Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: February 2013 (Page 1 of 2)

New ROU vid – Taking the risk out of restaurants

The Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series continues! Joe Johnston talks about the importance of the “two creations” while planning your restaurant, and how you can eliminate (most of) the risk.


(If you are reading this in an email and you can’t see the video, click here to watch it)

Joe is one of the smartest men I’ve ever met. He’s had tremendous success in everything he’s done, and I was literally hanging on his every word during this interview.

I LOVE these videos. I can’t imagine starting a restaurant without watching them and learning as much as I could from the incredible owners we’ve been so fortunate to film.

Wil

If you like this video, here’s the rest of the series.

We’d run a restaurant just like we run Schedulefly

Wes and I have an idea for a restaurant. I have no idea if we’ll ever do it, but if we do, I’m confident we’ll run it very similarly to how we run Schedulefly.

Just as we currently focus on having a very simple, high quality, carefully designed software, I’m confident our restaurant menu would be very simple, carefully planned, and using only high quality ingredients. The core product simply has to be awesome, whether it’s software or food. I wouldn’t be a part of a business that didn’t have an absolutely exceptional product. Why bother? I can’t imagine waking up every day and being a part of a business that had an average, uninspiring product.

Just as we take excellent care of our Schedulefly customers and never forget that they are the reason we are so lucky to be able to work on our business every day, we’d make sure we and our team did the same in a restaurant. Anything less just wouldn’t cut it. Again, why bother being in business unless you plan to take extremely good care of your customers and be extremely easy to do business with? For example, I recently blogged about how a restaurant owner reacted to an exploded ketchup bottle – I guarantee we’d respond the same way.

Just as we only bring the very best people onto the Schedulefly team (there are now 5 of us), we’d do the same at our restaurant. As Tad Peelen of Joe’s Real BBQ told me recently, “It’s very important to be patient when you hire. Don’t hire somebody quickly just to fill a spot. Wait to hire the BEST person for that spot. It’s always worth the wait to ensure you get the best person.” In the last 15 months, we’ve hired Charles and Hank here at Schedulefly. We literally could not have found better people, no matter how hard we tried. They are both top, top shelf – guys we’re extremely proud to have on our team, and guys who know how to treat customers the same way we do. Nobody has to coach them – and we’d never want to have to coach people on how to take care of customers at a restaurant. Happy to train them on how to bartend – but not on how to make people feel special when they are in our place. That skill would be an absolute, unconditional pre-requisite.

Just as we don’t do any conventional marketing at Schedulefly (no emails, no ads, etc.), but rather prefer to invest back into the restaurant community with things like our video series or our book, we’d do the same with or restaurant. We’d invest into cool community events, schools, non-profits, and so forth by providing free catering, gift certificates, etc. I’m convinced that the best way to a healthy bottom line is ironically to focus not on your bottom line, but rather on giving to your community. Doing right by your community will not only be meaningful to the people and events you invest in, but ultimately to your business.

Finally, just as we’ve built Schedulefly one customer at a time over nearly six years, letting word-of-mouth be our best “marketing” and our happy users be our informal “ambassadors” (we have no formal “ambassador” program, and we never will), we’d build our restaurant the same way. Slow but steady, with the long term vision always in place, which would be to build an institution in the community that endures and ages like a fine wine, getting better over time and drawing more people through the doors every year.

I’m not saying I know how to run a successful restaurant, or that our way is the right way. In fact, there is no right way, and I know that because I’ve interviewed a bunch of successful restaurant owners for our Restaurant Owners Uncorked projects, and they’ve all been successful for doing things their own way. And I guess that’s the point – if we ever do get into the restaurant business, we’ll do it the only way we know how, which is how we’re running Schedulefly.

Wil

If you like this you might also like a brief video I made about Our Strategy here at Schedulefly. It was made before we hired Charles and Hank. But the strategy hasn’t changed one bit.

The importance of humility and 89%

In the summer of 1984 I was 10 years old and I went to a month-long sports camp. During that month I learned what would turn out to be two of the most valuable lessons of my life.

