Getting a Fresh Set of Eyes on Your Business

Jeffrey StoneJaime Oikle of Running Restaurants sat down with Compeat CEO, Jeff Stone, as part of his podcast series that shares tips, tools, and techniques you need to make your restaurant more profitable and successful. In this informative interview session, the two discuss:

  • Restaurant industry trends and future projections
  • Toughest problems consistently heard from operators
  • Philosophy on company culture & team building
  • Benefits of all in one solution
  • Best advice ever received
  • Favorite leadership quote
  • and more…

You can listen the full podcast here or read on to learn how to get a fresh set of eyes on your business.

Jaime: What is some of the best life or business advice that you have ever received?

Jeff: I think that as the CEO of a company it is to continuously evolve as an organization, as sometimes you can get a little stale and stagnant after years and years go by.  The best advice that I’ve ever gotten from a board member is that every six months think about if this was the first time you walked into the office and it was your very first day, how would you have a fresh set of eyes, how would you really look at your business?  How would you look at your customers? How would you look at the market? Take a step back and spend the time that is necessary in order to think about the big picture and then move the organization in that direction. A lot of times you can get very pigeon-hold into the nuances of the day-to-day and lose site of the big vision. So, every once in a while, I take the advice of coming in and saying “Look, I want to start fresh today, and this is my very first day.  How would I look at the business and what are some of the things that I would do?”

Jaime: Another thing I would like to get a feel for is a quote that you love or a mantra?

Jeff: One of my favorite quotes is “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them” by Albert Einstein.  Again it goes back to the theme that I just articulated, which is sometimes when you look at a problem you have to really take a step back and think about if you are asking the right questions. If you have the right people involved. And a lot of times it has to be solved at a different level from which the problem was created.

Jaime: Let’s jump right in and tell me what you guys are doing for restaurants in this space. Tell me about what a Compeat 60-second commercial looks like in terms of what you do for folks in the restaurant business?

Jeff: We have been around for 18 years.  We service the restaurant industry straight across the board. One of the only full suite offerings out there, from accounting to labor, to inventory, to managing your two primary costs; food costs and people costs.  We then dive into applicant tracking and payroll. On top of that we have a business intelligence tool that basically gives you all of the data that is necessary to maintain and operate your business. We love what we do. We have a lot of people that have been here for a very long time and are continuing to evolve the organization. We are really happy to have the opportunity to serve the restaurant industry.

Jaime: I think it’s a little bit different if you go back about 10 years, where you have different people doing different pieces. A restaurant would have 10 different vendors and you guys are really building the “all-in-one” piece of it and so has that evolved over time? How do you get those key pieces in place?

Jeff: If you go back to when the company was founded, there was a need for technology within the restaurant industry but it wasn’t as prolific as it is today. We started at the core of accounting and inventory management and then that evolved into the other elements. The real question for us is “how big do you make that pie” and “where is really the end, the end”?  We partner with over 80 POS solutions out there and we feel like by doing that and having the product suite that we do today, that does complete that circle.

The other avenue of this and how we evolved is that a year and half ago we bought a company called Ctuit and have merged those constituents together.  Ironically, both Compeat and Ctuit started a month apart from each other and they started on two different avenues.  Rob, who was the founder of Ctuit, started more from the aspect of business intelligence perspective; whereas Harry started more from accounting.  The merger of these two businesses was perfect and allowed us to complete the full circle and have the integrated platform that we have today.

Jaime: You said that tech is integrated in the restaurant today more than ever. And that is absolutely the case and that trend is not going away; it’s only going to go forward.  Restaurants who are hesitant to grab onto that are going to be going backwards because you have to grab a penny here, a penny there. Are you seeing any resistance still about technology in the market place? Are they slow to adapt? Do they not understand some pieces of the equation or is it really starting to click now in terms of seeing how all of the different pieces end up saving money in the end?

Jeff: I think it is starting to click a lot more than it has in the past. Opening a restaurant today is extremely difficult.  It is extremely difficult in the marketplace.  You have to run and operate your restaurant as if it is a business.  It’s not enough to say you have a great menu, great chef, and those sorts of things.  You really need to think of it as a business itself.  That’s all the way from the human capital side of it to managing your inventory, keeping good straight books, managing your labor, all the way through.  I think for our customers, it really starts to hit them when they get to about two to three locations and they start to think about commissary and other elements that you really need to have a fine-tuned system like ours that is specifically designed for the restaurant industry.  That helps them grow their businesses.

I can count numerous customers that had one or two locations that are now 75, 100, 150 that have really grown up with us.  I like to think, and have heard testimonies from them, that our software helped them do that. But to answer your question directly, I do think that it would be very difficult to continue to grow an operation and to grow a restaurant without some type of technology to help you do that.

