I always look forward to this time of year. As a restaurant operator in Vancouver years ago, I always made sure I attended the National Restaurant Association gathering, year after year. Mostly, it was for the learning. Lot’s of learning.
Even today, 15 years later, as the CEO of MonkeyMedia Software and the Founder of the MMS Catering Institute, I still go for the learning.
There are so many events to choose from in just 5 short days. One of my favourites is the Celebration of Technology at Zed 451 on Sunday night, May 19. I’d recommend you attend if you are in Chicago. You can register here.
But today, it’s become more than just learning for me. As our organization works with thousands of restaurant operators, day in and day out, all focused on their catering operations. We owe it to our community to reach high and be the best that we can be. A never ending commitment to make ourselves better. We can only do that by taking part in community based activities. We need the feedback, validation and the passion of others.
Well, over the years, you end up making great friends. Real friends. Nice people working in an amazing industry. I enjoy circling back, year after year. I really go there for community…. to be part of something fantastic and make sure that I have a place to “hang my hat”. Check out this video that Dawn Sweeney made, as the president and ceo of NRA.
I think she does a great job at setting her passion for her work in this video.
Well, there’s always alot to discuss. Me? I’ll look forward to meeting you on the show floor, or perhaps, if you have time, you might come by our booth where we are showcasing the services of the MMS Catering Institute and MonkeyMedia Software. Booth #6878.
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.
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.
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.
Good morning. It’s a beautiful day here in Vancouver.
Here in the Northwest, we get a lot of light this time of year. Tomorrow, we won’t see dusk until around 10PM. It’s special!
I was looking for some inspiration for this week’s post. I prefer not to write if I don’t have anything of substance to share with my readers. During the early days of this blog, I could take BIG risks. Why? Well, because nobody was reading! No followers. My “verbal gymnastics” were my own and nobody really cared.
A lot has changed now. There are more than 1000 beautiful people following these blog rants now, and just like that, I find myself being tentative on occasion with my posts due to the power (both positive and negative) of “the written word”. My own written words. If I am not careful, I can really do myself damage.
Writing these posts are personal. They selfishly feed my own need for understanding, for knowledge seeking. I’m always searching for better ways, for answers to big questions. I’m looking for feedback. Instant gratification. It’s selfish. But hey, isn’t that what the internet is all about? Just a sea of words, photos, videos and data.
You see, in my line of business, strategy, education and software services for the off premise channels for the restaurant industry, the sales cycle is slow. Very slow. Painstakingly slow. The contracts we are signing today are with strategic relationships that we have been nurturing for years. Sometimes, it takes six visits to a brand’s corporate offices. Three dinners and conference call after conference call. 3700 emails and many messages left in voice mail boxes. Yes, the effort is high. The costs extraordinary.
So why do I do it? Because I believe in what we are doing. We are changing the unit economics of our customer’s operations. At least, that’s what our customers tell us. The one’s that see what we see. The ones that have taken some time to “harvest low hanging fruit” in their operations. It’s right in front of them! (And you too!). Ok, I’ll move on with my point.
And so, to keep my own sanity, I write. I write what is on my mind. Not necessarily what is in the best interest of anyone specific. These are my own views. When I write, I get instant feedback. I use that feedback to help me process my own direction. It serves as a compass for my leadership at MonkeyMedia Software.
Otherwise, I often feel like I am floating on a dingy in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with no land in sight. I thought I was paddling in the right direction! I swear I saw a lighthouse straight ahead! Well, it was there a couple of hours ago. Then, just like the contract that we thought we might close this week, I realize that what I thought was up ahead is just a mirage. Like some black magic trickery. I must be dehydrated! I need drinking water.
“Ok, it’s not personal”, I tell myself. “They’ll be back”, I imagine. Why? Because just like me, they have no choice but to do the right thing. They just don’t know what the right thing is! That’s my fault. Not theirs. I have more work to do. “Just keep going Erle”, my internal voice retorts. “Show them the low hanging fruit”, I think to myself. Yes, catering and the off premise sales channel for restaurants is “low hanging fruit”. Well at least I think it’s that way. But what do I know?
Just like all of you, I too have to harvest “low hanging fruit” at MonkeyMedia Software. Sure, the big opportunities are sexy, tempting and they sure look delicious. Who wouldn’t want to sign up a 30,000 unit chain of brand’s on their technology? Wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we?
The thing is, I have to remind myself to keep my eye on the ball. I find working with BIG corporations fascinating. So fascinating. It concerns me at how marginalized our corporate managers have become. It’s not their fault. They are “boxed in”. They just can’t see the forest through the trees.