144 boys ages 10-13 attended the camp, and we were divided into 12 teams of 12 boys. Teams were named after NFL football teams, and we were the Colts. We played the other teams in six team sports: flag football, basketball, softball, lacrosse, floor hockey, and soccer. After three weeks of playing three games per day, tournament week begins. Each team plays in every tournament, which are all single-elimination (you lose, you’re done), and the championship game for each sport is held on the last day of camp.

On the first day of camp, our team’s coach sat us down and told us what kind of team we were going to be. He told us that if we gave him 89% in every game we played, we’d win a lot of games. We looked at each other quizzically. Why not 100%? Or 110%? Aren’t those the percentages every other coach uses to motivate his/her team to play hard??? Yes, they are. But our coach told us that giving 100% all of the time was not possible. It sounded good, but it just wasn’t realistic. Rather, he told us that if we committed to give 89% in every game, and we stuck to that, and we made it our mantra, then that’s the best he could expect of us. So, for instance, if you’re playing basketball, he doesn’t expect you to sprint back on defense 100% of the time. If he expected that, you’d inevitably tire at some point and jog back once, and then he’d be upset with you. But if you and he are on the same page that you’re going to give it your all 89% of the time, that’s a more realistic goal – one he should have no problem holding you accountable to, and one you should feel very able to commit to.

So before every game, three games per day for three weeks, we’d chant “89!!!!” (loudly) as a team. Nobody knew what it meant, and we agreed to keep it to ourselves. But the cheer helped reinforce the concept, and within the first few days of camp we were all rallied around 89%. It was really cool, and one we all came to appreciate, because committing to 89% gave us each an opportunity to know when we needed to give ourselves a quick break, but also set the bar high for all of us. (If you think about it, it’s nearly impossible to truthfully give it everything you have more than 89% of the time.)

Our coach also told us that everybody in camp takes stock of the other teams based on their records. “The Redskins are 2-12, they are not a good team.” Or, “Holy cow, the Saints are 12-2, they are awesome!” But he said the only way people know any team’s record is because the kids and the coaches tell each other their records (they weren’t posted anywhere, so that knowledge was only communicated verbally). Of course, if you had a really good record, the other teams would try harder to beat you, so by the nature of being a good team, you risked getting worn down by tournament time by having to play against every other team’s best effort, plus you’d inevitably lose more games by having to battle against those best efforts.

Therefore, our coach told us, when we started winning a lot of games (he gave us confidence by telling us we would; it was assumed from the get go and we all believed it for no better reason than he told us we would), we would never tell anybody our record. He committed and we committed that when somebody asked our record, we would simply say, “I’m not sure. We’ve won some and lost some.” That way, other teams would assume we were average at best, and therefore we probably wouldn’t get their best effort, so we’d give ourselves even better odds of winning more games. And, most importantly, he talked to us about the importance of humility. He told us it didn’t matter if we won a lot, that we were there to learn teamwork and effort, and if we focused on those things and gave each other 89%, wins would be the byproduct of our efforts, but never the focus. He told us, “If we commit to 89%, we’re going to win a lot of games. I promise you. But we’ll win them with class, and we won’t brag. That’s for people who don’t expect to win. We expect to win, but when we do we’ll never be arrogant about it because it doesn’t matter anyway. All that matters is that we give 89% and have fun. That’s why your here this month anyway. So be humble. Low key. Let other good teams brag. But not the Colts!”

Well, our coach had us bought in fully to the power of 89% and the importance of humility, and darn if he wasn’t a genius. Over three weeks we won more games than any other team in camp, and everybody was shocked. We were the number one seed in four of the six sports’ tournaments. Across camp, kids and coaches were saying, “The Colts?!?! Really?? We had no idea you were that good of a team!!!” The Colts were in three championship games (no other team was in more than one), and we won two of them. I’m convinced our success was due to humility and the power of 89%.

Those lessons have stuck with me for the last 28 years, and I’m posting this story here because I think they are just as relevant in business and every other aspect of life as they are in sports, and in one way or another, the people I know who are the happiest and the most successful almost all live by those same two general ideas, whether they are conscious of it or not.

I love remembering that truly special summer, so thank you for indulging me this post, and hopefully it provided something meaningful to your day.

Wil

"How do you compare to XYZ scheduling software?"

People that are exploring online restaurant employee scheduling software options occasionally send us an email that reads something like this, “I’m looking for an employee scheduling software for our restaurant. How do you compare to your competitor “XYZ scheduling software”?

