December 30, 2011
Well Happy New Year! By the time you read this, we all should be through the big turkey dinner. The tryptophan should be wearing off, and just in time. You’ll want to be on your toes for 2012.
Check out our forecast stories in this issue, and you’ll see the market’s not self-destructing but not cutting you slack, either. Technomic figures real growth for operator sales last year was just 0.1%. This year is projected to be a little less constrained, but just barely. Call it what it is: It’s flat. But it’s tilting to positive.
All of which is good enough. Flat just means you’re not starting with bonus points. You’re going to actually have to take the test. But you’re ready for that.
And the equipment and supplies side of the industry will once again do somewhat better than the operator numbers—2.9% real growth last year, and an anticipated 2.6% this year. Between chain renovations and pent-up replacement demand, commercial multiunit spec/buyers will stay busy again this year. Not that many of you will be staffing up again. On the noncommercial side, which tends to be heavily influenced by tax revenue, things will be quieter.
So there’s room to clear the usual obstacles and challenges, but you’ll have to line up carefully. When economies are lush, a little loosey goosey is actually a good thing. You can experiment, and that’s how you discover new opportunities. You can allow for a certain percentage of efforts not working out, and you’re still OK. But when resources are tight, as they are now, focus and execution are everything.
The main thing is to keep the customers coming, and the key to that, especially when consumer confidence is iffy, is to make sure your concept keeps presenting a consistent image, a consistent message, to your customers. Make sure they’re confident that you’re still reliable and predictable and familiar, and you’ll deliver more of what they already like you for. Sure, you’ll refresh décor, and you’ll update menus to keep things fresh and interesting. But you’re not trying to radically remake yourself.
And whatever you do, you have to do it efficiently. Your customers aren’t inclined to throw money around willy-nilly these days, so everything you do has to have their price points in mind. Be careful with the fancy décor. Nice is good, but your customers are not looking for a Baghdad palace. Be efficient with menu development. Carefully consider ingredient costs—go where you can make a margin. And strive for equipment that’s flexible and multi-purpose.
As you’ll see in our Operator Perspectives story in our January 2012 issue and online, our sampling of leading executives presents a variety of priorities, but those priorities share some common threads. From equipment-systems chiefs to company CEOs, everyone advocates maintaining your strengths, making things affordable (whether for your dining customers or your franchisees), and staying attentive and flexible so you can adapt to your customer input.
This is not rocket science, obviously. But sometimes a back-to-basics refresher is worth focusing on. As the sports announcers might put it, having the “big play” potential is great. But it’s amazing how good, solid blocking and tackling opens up opportunities.