The Importance of Technology Investments to Ensuring Growth and Efficiency
Staying ahead of the technological curve will make your franchise more attractive to prospects, current franchisees and vendors.
By Gary Price
Technology has become a cornerstone of our day-to-day lives, changing every aspect of our existence from the way we communicate with each other to how we get from Point A to Point B. The franchise world is no exception and, with the right know-how and strategy, technology can significantly enhance the growth and efficiency of your franchise model.
With new technological advances, upgrades and the rapidly shifting technology landscape, identifying the right time to upgrade equipment and take advantage of the newer technology can be a challenge. As franchise companies look to keep up with the highly tech-savvy consumer and franchise investor, many questions arise. Below, I’ve shared my insight on a few of the technology related questions that I have tackled and overcome from my experience in the industry.
When is the Right Time to Invest in Technology?
When it comes to investment in technology, timing is everything. Franchise companies always have a need for updated technology. However, before making any investments, companies should ensure they are in a position to handle the aches and pains that can sometimes come with these changes — whether that means training employees, educating customers or accounting for time needed for the rollout. There’s no room for impulsivity when making an investment in technology. Implementation timelines, testing and manpower to execute and rollout the new technology needs to be thoroughly thought-out and vetted.
As Sonic Corp. looked to add a new point-of-sale system to all company-owned restaurants in the 2014 fiscal year, the implementation process took longer than expected. However, because of the company’s strategic plan and timeline, the hiccup in the rollout process is not expected to affect Sonic’s ultimate goal of incorporating the new technology with franchisees in fiscal years 2015 and 2016. The technology will allow the company to drive engagement and promotions in a more targeted and personalized way while customers wait in their cars for their food to be delivered.
Corner Bakery Cafe aims to maintain its rapid ascent atop the nation’s list of fastest growing fast casual brands. To achieve this goal, we adopted e*Restaurant and e*SmartClock technologies to improve labor, food, human resources and administrative costs across the chain. Our executive team did not rush to improve the model immediately; rather the company was systematic and deliberative in its approach to choosing the right technology to invest in and the time frame for implementation. It was only after a significant research process, followed by a three-month test in 10 company-owned stores, that we were able to find the solution that best worked for our brand. Strategic planning such as this is fostering franchise growth, which we expect will enable our company to more than double its national footprint by 2017 and help us grow to a billion-dollar brand by the end of the decade.
What Types of Technology Upgrades are Right for My Franchise?
Any technology advancement made should have the end goal of helping the franchisee improve the external and internal guest experience or improve the economic model. Having the best technology available doesn’t necessarily translate into an improved and enhanced franchise model. The type of technology you choose should fill specific needs. From point-of-sale systems to employee scheduling systems, franchise companies have a wide array of options to choose from. Prioritizing your company’s needs and determining which solutions will improve growth and efficiency is the perfect starting point.
Chili’s Grill & Bar looked for a technology system that would enhance the customer and employee experience. To fill the need, the brand installed seven-inch Android Ziosk tablets at all of its locations. The devices improved the customer experience by allowing patrons to interactively peruse menu items, order meals, play games together and pay the check at the table. As a result, Chili’s is experiencing an improved experience for its guests.
For Corner Bakery Cafe, we needed to improve our processes to more accurately forecast labor and easily pull invoices. We understood that any technology advancement in these two areas would improve the overall economic model. By adopting e*Restaurant technology, we were able to utilize the platform’s powerful forecasting engine to deliver a more accurate and efficient crew schedule. Additionally, e*Restaurant is fully integrated with e*SmartClock, allowing the two elements to work in concert to help managers ensure crew schedules are properly executed and to help our employees more easily monitor their own schedules. These two upgrades have provided improvements in labor costs and efficiency.
Who Can I Ask for Help?
If you are unsure if a particular technology upgrade will enhance your franchisor’s growth and efficiency, the International Franchise Association’s Marketing and Technology Committee is a terrific resource. The committee, originally titled the Information Technology Committee, was created to assist franchisors in understanding how technology can help the growth of the franchise industry. The committee consists of unbiased industry experts who can point your franchise in the right direction and provide strategic advice for your technology upgrade planning and implementation.
Reaching out to your franchisees is another great way to determine what types of upgrades are needed in your franchise system. Receiving input as to what franchisees see as a pain point can help to better understand their needs and allow you to fine tune your technology plan. In Corner Bakery Cafe’s case, we started with implementing an IT Steering Committee that includes some of our franchise partners and a cross-functional team of Support Center Department heads who would interface with the technology.
What do My Franchisees Expect?
Franchise partners expect a franchisor to not only have a robust technology platform in place, but to also stay current with innovations in the marketplace and leverage technology as a business enabler. Lagging behind the competition and an unwillingness to change are not acceptable practices in the minds of today’s successful franchise owners. There are few things more attractive to a prospective or existing franchisee than a franchisor who is willing to arm their investors with the tools to succeed.
Technology will continue to evolve in 2015 and beyond, therefore franchisors must continue to find ways to utilize technology for enhanced growth and increased efficiency of the franchise model. Staying ahead of the technological curve will make your franchise more attractive to prospective and current franchisees, and vendors. Meeting the needs and expectations of franchisees through implementation of enhanced technology and strategic upgrades will ensure the success of the franchise and growth of the brand.
Gary Price is president of Corner Bakery Cafe, a fast-casual restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to guests in 17 states and Washington, D.C. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.