Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: May 2012

Sales can help make your business great. Or ruin your brand.

Recently I received a call from an 800-number. I won’t mention the company’s name out of professional courtesy. Here’s what happened, which motivated me to write this post…

After the woman on the phone confirmed I was “Mr. Brawley,” she launched into a 90-second pitch that went from me receiving a book for free to me then receiving a book every month for only $6 to me being able to cancel any time I want to her thanking me for my business and telling me she was going to send the first book. I had not spoken a word, but I had gone from being prepared to simply ask to be placed on the do-not-call list to being annoyed to being pissed off.

However, I politely told her not to send the book, and to please put us on their do-not-call list. I barely finished getting those words out of my mouth before having to endure a second assault with her inferring that I would be risking my kids’ future by not buying their books. I paused to avoid erupting, and politely I reiterated that I did not want a book and asked her to never call me again. She immediately turned sour and sounded as if I had wasted HER time, and hung up. Sadly, she was just doing her job. She was following a script, and working hard to meet the (most likely unrealistic, overly aggressive) goals that have been placed on her.

And that’s what is so disappointing. It’s unfortunate that so many organizations focus on training their sales people to sell to anybody they can using pressure, tricks, discounts, smoke and mirrors and whatever other tactics they need. It’s all about making the sale. It reminds me very much of this great scene from “Boiler Room” (**FYI, this sucker has a good amount of foul language**):

I’ll spare you a summary of all of the jobs I’ve had in sales, but let’s just say that I’ve been a part of both kinds of sales organizations. Those that do it the right way, that focus on selling useful products and solutions to people that need them and then taking great care of those customers after the sale … well, they help make those businesses great. Those that don’t care about whether the customer needs the product or not, that only focus on the numbers … well, those sales organizations ruin their brands.

Ironically, my daughter needs math tutoring this summer. But you can bet that when my wife and I look for a solution, there is a zero percent chance that we will buy anything from the company that called me.

Wil

P.s. We don’t sell at Schedulefly. Rather, we have chosen to focus on this strategy to grow our business.

Why use a fly rod when a net gets it done?

I love this quote from famous fly fisherman and fly fishing author John Gierach…..

“If people don’t occasionally walk away from you shaking their heads, you’re doing something wrong.”

From the reactions I often get from people after I tell them about having such a narrow focus with our business – I’ve decided I seem weird – and in many people’s eyes – I am missing out. In fact – this is funny. I also have a really narrow focus in my personal life too. I love to fly fish in shallow salt water for one kind of fish – the Red Drum. Day in and day out (minus the occasionally trip somewhere else) I have no interest in any other kind of fishing. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the time. Or maybe it’s because I am OK with a small success ratio because it’s just so damn rewarding when it all comes together after focusing and learning and applying what I’ve learned. I mean, rarely does a red drum eat my fly – and it’s not because he is not hungry. It’s because the timing was wrong. It’s all timing. The timing of the tide, the wind, the cast and the direction the fish is headed. Maybe the fly was stripped towards him…which is opposite what his natural prey does. Maybe the wind blew the cast a little too close and the fly just appeared literally out of nowhere…which is weird to him too. Maybe the fish was looking down at a real live crab in the mud and not above him where the fly made of a steel hook, glue and feathers was presented. You get the point. It happens way less than a typical fisherman would want it to happen – but when it happens, it’s exhilarating and a feeling of accomplishment that can not be felt by fishing with live bait for anything that swims by the boat. So that one single fish caught makes for a great day on the water. One fish.

That’s what so hard to understand I guess. Wes, you mean, you tie your own flies for hours and hours and spend so much time focused on catching ONE lousy fish when you go out? And you throw him back? Huh? Weird. Wes, you only sell to restaurants when so many other kinds of businesses could use Schedulefly? Weird. Why not use live bait and fish at the jetty or at the wrecks? You’ll catch so many more fish. Why are you not licensing your software and partnering and integrating with other companies who can get your software into hospitals and retail giants and on and on?

