing market plummeted during the economic recession, home furnishing retailers also felt the impact.

For example, Bed, Bath & Beyond’s net sales pre-recession in 2007 were 14 percent, and dropped to a mere 5 percent in 2014, according to Forbes.

In the first three months of 2015, consumer confidence in the United States has started improving to pre-recession levels, and unemployment decreased to 5.5 percent in February. The outlook for Bed, Bath & Beyond is optimistic, especially in light of falling gasoline prices, but the rate of recovery remains slow.

On one hand, consumers are now more careful about how they spend money, and during the several years the economy struggled, the way people shopped also changed.

As Forbes explained, Bed, Bath & Beyond saw 4-percent year-over-year growth in the 2014 second quarter. Comparable sales also grew by 3.4 percent and more than 50 percent of this increase came from online sales and mobile channels.

With renewed emphasis on technology, how do home furnishings businesses hope to survive in brick-and-mortar retail?

The Price is Right

We’ve discussed the importance of inspecting your retail property and creating well-lit, clean and safe shopping environments. For retailers like Bed, Bath & Beyond, Crate & Barrel, and Home Goods, correctly pricing merchandise and making sure all promotional materials are up to date is just as important as creating an inviting retail environment. It’s also important that employees excel in customer service and exceed customer expectations.

All of these factors give customers a reason to shop in brick-and-mortar stores in addition to any online shopping they may do.

Here is a sample checklist for inspecting a home furnishings store:

  • The store is neatly landscaped, well-lit and has curb appeal.
  • The store is organized according to various sections of a home and each section flows naturally. For instance, living room furnishings/bedding are on one side of the story, while kitchen/dining room items are on the other side.
  • Store signage is clear and facilitates a customer’s movement through the floorplan.
  • Shelves are clean and not holding too many heavy objects.
  • Merchandise is arranged neatly on shelves.
  • Products in each section are not dented, scratched, opened or otherwise damaged.
    Products are priced correctly on shelf.
  • Product pricing reflects current sales/promotions.
  • Registers and point-of-sale systems are up to date and honor the latest coupons/promotions.
    Back room is organized and orderly.
  • Employees can quickly find and/or restock an item.
    Employees are trained in how to reorder out-of-stocks.
  • Employees engage customers in stores and ask if they need help locating items.

Imagine there’s a glass paperweight sitting on your desk. Over time, you’ve let your desk get cluttered and disorganized. One day, you’re bustling around your office looking for something. You start to shift around the binders and notebooks on your desk and (crash!) the paperweight falls to the ground and shatters. This could have been prevented had you organized your desk all along.

A home furnishings store should  be viewed through the lens of organization and urgency. Retailers must approach day-to-day operations like they are fragile and can “crack” at any time from the pressure of online retail competitors. Creating a highly responsive environment of customer service can improve operations and make a positive impact on a retailer’s bottom line.

Sample Retail Store Evaluation Form

Topics: Business Operations, Retail