Mid-February, 2018. My primary competitor suddenly goes out of business. Without warning.
Welcome to Reactive Mode
In the span of just one day, revenue at The Coffee Shelf jumped from 10 percent year-over-year to well over 60 percent. We were inundated. Previous to this, a rush would have been a few people in line. Now we had customers extending to the front door, and we had trouble moving them through.
Operational excellence. It is easy to list this as a goal, but how does one define it? And how is it achieved? Or more to the point, how does it apply to your business?
Prior to 2018 I don’t recall thinking about the actual term Operational Excellence. As I’ve written previously, my focus was on execution in the early days and months. If I had been asked, I’m certain I would have boasted of our operational efficiency. I would have been incorrect. We were not even close.
You Don’t Know Until You Know
We had the correct system at The Coffee Shelf to deal with this level of volume, yet we quickly became overwhelmed. Our operational systems were never truly tested until February 2018.
A big day for The Coffee Shelf back in late 2017 was somewhere near $500 in revenue by the Noon hour, which would have included one or two lines halfway to the front door. Today, we can turn $500 by 9am, most of that within two hours, and keep our lines at 4 or 5 customers deep. How did we get from there to here?
In my article, Let’s Teamwork This Thing, I discuss how we are set up to operate three primary stations; the register, the cold station, and the hot station. These stations existed from day one. However, we rarely had three Baristas on shift in order to work all three stations at once.
I knew my business had to learn quickly how to handle this level of volume, or the customers we gained were going to leave just as quickly as they had arrived. Yet some things can’t be rushed. It would end up taking a few months before our systems truly became what they are today.
It’s The Little Things in Life
When we did have three Baristas working, maybe on Friday or Saturday mornings, we were lazy when it came to station discipline. It took me a few weeks to recognize this. I mean, to be fair, I was also suddenly engaged in the hiring process.
Once our new employees were trained I began showing up on the weekends just to observe. What was the crew on shift doing? How were they interacting with one another? It did not take long to recognize our problem.
During those busy mornings the team was jumping around on stations. No one had a responsibility to control any one station. A person would take an order at the register, and then turn to make a drink. But the other two Baristas were already in the process of making drinks. The third Barista, coming over to make another drink, would invariably get in the way of one of the others. Then, whoever finishes first would be the next person to take an order.
It was a subtle flaw. A simple change with simple wording is all that was required. When we become busy we now do the following.
Maintain station discipline (stations are decided upon at the beginning of the shift).
Help with another station when you can, but do not become engaged (assist in a way which allows you to quickly return to your station).
Though it was a simple change, it took months to recalibrate my staff. I became the quintessential micromanager. I stayed on them constantly. But this is not why it worked. The simple adjustment worked because, when they encountered those crazy rushes, they began to see the results. They would look up, see a line to the door, and before they realized it, the line was gone and customers were walking out the door with their drinks.
Why did it take so long to implement this change? These are seasoned Baristas who work in automatic mode. They were used to doing things one way. Now they had to relearn new habits.
This simple step is what elevated us from average to, well, really good.
Don’t Make The Simple Complicated
If you are a new business owner, how do you know if you are ready for sudden success? I don’t have an answer for you. The best advice I can give is this:
Understand your core product - what truly drives your revenue
Know your systems. How is your product made, and how well are your people trained? Are they cross-trained? How well do they work together?
When you start experiencing business on a higher level, be prepared to adjust.
But know this. Adjustments required to improve your operations are rarely extensive. Take your time, observe, and then make tweaks.
In reality, no matter what advice I give, you won’t know until you know. Not very comforting. So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t get comfortable. When your volume does arrive, embrace the challenge.
For me, 2018 was an exciting challenge, and a great learning experience. I now understand operational excellence as it applies to my business.