There are so many more fish in the ocean than your catching. Your missing out!

Not really.

Wes

How Fudpucker’s used t-shirts, alligators, and 40 oz. drinks to create success

Chester Kroeger has owned Fudpucker’s for over 30 years. He started it out of a snack bar in a nightclub when he started selling a memorable t-shirt, and has grown the company to a nationally-known restaurant brand with locations in Destin, FL and Ft. Walton Beach, FL. and over 500 employees. Here’s how he did it, and why he thinks having a “hook” to draw people in is a must in the restaurant business.

Merchandise has been a big hit for you, right?

“Yes, it’s truly the thing that vaulted Fudpucker’s from being that snack bar in the back of a local nightclub to what it is today.

“It all started when I was a snack bar cook at a bar in Destin. I had four things on the menu: a ‘Fudburger’; a ‘Fishpucker’; a ‘Chickenpucker’; and a ‘Fuddog.’ Those were the core menu items, because that’s what people wanted to eat when they were out drinking.

“One night, one of the customers was had consumed quite a few liquor drinks. He placed his order, and as he was kind of leaning there on the bar, he said, “Why don’t you do a t-shirt? With a name like Fudpucker, you’d make a million dollars.” He combined two of the items into a new word, and it gelled. It was almost instantaneous. It was another one of those moments that you have to seize. We made these shirts, and put them up for sale, and they sold very quickly. Almost immediately. We started selling four, five, six, eight a night from the snack bar. We ripped through hundreds and hundreds of shirts. It was very successful. When you think about it being in just the one location, and the word started getting out – people started coming just to buy the shirt. That was the beginning of Fudpucker’s.”

Tell me about getting started. What worked for you?

“We opened Fudpucker’s in 1983, and it was an immediate success. I had absolutely no formal restaurant training whatsoever. I was again just going by my gut, and my ability to cook, which was decent. The success of that place, in my opinion, was due to the t-shirts. They are the thing that carried it. I think that’s because in this day and age, you almost have to have a hook. The hook can be anything, but it has to increase your sales. There has to be a reason for people to come to see you. If you don’t have that, then why would they choose you over another place?”

So “hooks” can be a great business driver?

“Yes. In the Destin store, we built what we call a trading company, which not only sells t-shirts, but also other Fudpucker branded material. Hats. Cups. Glasses. Magnets. You name it. Then we took it a step further, and we made it an actual gift shop. It’s a real shopping experience, and that has been one of the things that I would consider as our hook.”

You also have alligators as a hook?

“Yes. A few years after we built the gift shop, we were trying to generate more business during the day. Like most beach locations, people tend to go to the beach during the day hours. As such, your lunch business is not as strong as your dinner, and we were trying to figure out a way to get the day business. Man, we tried everything. We threw a lot of time and passion into trying to come up with something that would work.

“So we ended up creating an exhibit we call Alligator Beach, which houses live gators. Amazingly enough, over the next year, our sales during the day quadrupled. Largely because we became a location for people to take their families, and not just look at alligators, but get educated about them, feed them and hold one and have a picture taken.”

What else draws customers to Fudpucker’s?

“The concept of a really stunning drink can be a hook. We have a Voodoo Magic, and a Fudpucker Punch, and a Big Blue Margarita. The Big Blue Margarita is a 40-ounce margarita served in a martini-type glass. When it goes through the crowd, people go, ‘Oh my God. I have to have one of those. What is that?’ When you serve it, the whole table gets up and sticks a straw in it and all drink it at the same time, and it creates an event.

“It’s the same thing with fajitas. I mean, think about it. Why would you buy low grade meat, sliced thin? Well, it’s the sizzle. Look, there’s nothing wrong with fajitas. I love them. But the reason to buy them is the sizzle. It’s the plate they come out on. It’s steaming and sizzling and you can hear it coming. It grabs people’s attention. ‘Oh my God, I want one of those!’

