Pots And Pans

Happy Foodie Friday! Have you recovered from last week’s massive food fest? If you were the host of the festivities, at some point you hauled out some pots and pans. Cookware is the most basic kitchen equipment besides a great chef’s knife (you have one of those, right?) Other than when you’re outdoors cooking on a grill or smoker, you pretty much need a pan or a pot or several of each to get the job done.

This isn’t going to be a “how to equip your kitchen with cookware” screed. The reality is that my favorite sizes and types of cookware may not be at all appropriate for you. I mean, I cook on a gas cooktop which means that I like cookware that can handle high heat and distribute it evenly. You may cook on an induction stove which means your pots and pans need to be a “ferrous” metal – meaning a magnet needs to cling to them to work properly on an induction cooktop or range.

I often will start something on the stove and then move it to the oven. That means I want pans that have handles that can go in the oven without melting as well as pans that won’t warp in the oven heat. In fact, thin, insubstantial pans may be less costly but single-ply cookware does not heat evenly nor does it retain heat well. This means that you are likely to burn things. Thin pans warp easily as well and if you’ve ever tried to maintain a thin layer of oil or butter for sautéing in a warped pan, you know it’s damn near impossible to get it right in that case.

You might insist on everything being non-stick or you might have concerns about the surface leaching into food. You might love ceramic pans while I don’t like how they discolor over time. To each his own, right? But what’s important is that you THINK about what you cook and how you cook before you invest in cookware. Ideally, it’s something you’re only going to do once for each pot or pan you buy.

The same holds true in business. What’s right for my business may be totally wrong for yours and, like a non-ferrous pan on your induction cooktop, might not work at all. You need to do requirements planning with input from all constituencies (all cooks weigh in!). You need to evaluate all the options and costs, while always important, can’t be the primary criterion. I generally buy my stuff at a restaurant supply place that sells to the public – it’s high-quality, will stand up to my home use since it’s made for much heavier use than I give it, and it’s less expensive than the stuff you find in the “consumer” stores. That is a great guideline for anything you’re doing in business as well. Plan, research, evaluate and buy for the long-term. You’d be surprised where the best solutions can be found!

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I Can’t Quit

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. It’s one of those times when your focus is truly on family and friends and not on the more mundane things that tend to tie up the bulk of our lives.

One of those things has become social media and specifically Facebook and its family of products. I think that if it was a drug, it would be among the worst drugs ever and should be heavily regulated at least. Let me explain why.

I was an early user (does that make me a long-term addict?). I signed up way back when you needed a .edu mailing address to join. At first, it was fun and getting back in touch with my college and high school classmates was great. I’d accept friend requests from people I barely knew and rarely spoke to from way back when. It made reunions less jarring since I already knew who had gained weight, lost hair, or, as in my case, both.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I limit my “friends” to people who are really just that. Acquaintances don’t make the grade and very few business-only relationships are part of my friend group. Unfortunately, some business associations in which I participate have chosen to do their communicating via Facebook. I also have consulting clients from time to time that want my expertise on using Facebook both for content and for advertising. If those circumstances ever change, I’ll be gone the next day.

I’m sure you’re aware by now about Facebook’s utter disregard for your privacy. They track you pervasively (I use a browser extension to limit that). They sell your data, accurate or not, to scammers and liars as well as to legitimate marketers but they don’t try to distinguish between them. I wrote in 2010 that they just might fail because of their disregard for security and privacy. I could not have been more right about what they were doing and more wrong about their success.

Why do we all seem to hang around? Metcalf’s Law, which states that the effect of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. There were alternatives and still are, of course, but unless and until your real friends, family, and business groups move someplace else, you’re kind of stuck. It’s why I post the screed on Facebook as well as on LinkedIn and elsewhere. Fish where the fish are, right?

My first resolution will be to use Facebook less in 2020 and beyond and to reach out via phone and email to people more often. It’s not just about maintaining privacy but about helping my mental health. Do I think I’m striking a blow for privacy and responsibility? No, not being one of 1.6 billion daily users. I’ll still be on Facebook – it’s the easiest and best way to keep up with old friends and I need it for business. But you can bet I’ll be a lot less active. Don’t take it personally. It’s not you – it’s Zuck.

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The Annual Thanksgiving Post!

Because it’s the day before Thanksgiving here in the US, you’re getting the weekly Foodie Friday screed today. It’s a post I wrote in 2012 about another post I wrote in 2008. Many things have changed in my life and the lives of my family members since it was written. We’re more scattered geographically. We’ve had deaths and marriages. We all won’t be together this year physically but in some ways, the separation has brought us closer together.

In any event, the thinking behind this post of a post hasn’t changed. Have a great holiday wherever you and your family may be!

