Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: October 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

Mario Batali’s Lupa Restaurant joins the Schedulefly family

Let me start by saying every single time a business owner hands over their hard earned dollars in exchange for our software – I am just so proud. I am proud of what Tyler, Wil and I have accomplished so far and that business owners find that our software is worth paying for and makes their lives easier. It’s incredibly satisfying every time it happens.

Now and then someone joins the family that is famous for being a restaurateur. We built this software for restaurants, so when someone that is a publicly known expert at running really great independent restaurants becomes a customer – it’s pretty cool! I am not any more proud of them being a customer than anyone else of course, it just sort of confirms that we are solving a real problem for this industry and hitting the nail on the head.

Well, 2 nights ago my wife and I were watching Piers Morgan and Mario Batali was his guest. Mario is, of course, a famous chef, writer and TV personality who owns successful restaurants in New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Singapore. As soon as he came on I looked over at my wife and said “Hey, did you know one of his NYC restaurants is a customer of ours?” She flipped. She was like “NO WAY! Which one?”. I told her Lupa Restaurant in NYC. She though it was so cool and asked if I thought Mario himself used Schedulefly and I started laughing. “Nah, I doubt it, but maybe someone on his team has mentioned it to him as being a helpful tool that are now using – who knows”. Either way, it’s cool to have them in the family.

So anyway, welcome to the crew at Lupa! And by the way, I bought a pair of orange Crocs that I wear whenever communicating with anyone on the Lupa team. It just feels right.

Wes
Schedulefly

Use images to tell your story…

Last week I posted about dominating a niche, and showed this same candy bar picture. Not only do I like how Salazon focuses on a niche, but I love how they use images, not words, to draw you in.

When I stood in front of a slew of choices of chocolate bars, this one caught my attention. Everything else looked roughly the same to me, and I’m just like you. I have too much noise coming at me and I have to constantly make little decisions. All. The. Time. Each decision is relatively insignificant – this bar or that one – but they add up to the point of wearing you out. There’s just so many choices now for anything you do, or anything you buy, or anywhere you go (psychologist Barry Schwartz calls this the “Paradox of Choice” in this cool TED talk).

When somebody makes it easy for me to make a choice, I appreciate it. These folks made it easy because they were bold enough to tell their story through an image. They know only a limited audience would like the picture, but they also know the type of people who will ultimately be their long term, loyal customers are the type of people who will see that picture and immediately make the choice to by the bar.

But even more importantly, they allowed me to not have to read. To not have to think. To just see and buy. And for that I am grateful, and it’s something we do our best to accomplish at Schedulefly as well. It’s why our web site uses lots of pictures and images and logos. When the type of person who will ultimately become our long term, loyal customer (a restaurant owner/GM/manager who fosters a fun culture and likes to keep things simple) decides to start looking for a restaurant staff scheduling solution, we want to be the Salazon of the options they see. They’ll see lots of web sites offering a solution for them, and they’ll all list lots of features and use lots of words. It will be hard to distinguish between them. They’ll have to think. They’ll get frustrated.

But then they will see our site. And they’ll know right away…

Wil

Scratch your own itch: Sam Rubin

Wes created the weekly schedule for a restaurant while in college in the 90’s, and thought the paper-based schedule his restaurant and most other restaurants used was inefficient and frustrating. The schedule was irrelevant within minutes of being posted!

He became an IT consultant after graduating, and in his spare time he built an easy web-based restaurant scheduling application, housed it on a server in his closet and let a few restaurants try it for free. They all loved it, and once he found a few to pay for it, Wes realized that instead of having a side project, he had a legitimate business. In 2007, Schedulefly was born.

I love that story. I love all stories I hear about people “scratching their own itch” and turning the solution into a business. And over the last few years, I’ve heard from quite a few customers who’ve done just that. We thought it would be cool to tell their stories, and Sam Rubin is the first person I thought of when the idea for this series hit me…

Sam (that’s him in the pic along with….Taylor Swift….wow!) started working in the restaurant industry at the age of 15. Working his way up from Bus Boy to Server to Bartender, he noticed that many restaurants were spending all of their marketing dollars on trying to attract new customers and they were doing very little to retain their current customer base. His wheels began to turn, and a he took action while still in college:

“I started Restaurant eMarketing in 1997 as part of an Advertising Sales course at the University of Florida. At the time ’email’ was the new/hip thing and I noticed that people graduated college and moved across the country. When they did this they normally would change their cell phone or home phones, and their addresses would change – but their emails would never change. Many people have had the same email address for years and years and are hesitant to change it because they do not want to miss connections from old friends and colleagues. I saw this as a perfect way to reach someone from a marketing perspective.”