They are facing huge challenges today. Regulation, employee turnover, disgruntled franchisees, store robberies, fierce competition. The pace at which our managers have to process data for decision making is absolutely frightening. Frankly, it’s just too much. How can any human being manage this kind of confusion? It’s a real pressure cooker.
I think as a society we have always known that by chasing short-term share value, we are neglecting the very essence of the principles that made us so successful in the first place. We are trapped. Really trapped. So much so, that we spend hours and hours in mind numbing meetings.
I believe that any meeting that lasts more than 59 minutes is way too long. What person on this planet can focus for more than that on any given topic? By the time we hit 2PM, we are ready for a corporate tranquilizer.
This “tranquilizer” takes shape in the form of neglect. Our people just pack it in. They tune out. They go towards the path of least resistance. It’s just easier that way. Who can blame them?
And so, as we go on, day to day, we become marginalized. Why? Because at some point as we go around in circles, we start neglecting each other. Like any social experiment, we get tired of hearing the same stories over and over. All the reasons “why it won’t work”. All the reasons of “why now is not the right time”. We marginalize our managers in a big way. They don’t stand a chance based on the compensation and bonus packages that are in place. Way too much self interest.
I could go on all day. “So Erle, where are you going with this? What’s your point?”
Well, my point is this. Nobody wants to deal with the reality of cleaning up dirty laundry. If we are smart, (and we mostly are), we need to just focus on the “low hanging fruit”. Not necessarily what is the easiest path. Not necessarily what is the most popular road. Not necessarily what is the current trend. No. We must look for the low hanging fruit and we must harvest it.
Why? Because it’s the right thing to do for our shareholders, our employees and our communities.
Here is a cool and fun video that I think says a lot about this topic. It’s simple, short and too the point. Ok, the guy’s style might not be for you, but he speaks a lot of truth.
DO THE FUN STUFF FIRST!
So, as I sign off for today, I hope you will take the time to provide me your feedback. It feeds me and tells me if this effort of writing is worthwhile outside of my own selfish need for writing.
I am just coming off a fantastic trip to Chicago for NRA 2012. I need to debrief! So many great people doing so many great things. It’s amazing! My head was spinning by the time I hit the pillow last night!
I entered the food business 15 years ago focused on fixing a distressed deli in Vancouver. At the time, I was just looking for a good business opportunity to get into, but I had very few resources.
I had a young baby and my family was growing. I really just had to make a living! My decision to purchase the deli came without much thought. It just felt right to me. So, as I have always done in business, I followed my intuition. It has always served me well.
There is no way that I could have predicted the outcome of that project. What I know today, is that by focusing on what I thought was the right thing, the Deli became my food business laboratory.
Fast forward 15 years! Boom, just like that! (Ok, not “just like that”. It’s been 15 years!)
On Monday night, May 7 2012 in Chicago, more than 300 friends, colleagues, prospects, customers and suppliers came to Bennigan’s to gather for conversation.
Conversation not just about the restaurant industry, but in many cases, to share personal stories. Many new connections and friendships were forged on Monday. It made for a fantastic evening.
So much happened at NRA for me this year, but what stands out most in my mind is the smiles and the optimism that surfaced in the room at Bennigan’s. It reminded me again that our industry is full of kind and generous people who work hard every single day to serve our customers. The food industry is amazing. It is huge! There is so much opportunity for those who persevere, as long as they are authentically adding value somewhere in the chain.
In order to have a positive business experience, you have to add value along the way. If you do that, through effort, sweat and persistence, luck is the dividend. But it takes time. I learned that from reading about Ray Kroc. He was so, so smart.
Two things I want to share with you today from the party the other night, that I hope you will consider:
1. Below is a photo of Jim Vinz, Co-CEO LeDuff America, kindly accepting a check for $5000 to Share Our Strength from the up to date net proceeds from the sales of my book. It was an important moment for me, on a personal level.
I am driving to raise $100,000 through these proceeds, but that will only happen if the book adds value. I am told by those who have read it, that it is worthwhile.
If you are serious about catering and growing your off premise restaurant sales, purchase the book for your team members or if you are a supplier, buy copies for your customers. The proceeds go to a great cause and towards improving the lives of many people.
2. Below is a video that we shared that night. When this video was played, the whole room stopped and it was the only moment in the evening where everyone was focused on a single transformative idea. That was really great to see!
I was trying to think of something more important to write about today, but I realized that what happened that night WAS important. Why? Because that room, (and I am certain hundreds like it at other NRA gatherings), was full of amazing people all doing their part to make a difference in a complex world.
For me, it was a night of learning. I find the human spirit fascinating! People are powerful when they unite.
Let’s get together soon. Oh… before I go, let me put up this quick graphic for ordering the book. Just scan the QR code with your phone and you can order copies of Get Catering and Grow Sales! if you think it might be time well spent for you.