“Same thing with putting food out on the table. When you come here for a hamburger, you get a hamburger. I mean, it’s more than a mouthful. And we do that with everything. We do that with every item that’s on our menu. We try to make it bigger than life. And it works.”

What a cool story. From a snack bar manager to being an owner of a very well-known restaurant with two locations and thirty years of success. Chester, you are in inspiration, and it seems you’re clearly onto something with this concept of having a “hook”!

Wil

P.s. For more stories like these from successful independent restaurant owners, check out our book, Restaurant Owners Uncorked as well as our Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series.

"Going viral" is not the objective…

Building something because you believe it will “go viral” is like going to Vegas because you think you can turn $50 into $1,000,000. Sure, it might happen, but the odds are infinitesimally small. Yet still, millions of people are working right now on a software, or an app, or a marketing campaign, or a product because they are convinced their idea is SO GOOD that it will “go viral.” (Frankly, I believe I have the “viral” virus, because it makes me nauseous every time somebody uses that term, especially when it is the objective vs. the fortunate result.)

Here’s the thing. If your product is good enough to go viral, it will. If it isn’t, it won’t. Either way, it should never be your objective. Your objective should be to create something you are proud of. Something you’ve poured your heart and your imagination into. Something that helps people. Something that is useful. Something you will be happy with no matter whether it “goes viral” or not.

Schedulefly hasn’t “gone viral.” We don’t have tens of thousands of new restaurants signing up annually. But we will soon have over 2,000 customers, and we are growing faster each year. And if at some point our growth shoots through the stratosphere and tens of thousands of new restaurants sign up every year, that will be nice. But it will have happened because we focused on offering a great product and great service, and patiently waited for the word to spread and for people to realize their is a better way to schedule and communicate than she they are have been doing. Not because we focused on “going viral.” (I hope that’s the last time I ever write that term for any reason.)

Wil

Pics from our vid shoot at The Meatball Shop…

Last week we filmed the third interview for our Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series at The Meatball Shop in NYC.

I don’t even know where to start with how amazing everything about The Meatball Shop is. First of all, we visited all three locations, and everybody we interacted with was incredibly friendly and helpful. Every. Single. Person. Second, the food is off-the-charts fantastic! I’ve had plenty of meatballs, but nothing like these. Not even close. And third, owners Dan and Mike are just flat out great guys, and we’re so stoked they took the time to sit down for an interview for our series. After all, these guys are so in demand that they were on Leno to announce the location for their upcoming fourth location!

Here are a few of the pics I snapped while were at their Brooklyn location…

The vids will be ready in a few weeks. And I will promise you, they are going to be INCREDIBLE!

Wil

Scratch your own itch: Chris Sommers

Just as Wes had the idea for Schedulefly from his experience creating schedules in restaurants, the ideas for most businesses come from people who have problems, or “itches,” and want to find a way to scratch them. Chris Sommers, owner of Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis, MO and Washington, D.C., recently decided to scratch his itch to reward not only loyal customers, but also customers who had less than perfect experiences and bypassed the comment card to use social media to vent their frustrations.

Chris and his Pi partner, Frank Uible, developed Sqwid, a simple rewards application that lives in your browsers and integrates with your social networks. What I like so much about this story is that Chris and the folks at Pi have been using Sqwid themselves, and they’ve seen the results. Here’s what Chris and Frank had to say…

Chris: “After successful trials in our own restaurants and resoundingly positive feedback from our guests, we are thrilled to open the platform to other business owners who wish to provide legendary hospitality where their guests live in social media. Let’s face it, social and other new media are the 21st century comment card. Our guests are talking about our businesses, but no longer at the water cooler or in a paper comment card. They are broadcasting their love for our businesses, as well as their frustrations, over vast social networks. We can either engage them by rewarding their loyalty and evangelism or addressing their frustrations, or we can ignore them AND the opportunity to grow and profit from these situations.