Since that time the program and service has evolved from text-based emails to graphic emails that accurately represent each client’s brand and image to it’s present form, a “total marketing solution” for the restaurant industry which bundles email marketing and all of the major social media applications into one product offering (basically a one-stop-offering), along with a very personalized touch. The company has been recognized five times over the past year by Nation’s Restaurant News – most recently for their Security Enabled Facebook Fan Offer application.

I asked Sam what he’d like to share with restaurant people that read this post: “If you are looking to enhance and grow your email marketing and Social Media presence without increasing your in-house labor, you owe to your guests to check out Restaurant eMarketing. We are so confident in our services that we do not require any long term agreements and can get you up and running within days. If you contact us, be sure to tell us that you read this blog post for special pricing.”

Sam has run the business while also being involved directly in the restaurant industry, most recently with Dolce Group. He recently decided to spend 100% of my energy on Restaurant eMarketing, and moved to Park City, UT to live in a place he loves while growing the business he loves.

We wish him the best and we’re all inspired by his story.

Wil

Coupons and the mad race to the bottom

Recently we asked some restaurant owners and managers 2 questions: Which trends happening in your industry in 2012 excite you most and which ones concern you?

The responses have been fun to read and will make for a great article somewhere. There is a common theme occurring with many of them and a handful of them mention coupons being a trend they dislike due to the erosion of loyalty they appear to be causing. Actually, not one of them has mentioned coupons as being a trend they liked. One very successful restaurateur in Philadelphia sent us this response to a trend he does not like…

“Trend I dislike: The new expectation of many restaurant patrons to “never pay retail.” This industry is not set up for deep discounting, but we’ve conditioned our guests to expect deal after deal.”

I really agree with him and I own a software company – not a restaurant. I can feel his underlying frustration. He has built something wonderful and unique and is proud of it and has priced it appropriately and this is what he is faced with considering now. Heck, I suspect if he does it, he will be forced to use cheaper ingredients and offer an overall lousier product – not one he is proud of.

When the first few daily deal success stories came out showing the wild success business owners were having by offering huge discounts via mobile apps, I’ll admit, I knew they were on to something huge. The craze created by these quickly expiring coupons was genius. And since many of the initial stories were in the restaurant industry – I came up with an idea to let our customers create daily deals inside Schedulefly and email them out to “regulars” – or people on a customer list that’s stored inside Schedulefly. It was a cool idea, but I am so glad I realized it was wrong, not what we do well, and not something we needed to offer only to later turn off.

You see, restaurants – mostly independent restaurants – use Schedulefly. We have been lucky to meet many of them and have heard many of their stories. They are restaurants with flair and uniqueness and an experience that the owners decided to share with others. Think about it a minute – the good quality restaurants that you love, where you are a true loyal customer, why is that? For me – it’s the love they show me and my friends and family over and over. It’s the amazing food – with unique local ingredients and the healthy, hand made dishes my wife loves. It’s the consistently wonderful service. It’s the feeling we get when we eat at the quaint little bar while we chat with the bartender over a drink and dinner. It’s the way it smells and the music they play. In other words – it’s because it’s not like any other place. That’s what makes me a loyal customer that will keep coming back and will tell my friends and family about that have not been. That’s why I am a loyal customer.

I get it though – I get that a restaurant owner can make a typically slow Monday night a record-setting Monday night packed with people cashing in their daily deal coupons. I get that and I know that works for many. But what I don’t understand is how this can actually work long term for an independent restaurant. I think it cheapens what they are really good at doing and the whole reason they hung out their shingle. It’s no longer about the food and the unique experience for the consumer – it’s about the deal. It seems like the daily deal businesses are trying to level the playing field by making all restaurants market their product and their experience the same way (with huge discounts) and also by creating a new wave of consumers that walk in the door only for the deal and not for an enjoyable experience that it truly worth paying for.

So tonight I have a date night with my wife and I look forward to paying full retail at one of my favorite restaurants. It’s gonna be so good and worth every penny!

Wes
Schedulefly

Dominating a niche…

Recently I was at the store and decided to buy a dark chocolate bar. As looked at the options, this bar caught my attention immediately. While other bars had relatively similar wrappers, mostly with big writing and a focus on how good their chocolate is, the Salazon wrapper uses an image to capture the attention of a niche audience. And I am a member of that audience.

This picture resonates with me because I enjoy staying fit and active and I love the outdoors. So I didn’t have to make a decision of which bar to choose. The choice was made for me by the smart people at Salazon. The other bars were looking at me indifferently, but this bar was whispering my name and asking me to buy it. And provided the bar tasted great (it does), I knew I’d be a customer for life.

