Culture trumps Strategy! – What I learned from Ben & Jerry’s

Well, I’m back in Vancouver after what has been an amazing road trip. Austin, Dallas and Vegas. The whole trip was fantastic!

I love working in the field with MonkeyMedia Software’s customers, especially with the franchisees and their employees. I enjoy working on the front line with customers, and I especially love helping our young restaurant community members to “up their game” in the world of catering. Lucky for me, I now have this wonderful opportunity to really do the work I love!

I was invited to speak at the Ben & Jerry’s Global Franchisee Meeting 2013 about catering and off-premise for their brand. I’d like to share with you what I learned as I continue on this very personal journey. My visit with the Ben & Jerry’s family was very special, completely unique and transformative in many ways.

Ben, Erle and Jerry.
Ben, Erle and Jerry.

Let me just say that what I learned the most from this experience is that culture trumps strategy every single time. You see, Ben & Jerry’s is owned by Unilever, a large multi-national conglomerate with business interests all over the globe. But no matter, as part of their mission statement, activism is part of the plan for B&J. They have a corporate campaign running called “Get the dough out of politics“.

It’s been that way since the beginning.

So, you can imagine how nervous a multi-national conglomerate can get when their brand ambassadors push the limits of the campaign by standing up for something like this… Check out Ben and Jerry’s www.stampstampede.org. Talk about creative! Watch this video to learn more about their current crusade. It’s bold and brave, that’s for sure. I admire them for their conviction.

Remember, this video below is not endorsed by the company. It is a personal project close to Ben Cohen’s heart. Nothing to do with the company!

As I immersed myself into the franchisee system, I was greeted with open arms, a high level of trust and a willingness to share and learn. And so, I made sure I spent time trying to understand their ways. I joined in on their activities, attended their education sessions and spent time speaking to their group about catering and the work that MonkeyMedia Software is doing to help our customers grow the off premise sales channel.

This was truly a unique life experience. You see, even though they are owned by such a large corporation, they have gone a long way to make sure that they remain responsible social citizens, as Ben and Jerry have always done. They are serious about their ongoing activism and their business culture is one of the most unique that I may have ever experienced.

I met wonderful, smart, hardworking and honest people throughout all levels of their organization. I am impressed by their sense of who they are, what they stand for and the responsibility that they take to make a difference in their communities that they serve. Independence lives strong and the culture runs deep in their DNA. The have a deep belief system.

Now that I have met so many people in the Ben & Jerry’s family, I am touched deeply by their passion and their unwavering focus about sticking to their core values. The culture that Ben & Jerry established early on, lives more strongly today and they have an incredible desire to act towards the common good, while maintaining an economic model that allows them to stay in business.

As with all companies at this scale, they do have a business strategy that is sound. However, finding the balance between the conservative ownership of Unilever and the activism for positive change that runs deep in their brand culture, is not an easy thing. They have chosen the hard path where others would have packed up and gone home long ago.

For me, their heritage and culture is so rich, that in fact, it completely trumps the business strategy. These people are connecting emotionally in their communities and their group understands that waking up in the morning to do important work is not just about money. They acknowledge that it needs to be there, but that in fact it is a byproduct of their group’s higher purpose.

I learned alot this past weekend. What a gift that Ben & Jerry’s gave me this week!

Thanks guys. I appreciate your trust. I am forever touched by the caring you have for our planet. Thanks for having me!

Looking forward to growing catering sales with your group!

Consider Hiring a Sales Professional to Grow Catering Sales!

At MonkeyMedia Software, we believe in people like Brian Tucker. I’ve never met Brian, but from what I know about him I can see that he’s a Sales Professional. I believe that sales systems need to be learned, applied and monitored to grow catering sales. There are 1000’s of sales systems you can consider. But I like Brian’s approach. It applies to any business. It’s scalable, and predictable and it works! Heck… I’m even recommending it for our sales team at MonkeyMedia Software!

If you think about it, the restaurant industry has done an amazing job in terms of its success and scale at filling the demand for its retail services. It’s taken generations, but we have certainly become world-class retailers. We are masters at getting our customers to come to us! It’s a big decision for them to actually consider our restaurants as a destination in their day.