Several years ago I wrote a pre-Thanksgiving post on the “three f’s” of the holiday.  You may recall that I described them as:

English: Oven roasted turkey, common fare for ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • “F” number one is Family. It’s the thing for which I am most thankful. Having them here at this holiday is a labor of love and I hope they’ll all keep showing up for many years more.
  • “F” number two is Feasting. We do ask everyone to bring something – an appetizer, wine, or a dessert, usually. Obviously, it’s not because it lightens the workload very much but because it makes them a part of the process. It’s OUR meal as a family and our shared celebration. The word “feast” comes from the same root as “festival” (yes, it’s also the same root Seinfeld used for “Festivus“) and we try to make it one. All those days of prep come together in a 45-minute orgy of eating. This holiday is very much like Christmas or Hanukah in that way – you prepare for quite a long time and then it’s over way too quickly.
  • “F” number three is Football. This is America’s national sport and we’re very much a sports-oriented group. I’ll never forget my Uncle Harry who would sit with us every year and watch the games. “I don’t understand,” he would say, “they all fall down, they all get up, they do it again. What kind of game is this?” It could be paint drying – the point is that it’s a family ritual and through it, we bond.

They haven’t changed.  Our family has been challenged this year by many of the same things that millions of other families face.  Illnesses, the economy, wacky weather, and the other day-to-day events that keep it…interesting…  Even so, we’re very fortunate and tomorrow will be a day to remember that.  If anything, the adversity has pulled us even closer.

I’m very thankful, among other things, for those of you that take the time to read the screed every once in a while.  I appreciate your comments when I hit home and even more so when I miss the mark.  Have a great holiday!

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Filed under food, Growing up, What's Going On

The Grocery Store

The topic for this Foodie Friday is the grocery store. Think for a minute about where you do the bulk of your grocery shopping. Is the merchandise that it carries substantially different from one of its competitors? My guess is that it probably isn’t. All the national brands are there and the same person who stocks the snack or bread aisle at your store might have left a competitor twenty minutes earlier. So why do you go?

We had a Wegman’s open here. The lines to get in were HOURS long. I’ve never shopped at a Wegman’s but those who have proclaimed their undying loyalty. There’s been a rumor floating around my neighborhood (since confirmed!) that a Publix will be opening in the not too distant future. People who’ve missed their sandwiches and service are swooning. In the case of these two stores, they separate themselves from everyone else in very clever ways; Wegman’s via setting themselves up to feel like a European marketplace and Publix via their signature subs.

Some of it is just smart branding. While my local Harris Teeter and Lowe’s Foods both make various types of sausages in-house, Lowe’s brands the entire operation as The Sausage Works and gives each type of sausage a clever name. They even sell “My Sauageworks” tee-shirts (and you can imagine the looks I get when I wear mine in public). They pride themselves as being the Best Of The Wurst and are constantly inventing new flavors such as their newest, The #63 Philly, which they describe as a brotherly love blend of chicken sausage, mozzarella, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and spices. No commodities here but while both stores sell the same basic sausages, Lowe’s goes the extra mile and can market behind it.

I think may business sectors have become quite commoditized. When I was running a sports site, we would often remind ourselves that people can get a game score or most statistics anywhere. The only way we could compete was to provide something unique, better, and in-demand. I think every business needs to think of itself in terms similar to that, even if you really do have unique aspects baked in. It won’t be long before someone has what you have and maybe is offering it on better terms.

Why do you shop where you shop? If “better prices” is the only answer, that store might have trouble the minute a competitor decides to price match.  It’s much harder to match a better experience or unique merchandise, no matter what business you’re in. Don’t you agree?

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Am I Hot Or Not?

One question that often comes up as I’m discussing franchise opportunities with people is that of what businesses are “hot.” It’s interesting that “hot” comes up at least as often as “profitable”. I can answer the questions for them (and usually do), but I also add a couple of other thoughts. That’s our topic for today.

For those of you that are curious, what’s currently “hot” in the world of franchises falls into a few broad categories. Within the food sector, breakfast places, juice bars, Mexican food, and healthy bowls are doing well. Restoration services – businesses that clean up after accidents or disasters are hot as well. Some of the other categories that are in demand are childcare, pet services, fitness businesses, and some “alternative” health businesses (cryotherapy, etc.), and beauty/grooming. As an aside, I represent businesses in every one of these categories – let me know if you want to learn more!

I’ll review those categories with interested candidates but then I caution them and I’d like to do the same here. Many of the businesses in those categories are “sexy” but several are not particularly profitable.  When you’re thinking about making a huge life change, which is what many of the folks I speak with are doing, you need to take a step back and look at the big picture. It’s not about what’s hot because what’s hot today may be gone tomorrow. Think about businesses that were all the rage a couple of years ago. Yogurt stores (yes, I have some of those too) seem to be fading away. Most of the “daily deal” sites have consolidated or gone away. Same with many of the subscription box services. The tanning bed business has transitioned into a spray-tan business.

