Speed and customization are two trends that are having a tremendous impact on how Restaurant Equipment World (REW), Orlando, Fla., does business, according to President Brad Pierce. “There’s no longer a one-size-fits-all approach,” he says. “Companies need to be flexible and multifaceted, with paths available for the ways in which each customer wants to do business. In our company, for example, we have seven different ways people can place orders, ranging from filling out an order form by hand to texting us a message, phoning it in, or using a custom-designed iOS/Android app.
“They say you can’t be all things to all people,” Pierce adds, “but to serve our customers we must be. Someone ordering from a military or government facility is different than someone who runs a local independent restaurant. They’re different customer types with different needs, procedures and protocols. We need to adapt to ensure we’re able to work with all types of customers in the most efficient and preferred manner for their particular operational norms.”
The only way to keep up with these trends is through process improvements, Pierce believes, something his company has invested time and money in since its inception, but particularly the past 20-plus years since he became president and developed the industry’s first website. He sees those improvements as a series of defining moments and continuous refinement.
Ideas for improvements come from several sources. One is the literal wake-up call, he says, an idea or realization that comes in the middle of the night that demands a strategic initiative. Two years ago, one of those initiatives was a commitment to provide 3-D drawings to all customers that work with REW’s design department.
The highest priority process improvements are those initiated by customer wants or needs. With his background in computers, Pierce has always tried to be ahead of the technology curve, but sometimes gets too far ahead. He wrote a mobile ordering app 14 years ago when smart phones were just starting to penetrate the market. Most customers didn’t understand it or didn’t see a need for it at the time, so the company stopped offering it. “Customers forced us to rethink why we dropped it,” he says. “Now our iOS/Android mobile ordering app is a key method customers use to enter orders into our system.”
Many of the process improvements REW has put in place were ideas that Pierce or someone in the company stumbled across. “I visit dealers and manufacturers all over the country,” he says, “and always see some tiny thing that will be an incremental improvement somewhere.”
Having his previous orders mentioned by employees at take-out restaurants when he called in to pick up a meal gave him the idea to rewrite the company’s phone system software to recognize incoming numbers and route them accordingly. A manufacturer he visited used small plastic cards in its warehouse bins as an inventory reorder reminder. “It’s an old-school idea, but a great check and balance to automation,” he says.
New employees also are a good source of ideas for improvements. “They’re often discounted because supposedly they aren’t familiar with procedures and don’t know what they’re doing yet,” says Pierce. “But they’re a great resource for getting feedback on what is and isn’t working in your company. New people want to know why you do things a certain way, and sometimes there’s no good reason. Listen to your employees.”
The most dramatic results, in terms of efficiency and an improved ability to meet customer expectations at REW, have come from a handful of process improvements implemented within the past 15 years. Reorganizing the warehouse layout and adding new inventory management software and barcoded location tags, has led to a more efficient order fulfillment process.
“We added barcode locations to the warehouse layout 12 years ago,” Pierce says, “and portable barcode scanners improved both employee productivity and customer service by decreasing time spent on menial tasks, allowing for more customer-focused activities. We reordered the layout recently to make it possible to take a complete inventory in one day instead of the five it used to take prior to the change. We’re now working with RFID tags on pallets to receive and count inventory. It’s all about defining moments and continuous refinement.”
An initiative to digitize all the company’s forms has eliminated huge amounts of paperwork and simplified company operations. Employees are now more efficient, especially in their interactions with customers, improving speed and quality of service.
Five years ago, REW revamped its internal phone routing system, making it more intelligent. Rather than a phone tree or automated attendants, the new internal software automatically routes calls to the associate best equipped to handle the inquiry. “If the system sees that it’s a manufacturer calling, for instance,” Pierce says, “the call is routed to purchasing as the most likely department to handle their call. If it’s a local customer, we cross-reference our customer database to check their Caller ID, and route them to our cash-and-carry operation. All calls are routed to a live person. And when a sales rep answers a call, the customer’s purchase history comes up on the rep’s computer screen.”
A systems integration initiative started 10 years ago has received continuous improvements over the years. Because of those efforts, it is now possible for anyone in the company to access the information they need on any platform—computer, laptop, tablets and smart phones. Contacts and calenders are synced officewide so everyone can seamlessly communicate regardless of if they are in the office or working remotely.
“While technology has helped the company improve many functions,” Pierce says, “I also see what I term an anti-trend; in this age of high-tech and instant communications, people still buy from people. Customers still value face-to-face contact and a firm handshake that demonstrates you care about them. It’s a balance of ‘high tech’ and ‘high touch.’”
To that end, REW empowered employees to make decisions, solve customer problems, and commit to financial obligations such as additional spending on a project without waiting for authorization. Customers are satisfied first, and any internal discussions or process improvements are made afterwards.
“We’re working hard to learn from and emulate great service organizations such as Ritz Carlton brands to drive stellar customer experiences,” Pierce says. “We still have rules and procedures in place, but we let associates make judgment calls to benefit long-term customer relationships.”
REW also now uses FEDA’s Order Status mechanism, which the company feeds directly from AutoQuotes into its order status system. Updates are pushed directly to customers via e-mail so they receive shipment information in near-real-time.
“We have an expectation that all those in the supply chain will move at a brisk pace,” Pierce says. “Unfortunately, pushing this high-speed prerogative can be challenging in an industry that’s often behind the times. We still lack supply chain inventory visibility. I’ve made a commitment to move the industry forward with real-time inventory status information through the FEDA Data Interchange. Customers have this information at their fingertips in their personal lives—order an item on Amazon and it shows ‘10 in stock.’ If we’re going to operate at the speed of life, we have to be able to meet those expectations in the B2B world.”