Like all markets, they eventually segment, and along the way we must innovate and grow by exploring and mastering new service markets. For today’s discussion, I’d really like to focus on the ‘catering’ sales channel. It’s beautiful in so many ways, but mostly because you can get a retail dollar out of ‘manufacturing plant’ rents. Allow me to explain further.

As restaurateurs, we all face the same challenge. How do we grow sales? How do we especially do that in competitive markets combined with a sluggish economy?

I say we do it by going back inside our companies. I say we do it by making a conscious and concerted effort to create and implement “active selling systems”. We need to go deeper into our communities and we must hear what our customers are asking for. The data is clear. They want healthier food, at good prices and the convenience of getting it fast. If you can bring the food to them, they’ll consider it a bonus! But it’s just not that simple. Why? Because our customers are so smart, so sophisticated, that unless we become definitive in our actions, they just won’t respond.

On top of that, consumers want choice and alternative services from their favorite restaurants. Each one of our customers is making complex buying decisions every day when it comes to restaurant services. Yet, I see this complexity as an incredible opportunity for the restaurant industry. Why? Because at our root, we are manufacturers. As manufacturers, we have incredible flexibility in our operations.

As a matter of fact, my intuition tells me that it might be in the best interest of the restaurant community to ‘raise the complexity’ of our customers’ food buying options. I say, we focus our energy toward gaining more of the consumers’ grocery dollars. Not all of those dollars, but at least some of them. The question is, which dollars and how do we get them?

Active selling. Professional selling. Old school. Other industries have been doing it for years. Why aren’t we?

In my view, up to this point in history, as restaurant operators we have failed as a group to maximize the use of our existing assets. And yet right in front of us, there is a market opportunity in catering and off-premise sales worth billions of dollars in incremental revenue for the restaurant industry. The data is not clear yet, but it will be soon. You’ll see.

So, what can we do beginning tomorrow at every restaurant, in every city in the world? Something practical, inexpensive and something that will provide a fantastic ROI.

Begin to shift considerable focus and energy toward all of the activities of where your current, past and future customers live, work and play. Design a marketing campaign and menu for each of those occasions. After all, more services means more sales, but only if we are going to do it right! Once we have the experience scripted, you will be in a position to sell. Actively sell. Yes. Professional sales tactics will work to build meaningful and ongoing relationships with our customers. And if we do it right, they will spend more time and money with us.

More well-known brands have the benefit of a built-in following of loyal customers, and because of this consumers will continue to trust and believe in the brand promise and products – whether consumed in-store, at the office or at home. That’s a really big thing for everyone.

What makes the case for catering even more compelling is that this off-premise increase in sales will complement the ‘swells’ of our daily operations. In this business, your products and services are out the door before your restaurant day part gets into gear! That’s a really big thing as well. As catering and off-premise sales become a larger part of our sales mix, we will come to understand that we have in fact altered the unit economics of each one of our restaurants. This is where “manufacturing rents” come in.

In an industry that has been built on “A Locations” for retail traffic, we will soon realize that in fact, we can now consider “offbeat” locations which are less expensive per square foot because we can get a retail dollar out the back door. Don’t underestimate this idea. It’s big.

Now, before you go running into that BIG catering wall in front of you don’t get confused between takeout, dine-in, curbside, and catering. These are all very different products and services and your customers will come for each of these reasons if you do a good job at designing the experiences. Oh, and did I mention that you will have to build a professional sales team. Call Brian. He’ll explain more.

Focus on the language. That’s the hardest part.

Takeout AND catering can be offered for BOTH pickup AND delivery. Oh yeah. And don’t underestimate the complexity of distribution. That complexity is a good thing because not only will your customers spend more money with you but also your food will be out the door on its way to your customers long before your retail business gets slammed for the day. So you can actually do both. The distribution part of your services will be critical for customers because if you take it to them, it means they don’t have to go get it! That’s convenience and has a lot of value to a lot of people.

Let’s consider the consumer mindset towards catering as an ‘off premise’ experience for family gatherings, athletic events, birthday parties and office meetings, just as some examples. If you really take time to think about all the possible occasions, you’ll fall off your chair!

Each of these occasions can be a segment of the catering market from the perspective of the restaurateur. The decision by our customers’ to purchase our products and services will completely depend on our ability provide a predictable and scalable experience, to fill the desire of that customer for that occasion. So, what’s the experience? A ‘one size fits all’ approach? That just won’t work.