“XYZ” could be one of many of the companies that provide online employee scheduling software. Sometimes we are familiar with them, sometimes we’ve never heard of them. Either way, while we appreciate this question, we of course don’t make the comparison. Charles and Hank answer most of those, but when I do my response typically goes something like this…

“Thanks for checking out Schedulefly! I’m happy to tell you a little about our strengths…We have a very simple, intuitive app that doesn’t require training, we’re extremely easy to do business with, and we’re 100% focused on serving restaurants. We also have a cool Our Story page on our site that gives you a little more insight into what we’re all about. We’ve got a hassle-free, 30-day free trial, so feel free to give Schedulefly a whirl and see what you think. You’ll know quickly if we’re the right fit for you and your team! Take care, Wil”

Why bother making a comparison? Seems defensive to me. Plus I haven’t worked for any of those companies and I haven’t used their stuff, so I can’t make a fair, honest comparison. Lastly, I have nothing but respect for the other people in this business – like us they are working hard to provide a meaningful solution to a big problem (most restaurants that don’t use some sort of web-based solution think scheduling and communication are an absolute pain in the ass). I’m sure each has an opportunity to serve their niche well, so I wish them nothing but the best of luck and would never want to disparage any of them in any way.

The way we see it, the restaurants that are the right fit for Schedulefly will find their way to us, and the ones that are the right fit for competitors will find their way to them. Price buyers will find the cheapest solution. Chains will find the most complex solution. And so on.

We simply need to keep our heads down, be patient, and focus on doing the things we’re good at. After all, we’re not here to serve every restaurant under the sun. We’re here to serve the ones that love our software and love doing business with us. So if the people who email those questions are part of that group, they’ll know it soon enough.

Wil

If you liked this post you might also like Why we let the stars and chemistry determine Schedulefly’s fate.

Independents have the strategic high ground over chains

Last night I was watching “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” (DD&D) and I was fascinated with the wonderfully unique places featured in each episode. Most of restaurants featured on that show have been around for many years. Sometimes for decades. And they’ve all established themselves as institutions in their communities.

As I was watching I remembered something Scott Maitland said in this video about the advantage independent restaurants have over chains…

“Competing with chain restaurants is a difficult proposition. Chains have changed a lot over the last fifteen years that I’ve been in this business. They had some real weaknesses fifteen years ago that quite frankly they’ve shored up. Their menu development is better. They have obvious pricing advantages. Interior design and all of these other things are fantastic. I’m not saying you can’t compete on those levels – I guess you can – but it’s difficult for an independent to compete with organization that can throw so much money at a concept and really flesh it out and then roll it out.

But I think that at some level, we, the independent restaurants, have the strategic high ground. And it all goes back to that idea of community again. Because by it’s definition, a chain restaurant is creating a concept that is repeatable. When you replicate something that’s going to work market after market after market, you’ve got to go to the lowest common denominator. And I think that’s the advantage we have – we know our community, we know what’s going on here, so we can reflect the idiosyncrasies in our community in our menu, and in our establishment in a way that a chain restaurant couldn’t.”

Wil

If you liked Scott’s quote, you might enjoy watching the awesome videos we made with him for our Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series.

Sleeping on the floor of the restaurant

Chip Bair owns Beau Jo’s, a very successful pizza restaurant group with 8 locations in Colorado and Idaho. When I interviewed Chip for our book, he told me a story I’ll never forget.

In 1973 he quit his job and purchased a pizza restaurant in Idaho Springs, CO. He didn’t have much money, he wasn’t sure how successful the business would be, and he wanted to save as much cash as possible, so he slept on the floor of the restaurant for a couple of months. The restaurant had a small shower in the back, so he had all he needed. It wasn’t comfortable, but he decided it was the smart thing to do.

After he got the restaurant running smoothly a couple of months in, he made a deal with a guy who owned a cabin outside of town: Chip gave him $25 worth of pizza every month in exchange for free rent. Once again, a smart way to save money.

Lastly, since food purveyors didn’t deliver back then, Chip had to drive down the mountain to pick up his food. So to help pay for his gas, he would load up his pickup with waste overruns from the newspaper print company next door and take it to a recycling center. That earned him $10 or so each week to help pay for gas.