“Sqwid’s integration with Twitter allows a business to monitor mentions and discussions of a business or topic, then send personal rewards directly from the app, to either thank a guest for a positive comment or to remedy a bad experience. But it’s not just limited to Twitter – our guests let us know how we’re doing in emails, on Yelp, Facebook to name just a few. We can’t afford to ignore this. Sqwid allows a business to respond immediately, capitalizing on evangelism and nipping a potentially devastating situation in the bud.”

Frank: “In the short time we’ve been using Sqwid, we have ‘saved’ numerous occasions when we failed to meet guest expectations. Our team is certainly empowered and encouraged to provide Legendary Hospitality to fix a situation, but sometimes guests won’t acknowledge their frustration to us, but will quickly vent on social media. Sqwid allows us to extend that Legendary Hospitality to the social world. Guests also love to know that their feedback led to an improvement at their favorite businesses, and those businesses need a way to reward their guests for the input. At our restaurants, we were already doing all of this before Sqwid, monitoring many different platforms, trying to engage the guest by searching for an email to find out the who, what, when and where of their experience. If we were successful finding them and getting a mailing address, we often sent them a gift card to thank them or remedy a situation. Not only is the 2-3 days it takes that gift card to arrive far too long for a guest to wait for an acknowledgement, but we had no idea how the redemption of that gift card tied back to an experience at one of our restaurants. This was incredibly inefficient, it wasn’t measurable and we had no idea of the outcome of that effort.”

Chris: “With Sqwid, guests show a reward on their smartphone to a business associate, seamlessly tying the Reward back to a previous visit or feedback. Social Rewards by Sqwid enable businesses to acknowledge loyalty and drive business by marketing to groups of social media followers and their networks. “Unlike group coupon sites in which businesses hemorrhage cash flow, sending half of an already highly discounted offer to the issuing company in a feeble attempt at attracting new customers, Sqwid empowers a business to engage their most valuable and loyal existing customers, creating even louder evangelists. A Sqwid Reward can be tailored for a particular period of time or product and limited to a certain number of guests.

“A business needs to be empowered to reach and reward their most valuable customers, rather than wasting precious marketing dollars on the group coupon customers, only a small fraction of whom ever return to pay full price. Sqwid’s integration with users’ social platforms drives new business, as well, when Rewards are networked over social media by trust sources. Ideal for capitalizing on local events and trending topics on social media, Sqwid Rewards enable businesses to monetize discussions and captive audiences.

“The idea for the Social Rewards came to me when I was checking Twitter before starting a half marathon, noticing lots of chatter by fellow racers about carb-loading at my restaurants the night before or rewarding themselves after the race with pizza. Why not encourage that discussion to move into our business with a free pizza or some other big incentive to keep them talking about us?

Restaurants can sign up for a no-charge trial of Sqwid at www.sqwid.com. Check it out if you share the same “itch” as Chris and his folks at Pi have had … until now!

Wil

The basics are always useful

I’ve noticed something over the last 4 years as a Dad of 2 young boys – related to their toys – and I think it’s helping me with our business. And that’s this: The simpler the toy, the more it gets used. Period. Things like basic building blocks get used nearly every day. Play kitchens with 100 different accessories – not so much. In fact, things that are not even toys like car keys and empty toilet paper rolls get way more play than Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon ship that costs $184.99 bucks on Amazon. Seriously, it does – http://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-OTC-MILLENNIUM-FALCON/dp/B00020LZ6Q.

I know parents of young kids that read this will laugh – but at Christmas the last 4 years the most played with things have been the boxes that the new fancy toys came in. Our kids love the boxes and the masking tape on the boxes. The damn masking tape. Really. As I put together some gigantic toy construction site with remote controlled ramps and dump trucks and lights and sirens that take 12 size D batteries – they are in the corner pretending the box it came in is a fort. They use the tape to stick random objects from our living room onto their new fort. They get in the fort and play hide and seek. Their imaginations run wild with the silly cardboard box. So 2 hours later I finish putting together the mother of all toys for ages 3-6, they run over and kick it and push it around the hard floor for about 15 minutes. That’s it, they never play with it again. That box though…it gets used until it’s worn slap out and no longer functions as a box.