To grow catering sales, find new markets within your existing geographical location and communicate a new message to those markets. To do this, you must change your language, move your products around, change your manufacturing process and make catering a compelling experience for your employees and your customers.

The restaurateurs that I know that are doing it properly are seeing sales traction like they’ve never seen before! That only comes through conversation and slowing down long enough to ask your customers what they want from your brand.

Sometimes, they don’t know what they want until you tell them! Professional selling works in this business. Start tomorrow.

Let’s talk catering!

Family Business is Good Business – The Italian Way

I am sitting here on one of these crazy flying machines again. Hurling towards the Midwest at top speed. How fast do these A320’s go anyways? “It’s just a commute to work” I convince myself. Just a commute? Seriously? My third road trip in three weeks. “just drink water”, I tell myself.

Well, the Northwest of Canada is not the most convenient place to commute from. I’m positive now that our NHL team, the Vancouver Canucks, have never won a Stanley Cup because of the travel toll. Yes, we pay a price to live in the beautiful Northwest. It’s far from most everything and we get hammered on the time change.

No matter. It gives me a few extra hours to really focus on my task the next few days. I’m working with the “inner circle” of a tightly held family business.

Franchisors and operators of 170 restaurants. Full service Italian concept. Includes pizza delivery.

This brand has been catering since 1964! That’s before I was born. Seems a bit silly that I should be teaching some long-term catering experts how to cater. So, this got me thinking.

If the family has been catering since 1964, what can I do on this trip to improve their “catering perspective”?

This is a 5th generation family venture. It has all of the classic textbook elements that are common in generational family businesses. They operate totally differently than “regular” corporations. I’m going to use that to my advantage. This is a great family with great core family values.

Personally, I admire that. It feeds me.

Estate planning, succession planning, family dynamics, intertwined finances, sibling rivalry and deep rooted history will be present in the boardroom. I’m going to have to dig deeper on this one. I just know it. I’m bringing my ‘inside voice’ because my personal passion can get as certain and as loud as anybody’s.

Well, to my good fortune, (or perhaps misfortune), not only did I write a thesis paper on “Passing the torch” in a family business, I myself left a family business in 1996 after 10 years. It’s worked out for me in my business life, but it was not easy at the time. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will share that the learning was BIG. It applies here. I plan on using it.

As I write this post, I am reminded to focus on the issue at hand. I am reminded that my goal on this trip is to align a group of capable and passionate young (and not so young) people that are working together mostly because they share the same blood. Not necessarily because they are the right person for the job.

But that’s ok. It can work in their favour, the family business thing. It’s unique. It’s special. Lots of good stuff to go with the challenges.

It’s challenging enough to layer new services inside any organization never mind one that runs so deep with love and complex family dynamics.

On top of that, the family is Italian! Food is everywhere, egos large and divisions run deep. That’s what family businesses are. Difficult to keep alive. After all, more than 85% of family businesses fail in the second generation. Of those left standing, 90% fail in the third generation. Remember, I wrote a paper on the topic. I also left a family business. So, I know what it is. And it’s complicated. No question about that. Nothing easy about it.

Saying that, it can also be AMAZING!
So, I am asking myself, “how is this family business still standing in its fifth generation?”.

Something special is happening here. Alot of pride and love There is alot to celebrate. This kind of survival is not usual.

Most [family businesses] are gone by this time. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s going to be tenuous in the room. Some family members going to the right and some to the left. It’s natural. It’s the way it is in these situations. So what?

So here’s my plan;
1. Focus on the best interest of the brand.
2.Facilitate agreement that my business academics make sense. Its just a business.
3.Gain trust from each family member and their managers. I am there to serve each of them equally.
4. Point out that my disconnect from their history is a strength..
5. Ask them to check their egos at the door. There will be no arguing on my watch.
6. Ask them to leave their personal judgement at the door.
7. Focus,focus,focus.

Of course there are many other things that I will ask of them. But without their trust and buy-in, I’m dead meat! So, I’ll just continue writing this blog post so that I can post it online and make sure they all get this memo before I get onsite.

Successful Family Business require a solid succession plan.

