Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: April 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

7,000 indie restaurants closed since fall of 2008…

…But how many opened?

This recent article in the L.A. Times caught my attention for two reasons:

1. It doesn’t provide any context. OK, so 7,000 closed in the last 3.5 years. Well, why not tell us how many have closed on average every 3.5 years. Is it 2,000? 5,000? I have no reference point to let me know if 7,000 is more or, heck, less than normally close in 3.5 years. Also, why doesn’t the article indicate how many restaurants opened during this same time? And was that number higher, or lower, than normal over a 3.5 year period?

2. This quote bothers me: “Independent restaurant operators have neither the money nor resources that the chains have. They lacked the marketing power to drive traffic and the monetary buffer to get through the difficult times during the past several years.” So am I to assume that indie restaurants can’t use creative and inexpensive tactics to drive traffic, such as what restaurants like Arch Rock Fish did when they spent just $13,000 on pre-opening marketing and opened during the height of the recession? Do you really mean that just because some independent restaurants don’t have deep pockets, they can’t be nimble and agile and creatively leverage their intimate local knowledge (something chains can’t do) to give themselves a competitive advantage?

Tough economic times certainly take their toll on plenty of businesses, both large and small. But I don’t agree with the overall theme of this article, which is: “Hey, sorry if you own an indie restaurant. Chains are bigger and better and you should beware because the economy isn’t great and you have a good chance of failing while chains can just tap into their coffers and spend themselves to success.”

Don’t buy into this thinly veiled attack on indies for a second. It’s just hype and an effort to grab your attention with negativity. As I learned from interviewing twenty successful independent restaurant owners for our book, indie restaurants have plenty of competitive advantages over chains, even in a tough economy.

If I owned an independent restaurant, I would hope I could ignore this type of noise, and stay focused on things I could control, like taking great care of my customers and my staff, and not letting bad news infiltrate my optimistic outlook. As a friend told me recently: “The pessimists write all of the headlines. The optimists have all of the money.”

Wil

ROU video series – Dave Query part V…

Here is the final video we made from our interview with Dave Query at Big Red F Restaurant Group in Boulder, CO. In this interview Dave talks about the crazy life of being a restaurant owner, and ownership’s biggest challenge.

We’re so honored to have had the opportunity to interview Dave to kick off this series. So, thank you Dave. Thank you very much. We respect and admire you, and we are excited that tons of people will have the chance to watch your vids and learn.

Wil

Why a "hippy from the 60’s" takes great care of his employees

Chip Bair has owned Colorado pizzeria Beau Jo’s for 37 years. When he bought a tiny little pizza place on a side street in Idaho Springs, CO, $30 was a big day. He did everything from sleeping on the restaurant floor to avoid having to pay for an apartment, to recycling the paper from the printing business behind his restaurant for gas money.

All of the sacrifices paid off because Beau Jo’s is now legendary among Colorado outdoor enthusiasts and has eight locations. Chip is as cool as the other side of the pillow, and the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off of his back. He makes awesome pizzas, has happy employees and customers and has learned more than a few lessons over the years. Here’s what he had to say about why he treats employees so well…

“People are probably the biggest asset you have. You have the concept, and then your people come directly thereafter, or parallel, or whatever.

I guess I’m kind of a hippy from the ‘60s or ‘70s, and I’ve always tried to look at things with a rosy outlook and tried to do what’s right by the company and its employees. We have some waitresses whose mothers had worked for me. Most of our managers have been with us for 12 to 15 years. The store that opened in South Dakota was opened by a manager that started working for us in the mid ‘80s. She and her husband decided they wanted to move up to Rapid City, and she wanted to continue with our business. So we helped set her up, and she’s really happy up there and doing a really good job with it. She’d been with us for a really long time, and knew what we were doing and what we were about.

We do things for our employees such as having paid vacations, even for our dishwashers. We have annual ski passes that are available for our staff to use. We have good health insurance for our management staff. We used to pay all of it for the whole family, up until the last several years. We still try to do the vast majority of it, but that gets harder and harder all of the time.

The restaurant industry tends to beat management staff up a lot. Typically in chain restaurants, managers will work 60 to 80 hours per week. Our managers work typically 40 to 45 hours per week. We might not pay them what they could make at restaurants where they’d work 80 hours per week, but we’ve always felt that there needs to be a balance between working and your life. So we’ve always had our managers working a 45 hour week, and that’s one reason why we retain them.