My point to them, and to you, is that focusing on what’s hot isn’t a great criterion as you’re looking at new opportunities. Instead, ask yourself what makes you happy. What can you see yourself doing every day that will have you excited about getting out of bed? The odds are that there is a franchise that will allow you to do that. Some folks are equally concerned (or more concerned) with making money. Many of the businesses that do that aren’t “sexy.” They’re things like home repair or remodeling businesses or they’re businesses that might require a higher level of capital like a senior care business where you might need to “float” a payroll until cash flow grows.

Businesses ebb and flow. Categories run hot and cold, but what makes you happy probably doesn’t. Add profitability to the mix and you’re on the right track, whether it’s hot or not.

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Concessions

Let’s go to the movies this Foodie Friday. I did the other day. If you’ve been spending time at home streaming your entertainment and none at the theaters, you might not be aware that things have changed dramatically at the old cineplex with respect to food. I happened to go to my local Alamo Drafthouse, which features recliners as well as a large menu of food and beverage.

You are probably aware that theater owners make more money from concessions than they do from admissions. You might have noticed that most movie concessions are high-margin items such as popcorn and soda. Still, I generally didn’t spend much more than $10 on food and beverage. Boy did THAT change at the Alamo. Even factoring in the additional labor costs for the servers bringing the food to my seat, I’m pretty sure that the theater owner netted a heck of a lot more from me than they might have in the past.

The Alamo overall is an interesting model. There are fewer seats in the theater but that really only reduces the take from admissions. My guess is that the concession net more than makes up for the fact that there are fewer bodies in the seats. Of course, my Alamo also has 10 theaters under one roof, ranging from 50 to 100 seats. What I like about this from a business perspective is how they’ve rethought the business model and focused on the part of the business that makes an owner money. The concessions are a significant upgrade. There are craft beers, top-shelf cocktails, and even a vegan menu. Sure there is popcorn but it’s served with real clarified butter. It’s also a bottomless bowl. There is also an herb popcorn that is tossed with that same butter and fresh herbs. Do I give a second thought to paying $8.50 for it? Nope – it’s delicious. So are the sandwiches, pizzas, and salads. $45 on drinks and food? Even at a 20% margin, my concession purchases yield the business owner as much as my previous bill might have been in total.

Any business can learn from what the Alamo and other theaters are doing as they transform their business models in the face of unlimited streaming options. It’s the Wille Sutton Rule – go where the money is.

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Why This Brand?

When you have over 500 different brands that you represent, the reality is that you can’t know each and every one of them to the same degree. As I’ve been speaking to people interested in changing their lives for the better, I’ve come to have a list of “go-to” brands in each of the major categories. How these brands got on this list is, I think, instructive for every business.

I was actually speaking about this topic to a development director at one of the brands who reached out. Her first question was about the commission structure. We consultants get paid by the franchisors based on people signing franchise agreements and not by the candidates. I gather that for some consultants that how much of a commission they can make influences their choice of which brands to put forward. Point number one: while it’s obvious that the brands are my customers since they pay me, it’s impossible to work in a situation where the candidate’s interests diverge from the brand’s. In my mind, therefore, the commission is a non-factor. I can’t expect to earn anything in a situation where I hand off an unqualified candidate to a brand. My point is that in any sales situation, every stakeholder’s interests must be considered and subordinating what’s right for one party to a potential higher commission isn’t going to work.

One thing that influences my choice of brands a lot is the amount and quality of information the brand provides. You would not believe how little information I have about some of these franchises, several of which are businesses I don’t quite understand. In some cases, all I have is bare-bones information about costs and royalties and a link to the consumer website – not even a “want a franchise?” page which I have to find on my own. Where some brands give us presentations, folders, one-sheets, and research, others give us nothing. You can guess which brands get pitched. Point number two: don’t send your troops into battle without arming them properly.

The next thing I consider is responsiveness. In many cases, getting the candidate engaged enough to want to speak to a franchisor is a time-consuming effort. Once they are ready to go, I want someone at the franchisor who will be as proactive as I have been to get the candidate this far.  Once I’ve made an introduction, I expect the brand to reach out within a day, hopefully within an hour or two. Point number three: if you’re not going to work as hard on making a sale as others engaged in the process, you need to know that there are other businesses out there who will. Be responsive. Return phone calls and emails in a timely manner.

Finally, I also consider communication. Some brands tell me every time they have an interaction with my candidate. Others have been radio-silent. You can guess which type I prefer. It’s very hard to over-communicate in any business.

Those are things I consider when choosing partners. Anything I’ve missed that you think is critical?

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