Memo to All Family Members and Managers

I am traveling far and wide to spend this time to help you increase your off-premise catering sales system wide.

I know there is alot of water under the bridge and that blood is thicker than water. I left my family in Vancouver to be with yours and for that I am grateful. So let’s be productive together. Let’s get to work. Let’s have some fun.

I urge you to attend our sessions with your best foot forward. Tuck your “stories” in your closets. Leave your personal “hurts” at the door. We won’t have room for that over the next few days. Forget about the “he said vs. she said” blame game. It’s not going to matter. It’s not going to work on my watch!

No. Please come with an open heart and an open mind. I just want to focus on the future. If your time has seriously come where you just want to make it better, than show up!

My job will be to create safety in the group and if I feel anyone is not adding value by simply digging heels in on old and stale issues I’m going to ask you to leave the room. Be warned.

I am not traveling all this way just to get stuck. I intend to move mountains over the next few days. Anything less would be a waste of money and time. Yours and mine.

What I can tell you, is that if you let me do my job and you give my catering business strategy a chance, our focus together will be on how we build a $48 Million per year business for your brand. For your family. After all, I appreciate how many of your family members rely on this business in this 5th generation. It’s got to be hundreds of people spanning all ages and genders.

So, I urge you today. Think of the future. Think of making it better. Don’t show up giving me all the reasons of ‘why it won’t work’. We all know there are thousands of reasons why it won’t work.

Guess what? If you tell yourself it won’t work, it won’t. The last time I looked, building a multi million dollar catering business takes effort. Gumption. Vision. Passion. Hard work.

Families all have dysfunction, including my own. It’s why most family businesses fail. But somehow, our paths cross today and my job is to be accountable to each of you so that you each serve the business and yourselves well. The business is separate from you. Separate from years of complex personal inter relations.

Well, I’ve got 45 minutes left in today’s commute and when I get there, I want you to know that I’m taking numbers. I’m not here to play games, I’m here to get the job done.

We can do it the ‘hard way’ or the ‘easy way’. I can be as old fashioned as anybody, but I promise you that I am going to put my best foot forward and fight hard for what I know is sound business logic and a certain and proven methodology.

At MonkeyMedia Software, we’ve done this before. Our customers who heed our advice are not only winning, but they are winning BIG! Just ask them yourselves.

I’ll see you all in a few hours. I hope you will let me be part of ‘the family’. I promise to serve each of you well. But you will have to give me a chance. That decision is yours.
Please be kind to each other. (and to me!).

End of Memo

For those of you reading this blog post, stay tuned for my report after the next few days. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Preparing for another landing so I have to go. I’ll be in touch soon.

When I’m on the Road, I’m moving forward

Hey there:

Just came off a whirlwind road trip!  Like a boxer training for his next fight, road work is important for a growing business venture.

I’d like to tell you it’s easy, but that would not be the truth. Its tough.  Mentally and Physically.  It’s tough on your family.

For those of you that travel for work and have families, I am sure you will agree.  Especially if your business has a quick pace to it.  Well, as it grows, it gets faster. At least, that’s how it’s going for MonkeyMedia Software.

Our team is  fighting hard every single day for the efficiency and scale of our customers’ catering operations, and its going great!  Thing is, we’ve got to keep it going.  So, more road work is needed.  More site visits, more on site training and workshops, more hands on the street kind of effort and of course, more software deployments.

I dream that one day, the off-premise market will represent 50% of restaurant revenues.  That’s $315 Billion in annual sales, based on today’s revenues.  In reality, it will be more as consumers change their buying habits.  Ok.  I’m lumping in all delivery for takeout, catering, mail-order and licensing revenues into this number.  The countless ways that brands can extend their services outside the four walls of the restaurant.  Anyways, regardless, it’s a big number.

Ok.  I did say it was a dream!

So why do it?  It’s got to be worth it, in the end  so the whole effort and investment makes sense, but in the meantime, until “that day” comes, it has to be more meaningful in the moments.  Otherwise, it just too hard.  You have to believe you are doing the right thing to continue, or you need to change strategies, no?

Well, I’ve got the “believe” thing and the “strategy” thing pretty much in check.  So, I just continue.  That’s a good thing right?

So, I say, It’s got to be the journey.  The day-to-day.