This is an example of the value of taking a stand and carving out a niche and letting the world know who you want to serve and why you are the best at serving that niche. (It’s also an example of using imagery vs. words to tell a story and win people over – more on that in a future post). The folks at Salazon know that a limited audience will be drawn to their bars as strongly as I was. But they also know that when members of the audience they’ve chosen to serve are standing in front of a choice of chocolate, they’ll almost all choose Salazon.

I admire them for being bold enough to make it clear who they want to serve, and not worrying about the rest. The other bars can fight it out for the larger general audience, while Salazon completely dominates their niche. Trust me, that’s a fun type of business to run!

Wil

We’ll never wonder where to eat again…

It occurred to me recently that no matter where any of us at Schedulefly travel, we’ll always know where to eat. We have customers all all over the map!

So when Wes’s dad and sister went to NYC last weekend, they asked Wes if we served any cool places in Tribeca. Of course we do, and one of them is Sarabeth’s, a place so popular that Holly and Mr. Aiken had to make reservations for lunch at 11am on a Saturday. That’s right – 11am. And it’s no surprise either. Sarabeth’s is wildly popular. Here’s their story…

In 1981, Sarabeth and her husband Bill Levine opened a small retail store on the upper west side of Manhattan. The store started out as a bakery and jam shop, where customers could see the jams being cooked in a kettle and ladled into jars. The aroma of fresh baked muffins, pastries, cookies and cakes wafted across Amsterdam Avenue luring customers into the tiny space to savor the goodies emerging fresh baked from her ovens. Sarabeth’s Kitchen restaurants are now serving savory meals in eight different locations, and Sarabeth’s legendary fruit preserves are available in stores around the world.

The report from the Aiken crew was that Sarabeth’s more than lived up to it’s reputation, and I imagine Wes and I will be visiting this spring when we go on our RV customer tour.

Wil

Awesome wine bar in Baltimore joins the family…

13.5 Wine Bar just joined the family. This place has an incredible image gallery on their site, and I just couldn’t narrow down to one pic to feature for this post. So here are three of them, and you can bet that when Wes and I go on our RV pilgrimage, we’ll be stopping in at 13.5!

Wil

That there’s an RV. It’s a good looking vehicle, ain’t it?

Wil and I are kicking around an idea for next spring or summer – a whirlwind trip to visit some really awesome customers on the east coast – likely just places north of NC where we live – but who knows. Every week (every day really) we are growing the Schedulefly family by welcoming amazing restaurants all over the country (and in Canada) that we’ve never been too, but wish we could. Often I forward the website of a new customer to my family (my Mom and Dad and sister are big fans of fun unique restaurants and love to travel) because it looks so good and unique and fun and they always respond with “WOW! My mouth is watering. One day, Weston, you need to go on some kind of tour and visit these places and meet them and try their beer, gobble down their tacos, scarf their pizza, thank them for their business etc.”.

Well, we think it’s time. So we are thinking we will do a 3 or 4 day road trip in a rented RV. We will rent as cheap of an RV as we can find and hit some of our favorite customers in NC, VA,MD, NY and Washington DC – actually as many as we can hit every day while we are gone. An RV is perfect because it gets us where we need to go and we can sleep in it. I’ve always wanted to sleep in an RV in a parking lot anyway. The agenda is up in the air and we would let everyone know ahead of time that we are coming because we plan on getting it all on film. The journey, the food, the staff, the drinks – all of it.

We want people who visit our website to see these amazing, successful restaurants that use our software and of course we want to meet them in person, eat their food, try their drinks and hang out with them. It should be awesome – like a documentary of sorts. A trip that just has to be made….

The only problem I can think of with this trip (besides picking the places to go visit) is where are the owners going to let us park this?

Wes
Schedulefly

Tango’s Taco Shop joins the family…

Here’s the cool background story on the Tango’s Taco Shop web site. You can click to enlarge it.

Seems like a fun place – stoked to have y’all using Schedulefly!

The Schedulefly Crew

Bouldin Cafe from Austin, TX is a cool new family member…

It is incredibly fun to check out the web sites of new customers. I’ll admit I occasionally get caught up sitting at my desk listening to Pandora and clicking on tons of web pages. But heck, it’s a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon! You get to see the personality of each restaurant. What are they trying to be? Who do they want to serve? What’s their vibe?

One place that knows exactly what it wants to be and who it wants to serve is Bouldin Creek Cafe in Austin, TX. This 75-staff, funky spot serves up awesome vegetarian food and fantastic coffee. It’s got a fun, low key atmosphere, a vibrant staff, and tons of loyal customers.

To everybody at Bouldin Creek Cafe, all of us on the Schedulefly crew are stoked to have y’all in the Schedulefly family!

Wil

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