I loved hearing Chip tell me this because, forty years later, Chip is a very successful business owner. He’s certainly not sleeping in any of his restaurants any longer. What struck me was his willingness to do whatever it took in those early days. He was creative, resourceful, wise, and willing to make short term sacrifices for the long term benefit of his business.

That type of determination is often what separates entrepreneurs who go on to be successful and ones whose businesses fail. Those folks often blame the failure on bad luck, and perhaps that’s the case some times. But there’s also lots of people who want the success that can come with being an entrepreneur, but aren’t willing to sleep on the floor for a while early on to help make that desire become a reality.

Wil

Speaking of stories that “stick” in your mind, I really enjoyed the book “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.” Check it out if you’re looking for ideas on how to tell your business’s story in an effective and memorable way.

Spilled ketchup, a $100 shirt, and how to create loyal fans for your restaurant

Today I ate lunch with Shawn Wilfong, owner of two extremely popular, well-respected restaurants here in Charlotte (Mortimer’s and Leroy Fox). Shawn is going to be a part of our Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series, and having spent two hours with him today, I absolutely can’t wait to film him. He is one helluva sharp guy and it’s not surprising that his restaurants do so well.

He told me a story I will never forget. Recently a customer opened a glass ketchup bottle, and the bottle somehow shattered – a freak accident – and ketchup not only covered his shirt, but a little spat out onto each of the three other people sitting with him. Shawn was told about it, and hustled over to the table. He immediately told the table their meal was free. Then he looked at the people at the two tables nearby, all of whom were staring wide-eyed at the scene, and told them their meals would be free too because even though they had no ketchup on them, it was a big disruption to their meals and he wanted them to have a positive experience out of it. Then he gave his card to each of the people at the ketchup table and asked them to please email him their dry cleaning bills. And, finally, he asked the man who had been holding the bottle what size shirt dress shirt he wore (the man was wearing business attire and had by far gotten the most ketchup on him). Shawn got the size and ran across the street to a men’s clothing store, and promptly bought a $100 dress shirt and brought it to his customer, saying, “Sir, we can wipe that ketchup off, but you’ll be wet and I just can’t send you back to work like that. Here’s a new shirt for you.”

I LOVE that story because Shawn wasn’t satisfied with simply handling the situation with a free meal and an apology. No, you see, he knew that would still result in a neutral, if not slightly negative experience for those customers. Rather, he went out of his way to turn the episode into a very positive experience. I can just imagine how many times the customers involved have told people, glowingly, that story. I mean, heck, I bet that guy thinks about it every time he wears that shirt and has probably told that story countless times.

There’s customers, and then there’s fans. On that day, Shawn Wilfong turned potentially ex-customers into fans by simply putting himself into his customers shoes. It’s a great way to run a restaurant, and a great way to run any business. And as you’ll learn in the upcoming videos, he empowers his staff to make the same kinds of decisions he made that day.

Wil

Shawn and I both loved the book “Delivering Happiness” by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. It’s an awesome read and offers excellent advice on how to build a culture focused on creating “wow” experiences for your customers. Also, Shawn is a big fan of the book “Setting the Table” by Danny Meyer, and was kind enough to give me a copy. A lot of restaurant people rave about this book, but from the portion I’ve already read I can tell it’s very useful for anybody who cares about creating memorable customer experiences, no matter what type of business you are in.

How to take the risk out of restaurants

We have tons of great content from the interviews we did in Gilbert, AZ. (Here’s a post about the trip along with some pics). One of the most interesting topics Joe Johnston talked about was minimizing the risk involved with opening restaurants by planning extremely well. Joe and his partners plan as much or more than anybody else I’ve come across, and here’s what he had to say on the topic…

“From my point of view, planning is what separates the men from the boys. A lot of people would like to have a restaurant but they don’t take the time to plan it out well, and that becomes evident in the final product. So for me personally, I break it up into two creations.

The first creating is the creation in the mind. Doodles. Back of napkins. Color swatches. Photographs that you’ve cut out of newspapers or magazines… All those sorts of things collected together into this image of what you want to create. The amount of time you put into that first creation in the mind and on paper is directly proportional to the second creation, when you actually do the bricks and mortar, you buy the uniforms, you create the menu and cook the food.