I think about this all the time when working on Schedulefly. I fight the urge to add more stuff to it just because we are growing and adding more customers and “should” be doing more. I fight the urge to add things that increase the chance of it breaking from trying to do too much and becoming less useful instead. I work hard on keeping it more like stick or a box or basic building blocks. I really believe that if we keep Schedulefly basic and don’t overdo it, then it will always be useful.

Off to donate some almost brand new toys…
Wes

Star Wars and why we don’t partner with anybody…

A few years ago Wes and I went to the National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show in Chicago. We’ll never go again for these reasons. But while we were there, a very interesting thing happened. A guy we had never seen spent quite a bit of time hanging out at the booth directly across from us. He didn’t work for that company, but he is a consultant and liked to bring his customers by their booth to introduce them to that particular exhibitor.

He would typically have four or five people with him, and he would linger behind them as they listened to the exhibitor, which meant he was lingering very close to our booth. In fact, since the isles aren’t very wide (at least not in the way back bowels of the smaller of the two exhibit halls, where we were stationed), he was lingering pretty damn close to our booth. Close enough that traffic was clogged up and quite a few folks turned and walked in the other direction.

Anyway, not far along into the first day, we overheard the group mention something about “scheduling” and our eyes lit up. “Hey, sounds like they’re going to speak with us next.” But the annoying, lingering, traffic clogging consultant promptly mentioned our competitor’s name, and told the group to follow him. They disappeared around the corner.

It was as rude and disrespectful of a gesture as was possible. Wes and I stared at each other in total disbelief, and we had to hold each other back from following the guy and telling him to go … well, I’ll save the profanity. But you get the point.

Needless to say, we remembered that guy very well and we hoped to never see him again. But alas, just a few months later, I was invited into a meeting about a potential partnership with some folks here in Charlotte, and as I walked into the conference room and looked up, this scene from “The Empire Strikes Back” quickly flashed through my mind…

That’s right, our buddy was seated at the table already, awaiting my arrival. I literally thought my jaw was going to hit the floor when I saw him sitting there. Like Han Solo, I wanted to escape but I was trapped. I sat down and listened to what these folks had to say, though I’ll confess that since I already knew the meeting wasn’t going to lead to anything for us, I spent the hour imagining how I was going to be frozen alive and then eventually rescued by Wes, Tyler and Charles. Then we would strike down our foe…

Joking aside, and I’ll spare you why he was there and what the meeting was all about, this story leads me to one of several reasons we don’t like the idea of partnerships: you never know what your potential partner’s true agenda is.

I got lucky because I knew at least one of the people in that room did not have our best interests at heart. I have no idea what would have happened had we pursued that partnership. Would that guy have tried to sabotage us? Would he have passed along sensitive information to our competitors? Or would he have come around and been a true advocate for us? Anybody’s guess is as good as mine, but thankfully we got lucky and never had to find out.

This post is long enough, so I’m going to make it Part I of “Why we don’t partner with anybody.” More to come.

Wil

Why we don’t exhibit at trade shows…

There are tons of people from tons (literally, I’m talking about thousands) of companies that sell to restaurants heading to Chicago today. They’ll spend the day setting up their booths at the National Restaurant Association trade show, and they’ll spend the next few days working very hard to convince restaurant people to buy their stuff, whether it be software or silverware or hardware, or any of the hundreds of other products restaurants have to buy.