We deal with them as humans and equals, and look for input. I’ve seen people go in and berate their employees, and that’s just not the way we are. We believe in the family and the strength of it. We try to follow through with that with the things that we do for our employees.

We pay our employees weekly. Most people pay every other week or whatever. We pay weekly, and that makes it a little bit easier for them. We have a good liberal meal policy, and we try to have a good positive work environment for people.”

Chip goes out of his way to treat his team with respect, and it has paid off immensely. Isn’t it funny how business owners who do things with something other than today’s bottom line in mind almost always wind up building successful, enduring businesses?

Wil

How Arch Rock Fish creatively spent only $13,000 to create big time buzz before opening…

When Arch Rock Fish opened it’s doors in Santa Barbara a couple of years ago, the restaurant already had nearly 1,800 Facebook fans as well as lots of coverage in the local media and blogs. And they had spent only $13,000 on pre-opening marketing.

Rather than follow traditional strategies and dropping tens of thousands of dollars, Jeremiah Higgins and his partners Scott Liebfried and Cobi Jones creatively used fun videos (produced for free by local film students) and social media tools to create buzz and build an audience of fans.

Click here to listen to Jeremiah discuss how they did it.

I LOVE stories about people bucking conventional means to an end, especially when they involve trading out large expenses for simple, thoughtful (and in this case…fun) solutions.

Wil

Business Insider mentions Schedulefly in an article about NYC’s The Meatball Shop

The Meatball Shop is making some serious noise in the New York city restaurant scene. Their simple focus (on serving meatballs) is creating quite a buzz for their 3 locations. The Business Insider has written about them a few times, most recently this past week. The article (which refers to the owners as “culinary game-changers” in NYC) is about their fast success and their use of simple web-based technology to help them manage their customers as well as their busy staff. We are excited to be mentioned in the article as a tool the owners chose to help them communicate more effectively with their staff.

Here is the article. Check it out!

Wes

P.S. We are visiting The Meatball shops guys next month to capture their story on film as a part of our Restaurant Owners Uncorked Series. It’s going to be awesome. Stay tuned.

ROU video series – Dave Query part IV…

Here is the fourth (of five) videos we’re making from our interview with Dave Query at Big Red F Restaurant Group in Boulder, CO. In this interview Dave talks about the challenge of managing “Millenials” and the types of creative benefits his group offers to help build brand loyalty from his team. Dave is one sharp, insightful guy. Enjoy…

Wil

Getting old is cool

Assuming you’re healthy and happy – getting old is cool. For a bunch of reasons actually – personally and professionally. One of the best things about it is that you learn (and become OK with) the fact that most people don’t communicate the same as you do. Most people don’t react the same way you do about stuff and don’t see things the same way you do. And that’s OK. When you’re younger – and just getting started on a project of some kind – it’s easy to assume everyone will think like you do and want the same results and react the same along the way. You think that everyone your working with or doing work for will get excited at the same things or get frustrated at the same things. But they don’t. Rarely will you meet someone that does.

So as you get older, you’re around more people and your feelings seem to get hurt less when people don’t respond they way you thought they might or when people say things or do things you were not expecting. And, maybe most importantly, you become confident in the fact that you will never ever please everyone – even those that seem like perfect candidates for being pleased. One person will love what you do – while another one hates it. It’s just the way it is and it takes time and experience dealing with it – to realize it. Some young people have a gift of realizing this early – I was definitely not one of them.

I think this is why older people just don’t care anymore about stuff they can’t control (or that does not matter) and seem much more content. They smile a lot, they only spend time with people they like, they are in less of a hurry, and not much seems to bother them anymore. It looks awesome.

Bring on the golden years!

Wes
Schedulefly

"La la la la la la I can’t hear you la la la la…."

Last Friday afternoon I was at the U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC) here in Charlotte, watching the Olympic trials for kayaking and canoeing.

As I watched a team of two late 30’s guys compete in the 2-man canoe event and place third overall (against competitors who were all nearly half their age), and heard stories from some of the people who were behind getting the awesome USNWC facility started, I couldn’t help but think that when you an entrepreneur, sometimes you just have to (figuratively) stick your fingers in your ears and yell “La la la la la la I can’t hear you la la la la….”

You see, the folks that had the idea for the USNWC faced plenty of naysayers and pessimists. “You can’t build that in Charlotte! This is a banking town. Nobody will use it!!” And the two late 30’s guys in the canoeing race had plenty of people snicker at them when they came out of retirement to compete in this event. “You’re too old, you don’t have a chance.”