Jaime: When I think about the pieces that you guys work with, I think of the phrase “nitty gritty”.  The behind the scenes stuff that maybe some operators don’t even want to think about.  They like to build a menu, they like the service, they like to cook but there is all this stuff in the background that is really going to make a difference in being profitable and having to shut the doors. How does your team go in and say, “I know you don’t want to think about this stuff, but it’s going to make a difference?”

Jeff: It starts with the needs of the organization and the needs of the restaurant.  Depending on the customer set or the clients that you are trying to attract, it is going to be different flavors there. But it really starts at the core.  If we look at a huge chunk of our initial conversations, they start at inventory, accounting, and labor management because of managing your two primary costs.

Then, it spiders out from there. Once they get those installed, they might think about payroll. They might think that on average there is 125% turnover in the restaurant industry and how do we attract more talent and funnel them through?  How do we start talking about integrated systems so that I can minimize the time that I am spending on things that are just not productive to the overall restaurant industry?

Then, how do I get to the data? That is one of the biggest trends that is going on right now.  There are a lot of systems out there, but how do I pull out the necessary data?  How do I look at those four or five key metrics every single day to be able to make decisions?  Then how do I push that down to the store level so that the people who have feet on the ground have enough data to make the right decisions? Especially as you grow.  Think about a 70-location business; there is just a lot of moving pieces there for the organization.

Jaime: Where do you think things are going this year? Where might the restaurant industry and what you folks do look like in five years?

Jeff: I think there are probably two or three different fronts.  One is the divide between above-store and in-store and the different metrics that are needed for a corporate office versus an in-store manager that has feet on the ground. The ease of getting to that data is one component of that. Either you rely on pushing out reports or email alerts, or those sorts of things; that’s one.

Two is the mobility aspect.  Everything is on iPads or on mobile phones, and some things are more adaptable to that area. We are working really hard in developing a really strong app.  We have several right now and we are looking to merge all of those together.

And finally, going forward, we just need to make things easier. And how do we delineate the correct information to look at?  If you talk to people about intelligence or you talk to people about dashboard reporting, they all want something, but it is really difficult for them to articulate exactly what they want. Every one of them wants a different flavor. But if you look at the core of what they typically use, it comes down to about five reports used consistently every day. So, it’s the evolution of how is less, more? How do you define what are those 5, 6, or 10 reports are holistically for the restaurant industry and then produce those?

Jaime: What are 1-2 problems that you are hearing repeatedly from operators or even inside your own business?

Jeff: One, is what we just talked about – that they want continued access to their data. Second, is that they want one vendor to go to.  And if they put their information into one system that it funnels all the way through. We have a customer portal with a single user sign-on.  Just the ease of being able to do that. And then there’s other elements, we have a partnership with Plate IQ and the ability to scan in invoices. There is a lot of different things like that that are out and how do we integrate those into our product so that the overall circle that we have can become larger, larger, and larger through partnerships, API’s, and integrations. So overall, that is what we are hearing from the industry; they just want things quicker, faster, easier.

Jaime: As I look around your social feeds, it looks like a fun place to work.  You have pictures of company outings and I think that’s an important piece of any business. Talk about how you guys talk about it philosophically there and how develop that aspect of company culture.

Jeff: It all starts on the platform and foundation.  Both Rob and Harry did an amazing job 18 years ago building to both of these businesses with the overall theme that we service the restaurant industry.  A huge chuck of our employees still come from the restaurant industry, which at the heart helps us tremendously in servicing our clients and having that overall culture and excitement.

Secondly, I worked really hard when I came on board to create a strong leadership team which is half female right now.  There is a whole lot of statistics behind why that makes sense, but I think overall that helps us make better decisions, be more competitive, and attract great talent from the marketplace.

And third is that I put a lot of effort and time into the human capital side of the house.  We do all the things you just talked about; outings, bringing in lunches, cross-pollination between the three different offices. That we have right now. But it really starts with the employees.  It’s much more of a home-grown thing that we are just continuing to capitalize on.  It has not been easy to merge two companies together, but we’re stronger now than we ever have been, and we will continue to move forward.

Jaime: Any closing thoughts?

Jeff: I think the biggest takeaway here is that we have been doing this for 18 years, we have a hugely dedicated team that is committed to the restaurant industry, and this is all that we do.  This is all that we are going to continue to do.  We want to continue to grow the business and evolve, but really, we want to take care of our clients.  We have a big users’ conference coming up in Austin in April.  This is the first combined between Ctuit and Compeat together.  We are hoping to get about 700 to 800 attendees.  It’s going to be a big show and we are really excited about it.

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