None of those will be any better than the first creation, so if you kind of just did short shrift of deciding even something like, let’s say, an onion ring. If you decide, ‘We’re gonna serve onion rings,’ but you don’t decide up front that they’re going to be hand breaded, and you like the panko style, and you won’t to have local herbs in them. If you don’t decide that early on, you’re just going to end up with bagged, frozen onion rings because that’s the easy choice in the end.

Also, I am a low risk individual. So for me the planning process is as much about me getting my concern about risk down as it is about creating the final thing. If I can’t determine in the planning phase that this is a low risk venture – because we’ve determined the location, we’ve thought through the economics of it (‘How many people would have to come through the door? How many people already drive by on the street? What are the demographics of our area?’) – for me personally, I have to convince myself that it’s a low-risk venture. Because, hey, it’s our own personal money, and our own time and effort that’s gonna be wasted if we enter into a high-risk project that only has a 20 or 30% chance of success.

So that planning phase is critical, even if it means that we have to say, ‘You know what, we shouldn’t do this, because this is too risky. Or this doesn’t meet the demographics of our location.’ That planning phase is very, very important then, to say ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’, and also to adjust the risk level mentally.”

Joe went on to talk about what he believes is a myth that 50% or so of restaurants close in the first year. He thinks a very high percentage of properly planned restaurants succeed, while “Probably 80% of poorly planned restaurants don’t make it two years.”

Given that he and his partners run three long standing, extremely successful single-location restaurants, Joe’s advice is worth some thought.

Can’t wait to finish the videos we made from his interviews…

Wil

If you like this post, you might enjoy our book, which is a collection of interviews we did with 20 successful restaurant owners (including Joe) as well as the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series, which contains short videos of restaurant owners sharing advice and wisdom.

This video could change your life

“Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way….”

I’d love to hug the narrator of this – Alan Watts. Have a listen.

Wes

Why we are turning down $54,000 (or more)

Yesterday I spoke with a company that provides a web-based software designed for independent restaurants. It’s not a competitive product to Schedulefly. In fact it could be a complimentary product if we intended to integrate with other products (we don’t). Anyway, the company hoped we might consider promoting the product to our customers as part of their “referral program”. Each successful referral would result in a $200 payment to us.

Ten years ago when I was a little younger and much less wise, I would have probably jumped at the opportunity. Here’s what I probably would have been thinking:

“Hmm…
We have about 2,700 customers…
Perhaps 10% would buy this software….
That’s 270 referrals x $200 for a cool $54,000….
And we’re growing by over 1,000 new restaurants per year, so we could create a recurring referral revenue stream by promoting it to all new customers and re-promoting it to existing customers from time to time….
Let’s do this!!!!”

But here’s what I was thinking yesterday:

“Hmm…
We don’t want to partner with anybody. I’ve blogged here and here about this topic before…
We don’t ever want to promote another product to our customers because that’s just not our style – in fact we don’t email our customers about anything…period…
This would be a pandora’s box – if we promote one product we’ll have countless requests from other people to do the same – how do we get good at picking the right ones to promote and turning down the wrong ones???
No matter how well I might get to know the people at this company to feel good about them and their product, I would never want to put our reputation on the line or risk losing any brand equity we’ve built with our customers for the sake of making an extra buck on the side by promoting a product I am not intimately involved with…
And, perhaps most importantly, if a customer expresses a need for a certain type of product and we referred one, we’d want it to be because we thought it was the right thing for the customer, not because we wanted to earn money from it – I think getting paid for referrals dilutes the value of those referrals and provides the referrer the wrong incentives” (We used to offer $100 referral fees to our users who referred new customers, and we stopped in large part for this reason – and it hasn’t hurt our word-of-mouth referrals one bit)

There are a few other reasons why we wouldn’t want to do this, but I think you get the gist of the rationale. So with this in mind, we’re happy to pass on the $ and instead simply suggest to customers who tell us they have a pain point that this product seems cool and to check it out. I do think it seems like a useful, innovative solution, and I would guess a good number of restaurants will be using it in a few years. But if that happens it won’t be because we served as a formal marketing arm for this company, rather because the need for their solution was significant and they did a great job of making the case to the restaurant segment on their own.

Wil

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