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While it is clear to most convenience store operators that developing a strong foodservice program will improve margins and generate incremental business, it is often difficult to determine which programs are best suited for a particular store or chain. Insight into customer demographics, along with their buying and eating habits, will help identify the foodservice offerings which may be in demand. But with so many possible foodservice programs available, it is my belief that a true understanding of your company's human resources and financial commitment, along with the equipment to be used to deliver the product, are the key factors in building a successful program.
Prior to selecting the equipment to be used to help deliver a profitable program, the following questions should be asked in order to understand the context in which the equipment will be used: Do we have the skill sets within our staff (at the store level) and management team to make this happen? What effect would employee turnover have on this program? What levels of training are required for each foodservice program we are evaluating? Is consistency from store to store an issue? How do we plan on training employees initially and on an ongoing basis? Will there be specific employees dedicated to this program or will there be crossed-trained employees who perform many tasks?
The answers to the above questions will truly help determine where you're at from a manpower and management perspective, and should be a good starting point when turning one's attention to the equipment that will be needed. C-stores with experienced foodservice staff and strong internal systems can possibly rely on equipment that is slightly more labor intensive, while most may find comfort in knowing that the equipment they use can greatly simplify the entire process. Having heard on an ongoing basis that "it is difficult to find good, motivated employees," I believe that operators must do their homework when it comes to making the proper equipment selection.
When selecting equipment, one can easily break the decision down into three categories -- capital (initial costs and ongoing operational costs), human (skill levels, management requirements, training issues) and support (warranties, factory training, technical service and available support).
Although, the initial cost of equipment required to implement a program can easily be calculated, significant attention must be given to the direct "ongoing operating costs" of the equipment being evaluated. For cooking equipment, one must factor in such things as energy consumption, equipment maintenance requirements and costs, ventilation requirements and costs, consumption of consumables (ie: for a frying program this would include the cost of oil, filter papers, etc.). Do not assume that all equipment is the same, and don't base everything on one factor. Understanding the "ongoing operating costs" will make a huge difference on one's bottom line.
In recent years, a number of foodservice equipment manufacturers have listened to their customers and designed equipment with greater simplicity and ease of use. This is essential in most c-store environments so it is important to learn about the operation and differences in controls that one system offers over another. Employee training is further simplified if equipment can be equipped with controls that use the "K.I.S.S." method. Not only can advanced controls simplify daily operation, they will also improve ongoing training and the training of new employees, while greatly decreasing the burden on management for all the same reasons. Equipment controls will increase the consistency of your product offering from store to store and from employee to employee. The consistent delivery of quality food is key to any successful program.
Last but not least, one must understand the level of support that is included when purchasing equipment. The brand name may be important, however, the stronger more customer-focused companies offer in-store training, longer warranties, 24/7 hotline support services, cooking and operational guidelines, and a comprehensive parts and service network. Don't hesitate to ask specifics about what you should expect from a support perspective, and don't simply rely on the fact that others are using the equipment in question to make your decision.
To increase the probability of success when introducing a new foodservice program, make certain to understand the "human" dynamics with your organization, both the initial and ongoing operational equipment-related costs and the overall support you can expect from the manufacturer in question. Doing your homework upfront and understanding your true needs will make all the difference in the world.
Mitch Kastner has been involved in the foodservice industry for nearly 25 years and has a passion for all things food related. He is vice president, sales and corporate development for Resfab Equipment, a manufacturer of fryers, rotisseries and yogurt/ice cream blending technology, specializing in supplying successful programs to c-stores and supermarkets. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].