Solomon Bruce Consulting Blog

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Technology-- Get with it or die!

     Why do we need more technology?  Why does everyone use a smart phone, IPad, Tablet, IPhone?  What about Near Field Communications?  Do you offer these capabilities?

      The other day, one of our consultants was at a Rotary meeting.  The speaker was from the local newspaper.  The speaker said that the newspaper wants to get out of the "print" business as soon as possible and go to the "web" business.  Why?  Newsprint is hard to handle, requires storage capability, ink is expensive and once the paper is printed, changes cannot be made until the next run, 24 hours later.  However, with web based news dissemination, the news can change every minute, if necessary to reflect the changing world environment.  The question is, "Have you changed to the new technology environment?"

       A new restaurant uses IPads for all of the servers to take guest orders.  No old fashioned paper tablets and pencils, just an IPad and a stylus.  Here is what is neat-- as soon as the order is entered on the IPad, the kitchen begins preparing the food or drink request.  With full integration, the supplier knows how much of a certain product is used and can insure that the restaurant does not run out by having more product available "just in time" for the next order.  Why is this important?  Reduces storage costs, shrinkage costs and insures a level of freshness not before thought possible.

       Remember Kodak, the film maker?  In the late 1980's, the price of Kodak stock was somewhere North of $100/share.  Fast forward to 2012-- the company is now bankrupt and the stock value is worthless.  What happened?  Kodak never believed that the digital age was going to impact their future.  Sadly, it did and over 120,000 people lost their jobs, their retirement and a city almost "dried up" because no body bought Kodak film.

       If you have a client that requests all electronic invoicing, do you do it?  Do you have the capability to do it?  If not, do you send paper and wait 3 weeks to get paid?

       Technology is changing how business is done each and every day!  If you are not up to date technologically, now is the time to begin the journey.  If you don't become technologically literate, your competitor will--- leaving you behind and in the dust!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Why Do the Smokers Always Hang Out At the Front Door?

     In o he past 10 years, the number of folks who use smoking tobacco has steadily decreased.  Concerns about health care, health care costs, general health and expense have all been factors in decreased use of smoking tobacco.  However, there are always a few individuals who are employees who continue to use smoking tobacco.  When they have a desire to smoke, many times, they go to the front door of the store and smoke.
      Now, as a customer, many individuals do not like to walk through a heavy cloud of smoke to get to the business.  Why?  Well, your clothes become saturated with smoke, you smell like smoke, your eyes begin to water and for some individuals with pulmonary problems, experience breathing difficulties.

      If you have employees who smoke, designate a space or spot where the employee can smoke.  This may be off property.  It may be in the employee's car.  However, it should never be anywhere that can be obstructing or difficult for the client or customer to come into the business facility.

       With new health care laws being enacted, some legislation has been considered where those employees who use smoking tobacco products will pay a much higher health care insurance premium.  Employees make the personal decision to use smoking tobacco.  However, that does not mean that clients or customers have to subject to their smoking practices.

       This is a real competitive service issue.  If your firm does not have a smoking policy, we strongly suggest that one be developed.  The policy can be onerous enough that employees will elect to quit smoking because of the policy.  Here is an example-- all employees must be at least 500 feet from any company facility in order to use smoking tobacco.  Nothing says that you have to provide a "smoking cabana" or other facility for folks to smoke.  If it is cold, hot, rainy or windy, so be it-- nobody is forcing the individual to smoke.

       Many colleges, businesses and hospitals have gone smoke free on the entire campus.  Signs are posted to inform visitors of the policy.  It works!  This is one area where strong leadership reduces the use of smoking tobacco.  Carefully consider developing such a policy if your firm currently fails to have such a policy in place.

What are your real costs?

     What are your real costs?  That is a question that an accountant asked his client during a financial review.  The client's answer, "I have no idea!"  I have money in my checkbook, we have deposited more this year than last, we are making money.
       Well, the accountant had a hard time accepting that answer!  Further exploration with the accountant's client did not reveal any better answers or financial insight.  The accountant spent many hours explaining to his client how not knowing what your functional costs were in fact, costing him profit.
        In business, in life, in general, it is always important to know what your costs are, what the margins are for the products that you sell and how you can increase the margins in order to make greater profitability.  Not knowing your costs, guessing and not accurately tracking each cost is one of the fastest ways to go out of business.
        A restaurant owner we met with the other day knew, to the percentage point, his cost of each menu item, his labor costs and his overhead costs.  This was very impressive, because our consultant identified that his sales prices appeared to be lower than comparable products in other restaurants.  The owner said that Yes, that was the case, a menu price adjustment was in order, or a portion size reduction could accomplish the same objective.
         Our consultant suggested that a portion size reduction was probably a better choice because the clients of the restaurant had become accustomed to the prices.  After thinking about that for a few minutes, the owner agreed.  What the owner learned was that he could reduce the size of a fish dish by 2 ounces, maintain the same profit margin and still have a good sales volume.
         Knowing all of your costs is vitally important in running any business.  The businesses that we see that are really in trouble fail to have good grasp of all things financial.  If you are a business owner and are struggling to keep your "head above water," knowing the cost of goods, the cost of labor and the general and administrative costs is paramount to success. 
         It is cheaper to employ the services of a consultant or accountant to aid and assist in this endeavor.  A consulting engagement that can help straighten out your pricing structure is money well spent.  Yes, it costs money, however, in the end, you will be able to have a much better understanding of your profit profile and be able to make wise, informed, data based decisions.

How Do We Control Cell Phones During Work Hours?

     The question that was asked of our consultant recently is the title of this blog post.  The business owner was frustrated that his staff was using their personal cell phones during work hours.  In many cases, the employee valued the cell phone call more than the customer service experience that he/she was expected and hired to provide.  What to do was the business owner's question.

      In today's 2013 world, the use of the cell phone, IPAD, Smartphone and all social media connection devices is well known and understood.  Everybody is "connected."  Everybody is everybody, even 6 year olds have cell phones to call Mom and Dad.  Gosh, we wonder how life ever existed before smart phones.  Somehow, the world did turn, but that is another post.

      What this business owner did was very creative in our mind.  Because he was told by numerous customers that his staff were using the cell phone in full view of the customer, sometimes making the customer wait, he asked the staff what they thought.  Interestingly, many staff were not aware that they were indeed using the phone and not waiting on the customer.  Well-- not sure that we really understand that answer, however, that was the answer given.  Expecting that this might be the answer, the business owner was prepared.  He calmly, but clearly pointed out that although he did not prefer folks to use cell phones for personal use during work hours, it would be nearly impossible to ban their use.  However, he strongly suggested that people take and make personal calls during their scheduled breaks.  Each employee was given a specified break time.  If the employee wished to make calls during that time, go for it.  If an emergency call came in during "non break" times, the employee should go to the back room and take the call, provided that the customer was NOT left without service or support.

        Our consultant pointed out that just because the phone rings, does not mean that it has to be answered!  Calls can be received and made at certain times of the day-- the break period being one of those times.  In all honesty, there are very few real emergencies.  Yes, there are a few, however, very few.

         Several weeks transpire and our consultant visits with the business owner again.  The business owner said that his staff being made aware of the phone call issue has helped tremendously.  The staff also figured out that their tips improved when they dedicated full time to customer service.  This particular business is a restaurant, so focused customer service is very important.

         In today's connected world, everyone is "connected."  Working with your staff and identifying when problems such as these occur will not only help staff modify behavior, but also insure that the customer is receiving the best service possible.