So, I was thinking to myself, “I know what it is that I don’t like about being on the road, so what are the parts that I do like about it?” seeing that it’s a big part of my job.  And I do love my job!  So, I had better focus on the great things because there are so many!

So here are my top “likes” , if I were to capture the moments in between over the last few weeks.

1.  Validation – Feeling of Accomplishment fills my heart

Nothing makes me feel more accomplished than the happy faces of  the catering teams of our  customers!

2.  Learning – Fast Casual Executive Summit fills my brain with great information

My Facilitation of the CEO Discussion panel along with Tom Feltenstein. Great conversation and insight from Frank Paci, Don Fox, David Rutkauskas, Phil Friedman and Dean Loring.  I am so lucky to learn from these great leaders.

3.  Friendship – Making new connections with like-minded leaders

Great to meet you Wally Doolin! Love your passion and admire your leadership.

4.  Community and Fun – Laughter creates community, trust and sharing

Here we are shooting our “annual tradition” video. Soon to be up on Youtube! Great people, great fun.

5.  Teambuilding – Building Culture and a Team

I am very lucky to be able to serve the 32 team members at MonkeyMedia Software. They make sure things are ok at home as we do our road work.

When it comes to our business, when we are on the road, we are moving forward.  

Enjoy your day.  Thanks for stopping by.  Travel Safe.

Erle

Let’s Raise Kids to Be Entrepreneurs – Back To Basics

Well, as many of you know, my team at MonkeyMedia Software is working on a film called Back To Basics.  It started as a simple idea really.  Inspired by my learning as an entrepreneur navigating the complex boardrooms of America’s largest restaurant corporations.

The story line is real.  It comes from personal experience.  Lucky for me, the storytellers in our film agreed.

The premise of the story is compelling.  Really compelling.  Because as our restaurant corporations are focused on increasing short-term share value, our managers have boxed themselves in.  A focus on short-term share price forces short-term thinking because the financial markets always respond positively to short-term profits.

And so, because our boardrooms are populated with highly trained business sharpshooters who are great at applying formal business academics, we may be creating a “disconnect” in our organizations.

This “disconnect” is causing an imbalance in our boardrooms.  The entrepreneurship that lives at our restaurant unit level must be recognized and nurtured.  Our restaurant community must hold responsibility to make sure that as we pursue emerging markets in other parts of the world, we in fact invest in our people at home, at the restaurant level, so that they can join tomorrow’s leaders at the highest level of our corporations.

This will result in a healthier perspective in our boardrooms of the future.  The reason we need that is to make sure we compete fiercely at home in our mature markets as we expand globally in emerging markets.  We cannot do both without putting a plan in place for our young entrepreneurs who simply have not had the opportunity to be formally trained in business.

If you would like to read the long version of the film’s premise, please visit the website for the film.  All the net proceeds from this project will be donated to the NRAEF.

I saw the video below and it really inspired me today.   I hope you enjoy it too!

Great advice from some great leaders

I am really lucky!  I mean, really lucky!  I get to work with the best in the business.  This summer, at MonkeyMedia Software we have set up our Industry Advisory Council to help guide us responsibly as our restaurant industry legitimizes the catering revenue channel, especially for multi-unit restaurant operators.  We need a lot of advice as we navigate the complex landscape of growing a world-class company.

We will be making a more formal announcement later in the year.  So watch the press for that news!

The following leaders in our community have accepted roles on our IAC and we will be adding more quality people as it makes sense for us to do so.

I am so excited to have this kind of mentorship and experience.  Talk about adding depth to the bench!  I am looking forward to serving these force-multipliers in my career.

So, these developments got me thinking.  Again.  Not about anything in particular really.  Just thinking.  How can I do my best to really tap into the experience of the people around me? These wonderful, experienced, smart and generous people? I mean, if I don’t ask the right questions, how am I going to learn from them?  Sure, they have offered to help.  But, to what end?

Then I realized, quite suddenly really, that I continue to hold the responsibility.  The responsibility of continuing to “sell and market” my vision.  Then I started reconsidering my methodology.  After all, I have been “selling” for years.  Trying to stand on a soap box bringing prospects to my side of the playground.  Always trying to make noise about new features or point out the obvious benefits.  Why is “my” product or service better than someone else’s?  There are so many great companies with great products and truth is we all have to dig down deep to differentiate.  Well, I am tired of that.  As one of the key sales resources in my organization, I cannot sell unless I believe.  That means that I have to be able to present the proper value proposition to all my stakeholders.  I could not sleep at night if I had to sell vapour.  No way.  Not a chance.