But the USNWC is doing extremely well. It’s become a destination spot in our community. And that canoeing team nearly won their event! But neither of these things would have happened had any of those folks listened to their doubters. Listened to the people who told them they couldn’t. Listened to the voices in their heads questioning whether everybody else was right and they were in fact crazy.

Rather, they stuck their fingers in their ears and pursued the things they were passionate about, the things the believed in. And being an entrepreneur is so much like that I couldn’t help but smile. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to remind myself to follow my instincts, to listen to my gut. Because while other people may have been saying I couldn’t, they didn’t have all the information I had in my head nor the passion I had in my heart to know that I could.

Jon Myerow, owner of Tria Cafe in Philly once told me, “Being an entrepreneur is a lonely road.” He was spot on. But if you stay on that road and keep looking ahead and trudging along, it will lead to the utter joy and soulful contentment I saw last Friday on the faces of the founders of the USNWC and those late 30’s canoers.

Wil

16,981

Our book, “Restaurant Owners Uncorked” (“ROU”), is currently ranked #16,981 out of over 8,000,000 paperback books available on Amazon.com. The stats update hourly, and I don’t fully understand how they are measured, but it’s the second highest rank we’ve achieved (it was #10,294 on April 2). Anyway, it seems pretty cool that we’re in the top .1%!

We published the book a little over a year ago – the first copy was sold on Feb. 28, 2011. We wrote it to try to help people in the industry we serve buy telling the stories of successful restaurant owners. We figured if we could tap into the knowledge of some of our successful customers and share it, then perhaps it would help other people increase their chances of succeeding as well. And when the only people you serve are restaurants, you clearly want the restaurant industry to do well! Plus, we also figured it was a much cooler (and fun) way to build our brand than using conventional marketing and advertising.

We’ve sold nearly 2,000 copies of the paperback and Kindle versions combined, and we are still consistently selling >100 combined copies per month. We have received tons of great feedback from people who’ve read the book. ROU has 10 rankings on Amazon, and 9 of those are 5 stars (out of 5) – one person gave it a 4. So this project has been a success, both for us and for the owners involved with the book and for the people who’ve read the book.

We learned invaluable lessons and advice and wisdom from the owners we interviewed, and we want to enable as many people as possible to reap the same benefit. We’ve placed snippets of the content in this series on our blog, but we realize that most people enjoy holding an actual book or a Kindle when they read.

With that in mind, we recently decided to lower the price on both versions of the book. The Kindle version is now $5 (it was $9.99) and the paperback version is $12 (it was $14.99, and we actually tried to lower it to $10 but our publisher won’t let us drop it lower than $11.78, and that’s a weird price, so we’re keeping it simple and clean at $12).

If you’ve read the book and enjoyed it, please share it with somebody. Let somebody borrow it, or give them your copy. If you know somebody that might like a copy, tell them about it. Or buy one for them. I can assure you that the wisdom we’ve collected is far more valuable than almost any price we could put on the book.

Wil

A lesson learned from our dog…

My family lost a dog this morning. Cami. We had her 11 years, but we think she was around 15-17 years old. We adopted her, and the rescue mission had picked her up from the pound so nobody knew how old she was.

When they found her she was matted and had heart worms, but she was happy and wagging her “nub” (cocker spaniels often have their tails clipped as puppies, and what’s left is a small nub). And over 11 years, she rarely stopped wagging that nub. Not after each new child (we have three kids) meant less attention for her. Not after the inevitable instances of little kids wrestling around and falling on her. Not after surgery in both eyes to remove cataracts. Not after eventually going blind in each eye after painfully enduring glaucoma. Not after having to take pills three times per day to help with heart, kidney, and liver problems.

No, she kept wagging her nub through it all, and not once in 11 years did she ever growl at anybody or any dog or, well, at anything. Never bared her teeth. Rather, she just took it all in and wagged that nub. She found something to be happy about no matter what the situation. And that’s the enduring lesson she taught our family: you choose how to react to tough times. Whether it be in your personal life or your business life, when something bad happens you can choose to tuck your tail between your legs and sulk, or you can choose to find a reason to wag your nub through it all. It’s not something I’m able to do yet, but it’s a mentality I admire and one I’ll spend my life trying to emulate.

Goodbye Cami. You did what you were meant to do here. I pray you are resting peacefully now.

Wil

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