Restaurant chains, often with sizeable franchisee bases, are reducing expenditures tied to printing and shipping menus and marketing materials by leveraging the Internet's connectivity and support of collaborative processes, as well as the power of Web-based tools to automate repetitive tasks.
In addition to enhancing efficiency and cutting costs, Web-based printing management systems can help chains in their bid to present a more consistent brand image, according to some users. Among them: 1,306-unit, family feeder IHOP of Glendale, Calif., and 132-restaurant Peter Piper Pizza of Scottsdale, Ariz.
Results such as those achieved by IHOP and Peter Piper help explain the heightened interest among foodservice operators in the replacement of paper-based collateral ordering methods with online applications, as reported by vendors. Two systems of this ilk, both offered by printing companies, are eTools from MyPrint of Irvine, Calif., and DokShop from Prisma Graphic of Phoenix.
eTools "continually saves IHOP thousands of dollars in overnight shipping expenditures alone," said Patrick Lenow, IHOP-parent IHOP Corp.'s director of public relations and communications. "Just as importantly, it allows our franchised stores [constituting 99 percent of the chain] to function as a cohesive group of restaurants, not a group of units with some disjointed marketing effort."
"Before we put DokShop into place, we were manually tracking orders for marketing materials on spreadsheets and spending an incredible amount of time sending proofs back and forth," said Neely Burkhardt, senior marketing manager for Peter Piper Inc., operator and franchisor of the chain with its name. "We now have that down to a few minutes, and more importantly, my department can spend time on more critical, all-encompassing marketing projects," she added.
Web-based printing management systems permit operators to establish secure Web portals where franchisees or supervisory personnel at individual stores or groups of stores within a chain can view and order marketing collateral. Such systems also feature tools and templates for customizing materials to suit particular needs, as well as for transmitting orders straight to printers. Depending on a specific application's functionality, some options, like eTools, yield individuals at the corporate level access to reports of how given printed materials are being ordered and shipped, thereby enabling inefficiencies to be addressed in a more proactive manner.
Many if not most of DokShop's primary features are similar to those of eTools. Among DokShop's distinguishing features is a utility that exports to Microsoft Excel reports documenting order details and materials usage patterns. Once in Excel's spreadsheet format, that information is more easily integrated into restaurant company enterprise accounting systems, Prisma Graphic sources explained.
While IHOP's Lenow would not specify how much the chain paid for eTools, MyPrint chief executive Kent Barkouras pegged the cost to implement the technology at $5,000 to $20,000, depending on such factors as number of users and complexity of the website. Maintenance charges vary in accordance with whether a chain opts to use MyPrint to handle its printing and maintain an inventory of some or all materials, as IHOP does.
Among the 12 foodservice organizations using eTools is FOCUS Brands of Atlanta, operator and franchisor of the Carvel Ice Cream, Schlotzsky's Deli and Cinnabon concepts. Other users are California Pizza Kitchen, Los Angeles; Chevys Fresh Mex, Long Beach, Calif.; Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Spirits, Greenwood Village, Colo.; and Yard House, Irvine, Calif.
DokShop counts among its restaurant clients the La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill chain of CKE Restaurants Inc. of Carpinteria, Calif.; Marie Callender's Restaurant & Bakery, Aliso Viejo, Calif.; and Pasta Pomodoro, San Francisco. Other DokShop users include El Paso Bar-B-Que Co. of Scottsdale; RA Sushi, Miami; Rockin Baja Lobster, San Diego; Tavistock Restaurants, Emeryville, Calif.; Tacone Flavor Grill, Los Angeles; and The Extreme Pita of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
IHOP moved to eTools early last year to allow franchisees to satisfy their own unique marketing needs, such as customizing menus to reflect regional preferences. The strategy also was seen as a way to better project a uniform brand image and improve the efficiency of creating, managing and delivering printed materials.
Similar goals and benefits have been reported by DokShop users.
Using vendor-supplied tools, IHOP's marketing department creates collateral online. Franchisees can then sign on to the MyPrint website to see a catalog of coupons, door hangers, newspaper advertisements and similar pieces they may customize by following a series of on-screen prompts. Franchisees also may employ templates for creating marketing materials for unique situations, like promotions launched in response to competitors' actions.
National point-of-purchase materials and menus are part of the catalog as well. A menu customization function guides franchisees through the process of adding or deleting items, like limited-time offers, and changing prices. Alerts appear should a user assign a price that seems out of line, such as $750 for an entrée, rather than $7.50.
Once their orders are complete, franchisees can transmit them to MyPrint or, if they prefer, download finished PDFs to give to a local printer. In either case, each unit pays for its own materials. A reporting function allows both franchisees and IHOP regional offices to track order quantities and status. MyPrint recently added a reporting function: it affords IHOP officials insight into how far in advance franchisees are ordering different materials, how the materials are being utilized and whether expedited or regular shipping was selected for a given order.
"It assists us in knowing what's popular in the franchise community," Lenow said of the new report.
The eTools system has reduced order turnaround time from an average of two to three weeks for menus and two weeks for customized marketing materials to a respective 72 hours and five to seven working days. "With the paperless system, there is no more faxing or overnighting of proofs back and forth," Lenow observed. "And franchisees need no longer wait for their IHOP franchise business consultant to assist them with orders."
Though IHOP officials declined to specify the total savings afforded by the printing support technology, they indicated that the chain's franchisees, on average, have saved 15 percent to 20 percent on menu printing.