Rather than target one unsuspecting retail location, organized-theft rings typically hit numerous locations within a short period of time.
By leveraging a highspeed telecommunications network and new Internet Protocol (IP) telephones, a Subway franchisee is improving internal operations, as well as protecting his business’s assets and employees against loss.
In the fast-food industry, it is not uncommon for young associates between the ages of 16 and 20 to be the liaison between customers and the brand. “But these associates often need guidance,” Subway franchisee Les White noted during a recent press conference hosted by San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems. The event was held at the telecommunications company’s New York City office.
White realized that he really had to step up his employee-education efforts as he expanded from five Arizona-based restaurants to 33 locations.
For example, White often struggled with how to ensure that his work force was learning and completing the proper procedures related to daily operations. Historically, each store received these instructions via a telephone-book-sized manual called the “Red Book.”
“The Red Book provides guidance about how, what and when tasks need to be done,” White explained.
As each task was completed, associates literally scratched the task off the list printed on a page within the volume. However, this process was failing to educate its younger staff members.
“We had a challenge with workflow, shift management, and the overall training of our staff of 16- to 20-year olds,” White said.
“I realized it would be invaluable to find and customize a tool that would reinforce the actions of the company’s leaders” at store level, he added. “If you do not make communications a top priority, all other business priorities will diminish in importance.”
By tapping Cisco’s expertise, and leveraging evolving networking features, White was on his way to automating this tedious manual process at store level.
The first step was to add a DSL (designated subscriber line) connection at each location. In July 2006, all 33 stores began using Cisco’s high-speed DSL equipment to process credit-card transactions and authorizations and transfer point-of-sale data to the corporate office in Milford, Conn. Meanwhile, White added a host computer at his home office, which also collects this data, he said.
Next, White was ready to use the network to automate manual operations. The first task was to electronically deliver information typically available in the Red Book. By adding task management software from IPcelerate, Carrollton, Texas, the chain began electronically delivering this information to store-level associates.
Rather than read tasks and input data via a bulky desktop PC, however, employees are accessing information via color data screens available on IP-based telephones.
The IP phones, also provided by Cisco, allow users to speak over an IP network, such as the Internet or an intranet. And unlike traditional telephone service, calls placed on IP are free—users only pay for the IP phone software and network connections. The phones feature data screens that support XML and other Web capabilities, making these units streamlined thinclient data touchpoints.
“These intelligent phones enable us to connect with our employees and deliver information that keeps my teams productive,” White said. “Each time associates start a shift, they access their tasks directly through the telephone.”
In fact, there aren’t many tasks that employees cannot conduct by telephone. For example, employees clock in for their shift directly through the phone. The unit’s XML-enabled screen also delivers a list of mangers available in the store and in other region’s stores, as well as a list of tasks the associate is expected to perform while on the clock.
If the first task is “place bread in the oven” for example, the associate puts his employee ID into the keypad. This verifies that he accepted the task. Later, the associate inputs his ID to confirm that the task is complete.
If a task was ignored or not completed in a timely manner, an alert is electronically sent to the store manager’s PDA. If the manager doesn’t acknowledge the alert, regional managers and White get alerts as well.
An automated dashboard, also provided by IPcelerate, keeps White in tune to store-level progress in real-time.
The DSL/IP telephone combination is helping White increase employee productivity. “By cutting non-productive time, overtime and gaining more employee accountability, we are saving approximately $500,000 a year,” he added.
The application is also helping White ward off internal shrink.
“Historically if a drawer was short $50 at the end of a shift, for example, we had to rely on cash-register reports and even watch multiple VCR tapes to find out if cashiers mis-rung orders or if the money ended up in their pocket,” he explained.
“Now managers can tap into the IP network via their laptop and pull up all transactions within 15 seconds,” White said. “The electronic process keeps our managers more productive, and it builds a stronger relationship with our employees.”
The technology combination is also helping White move into the second phase of loss prevention— protecting employees during robberies.
“Unfortunately, organized-theft rings don’t just rob one store. They often hit two or three locations at a time,” White explained.
While create core processes to educate and protect employees from robberies, these processes were also only available in paper-based manuals.
“By delivering information over the phone, we are unifying our enterprise,” he added.
If one store is hit, for example, the cashier sets off an alarm during or following the incident. This alarm is delivered over the IP network, and alerts all stores so they can protect themselves and the location’s assets.
“The safety of employees in a retail business has become an issue in today’s world,” he added “Knowing that technology is being used for their safety is a confidence-builder.”