We won’t be there. And for that I am so thankful. Wes and I spent four days (and quite a bit of money) attending the show in Chicago three years ago. Not only that, we spent tons of time planning our booth, planning what we would hand out that would be memorable and unique, and so on. We talked to hundreds and hundreds of restaurant people, telling them what we did and why it could help them. By the last day, we were exhausted and, while curious to see what results we achieved, we weren’t really that confident that we had made that much of a dent. Especially not a large enough dent to justify the inordinate amount of time and money we had invested into the thing. Added to which, I came down with nasty stomach virus as I was tearing down our both, suffered through a long cab ride and flight home with it, and wound up having to stay at an airport hotel in Charlotte that night so I didn’t bring this awful trade show virus home to my wife and young children.

I remember being in the cab on the way to the airport that afternoon in Chicago, feeling as bad as I’ve ever felt, and thinking to myself, “I will NEVER go to another trade show!” And it wasn’t just an overreaction to my pathetic physical state at the time. It was a strategic decision that we all agreed was the right more for our company. Here’s why:

Trade shows once were great for spreading the word
Before it was easy to tell tons of people what you do and why it’s useful over the Internet, trade shows were a great way to speak to a large audience. You won, because you got to tell so many people about your product in such a short period of time. And the attendees won, because they got to hear about a large number of products in a short period of time. So everybody started going to trade shows. And trade shows became a normal part of doing business. It wasn’t a matter of whether you would go or not. Of course you were going. It simply became the way things are done. Period.

But it got harder to stand out
Since every vendor hawking anything went to trade shows, it got harder to stand out. You weren’t just trying to stand out from your direct competitors, you were trying to stand out from all of the other vendors, because you knew the attendees could only remember so many vendors when they went home. They may talk to hundreds of them, but they would only remember three of them. So vendors started doing crazy stuff to be memorable. Stuff that had nothing to do with their products. My favorite is the one where vendors hire models to stand at their booth. Models who have nothing to say about their product and are paid to just stand there and be pretty. I mean, there are freaking businesses now that operate solely to hire out models to stand with vendors exhibiting at shows. How hilarious is that? People have become so desperate to be memorable that they pay some nice looking woman to stand at their booth so attendees will stop and talk to them. Then the vendors try to lure them into a conversation about their product. Really? It’s come to having to do that to be memorable? No thanks. Not my cup of tea.

And now there are much easier ways to spread the word
After our trip to Chicago, we took a step back and thought about how we could better spend that same money, or perhaps not spend it at all. And for two years we didn’t spend it at all. Rather, we saved it. We simply didn’t go to any trade shows the last two years nor we did we spend any measurable marketing dollars on anything, except the little bit we spend on SEO. And that’s kind of the point now, isn’t it? These attendees used to go to trade shows to learn because that was the most efficient way to learn. Nowadays, they can learn what they want on their phone browser while drinking their morning coffee. If they have a problem with their restaurant employee scheduling, they type “restaurant employee scheduling” into Google and find out who is solving that problem. They’ll see some ads (like ours) as well as natural results. They can see who has the best presentation, who speaks to their needs the best, and make a decision without ever having to get on a plane. Of course then they don’t get to make small talk with any models…but I digress.

I am a big fan of the HBO show, “Boardwalk Empire.” This was my favorite scene last season:

For the last three years, we have waited, planned, marshaled our resources. We didn’t make any bets because there simply weren’t any plays. But this year we saw an opportunity. And while we aren’t betting it all, we decided to spend a little money on something marketing-related. Something that we are convinced will give us much better returns than we could ever get from a trade show. This year, we are spending about the same amount of money that it would cost to go to Chicago (one time) to film our Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series, a series that will help us build credibility for our brand, help educate people in the industry we serve, and help tell some of our thousands of awesome customers’ stories to people all over the world. Plus it’s something that is a whole heck of a lot more fun to work on than standing at a booth for three days sounding like a broken record and picking up nasty, mutated, alien stomach viruses!

I’m not saying nobody should exhibit at trade shows. But I am saying that it’s o.k. to take a step back and determine if the time and money is worth it, or if there is a simpler, more elegant way to achieve the same (or better) results.

Wil

Powered by