As I struggled with this concept of “selling”, it dawned on me that in today’s world, we have to do it differently.  Find better ways.  So as I asked my Industry Advisory Council for advice, lucky for me, Tom Feltenstein had these powerful words to share.  Very powerful indeed.  He sent it to me in the context of my question to him of how do we get better at sales?  Here is his response:

“….. instead, here is the much smarter, more sophisticated question:  How can I set up a system of attraction that brings a steady, reliable stream of ideal potential customers to me, asking for my advice or assistance as a trusted authority or provider in their category of interest, or even better, who are predetermined to be my customers if accepted?”

Well.  Tom got me thinking about this.  I don’t have a clear response for him yet but I am working on one.  I’ll continue to work on it.  What I can say is that as a person who believes deeply that the catering revenue channel will change the landscape of the future for the US restaurant industry, I owe all of you a “system of attraction”. I think I have started down that path.  If I hadn’t would I be where I am? Unlikely.  Saying that, how do you put it in a bottle?  One that you can carry with you all the time.

I will work on just doing a good job today and serve my stakeholders well.  I hope you do too!

Enjoy your day!

This Snake Bites! – The Myth of Hybrid Vigor

This Snake Bites!

The Myth of Hybrid Vigor

I go to Florida on occasion. I like it and who wouldn’t – warm water, beautiful beaches and friendly people. It’s really great. So of course I’m interested in the local exotic wild life.

A while back I was watching a nature show on big snakes that have invaded Florida and how they are rapidly hybridizing and taking over. The reason is that in nature, two closely related species can combine and produce a snake that is bigger, stronger and capable of crushing its competition.  It’s called Hybrid Vigor. The idea is fascinating and it occurred to me that it also applies to many areas of business and we’ve seen various restaurant businesses add similar brands and operations and successfully grow. However, where catering and retail business units are concerned in a multi-unit restaurant operation, the idea of Hybrid Vigor is a complete myth – but few Executive teams realize it.

When you think about it, Hybrid Vigor sounds logical – you simply combine two closely related entities (such as retail and catering), run them largely the same way, and get something bigger and stronger – right?

WRONG! Just because it occurs in nature, doesn’t make it natural in the multi-unit restaurant world and not only can this mindset fool you into making some big blunders with your catering operations, it can weaken your existing business to the point where your competition crushes YOU!

Within the catering arena, I agree that you absolutely want to leverage existing assets and this has long been a solid business principle. Catering allows you to add profitable sales while keeping capital expenditures minimal and maximizing additional human resource bandwidth at the store level.  In fact, catering is a hidden revenue channel for many multi-unit restaurant owners and I know from hands on experience it can add up to 20% in system sales and 40% to overall gross margin.

These economics make it so attractive that many multi-unit restaurant brands jump into catering without a clear understanding of the shift in mindset required to operate a catering business unit well. It’s like thinking you own an awesome show dog, but later finding out you have a python that you can’t control effectively.

This happens because the retail business LOOKS so similar to the catering business, but in reality it is a completely different animal. The customers’ demands are different, the execution is different, the sales are different and the store level economics are different. In short, it’s a completely different business and must be approached that way. While catering can be layered onto existing assets it is not really combined or absorbed into the retail space because it must retain its own focus to serve the specific demands of the catering customer.

For years I’d extolled the virtue of a dedicated executive catering position in every organization and this is the first (and most important) step to successfully operating a catering business unit. It is not an effective strategy to just tack catering onto existing job descriptions such as marketing or operations and expect things to go well. We all have priorities and when time and resources are tight it is human nature to focus on your main tasks – and catering gets shorted.

For those forward thinking executives who understand the differences in catering and retail at the core level, they are poised to maximize the opportunities that lie ahead. But this is not a case of hybridization, it is a case of two related business units sharing assets but maintaining their autonomy in order to serve different markets.  Two large business units each pulling maximum efficiency from shared assets while attracting more and more customers to your business are much stronger than any type of hybrid will ever be.