The owner of BLD Brands was looking for the right person to take over operations. There was a catch: that meant leading an ERP implementation as well.
There was a method to the owner's madness. Gale might have been new to the restaurant business, but he was no stranger to ERP implementations, with a whopping eleven ERP implementations under his belt. He was also an experienced CEO, capable of taking the helm.
At the Acumatica Summit, Gale told me that he wasn't sure at first about joining the restaurant business:
I was a little nervous, you know? It's one thing to make air craft engine components and other things. I did a lot of medical device and aerospace and nuclear and that kind of stuff, so now suddenly we're making pizza and burgers.
But burgers bring their own complexities:
In some ways it's less complex because of the quality requirements aren't quite the same, but on other ways it's actually more complex. We have 135 stores in 10 states, so the people aspect of it is a little bit more of an issue.
BLD Brands describes itself as a "diversified investment and operations enterprise." It owns restaurant chains like Spaghetti Warehouse, and supports franchisees in chains like Hardees and Papa Johns. Ten months ago, Gale joined as CEO, and began the ERP evaluation process.
The cloud ERP search - the usual suspects and beyond
Gale reached out to the "usual suspects" he had evaluated in the past, but this time, without any manufacturing requirements, he was more interested in the financials side. But that wasn't the only difference:
We were really looking at not only the financials, but also kind of an underlying platform upon which to build all of our future activities.
The vendor list included Sage (they were already running an unsupported version of Sage Pro. Epicor and Microsoft Dynamics NAV. But a new name kept coming up:
Reading about the best financial packages, I kept seeing Acumatica pop up. I was really surprised, because I pride myself in kind of knowing a lot of what's going on. Here I'm like, "Who are these guys?"
Then, after updating his LinkedIn profile, he heard from an old colleague:
It was an old associate from 15 years back. He says, "Hey, congratulations. If you're looking at ERP systems, my company actually is selling this product called Acumatica. It's amazing."
One requirement was non-negotiable. Gale wanted a cloud ERP system:
We cover a large footprint. We're headquartered in Newport Beach, California. Our nearest restaurant is about 300 miles from us - most of them are in the Carolinas and Ohio and Texas. We really felt like we wanted something that wasn't tethered down in. Also, we were evaluating where the market was going. We just felt like cloud was a prerequisite.
Gales' team put all vendors through their paces: "We went through a very disciplined process." After a bunch of online demos, they narrowed to four vendors. All four were brought in for full day demos. The finalists were a who's who of cloud ERP financials: NetSuite, Intacct, Dynamics Nav, and Acumatica. (Intacct is now Sage Intacct). "Four solid products," says Gale.
Ultimately, it came down to NetSuite and Acumatica. But Gale's team found working in Acumatica more intuitive and efficient - with less clicks to get the job done.
The comment that was made yesterday in the opening session about Acumatica being the upstart teenager, that's almost word for word what our staff said as we were reviewing it. We knew we were going to potentially sacrifice a little bit in short term functionality, but we also realized, "You know, we're not doing anything really out there. Anything that we were really going to be needing was probably in the core package anyway."
Go-live and beyond - the crawl -> walk -> run approach
As of this writing, BLD Brands has been live for two and half months. "Go live went well," says Gale. But that smooth go-live was no accident. Gale learned from prior ERP projects: start with the basic functionality needed.
I've always taken a philosophy in all of my installs of what I call the "crawl, walk, run" strategy. Our goal was day one, go live to make sure that at a minimum we were at par with where we were before. We wanted to make sure we didn't lose any functionality. If we gained any in that first phase, great, but we weren't going to get too hung up about it.
Results - making an impression on the auditors
Now, a few months in, Gale still considers the implementation to be in the "crawl" stage. But he likes what we sees so far:
My people will say that they've gotten double the functionality of what they had before. It's been a huge improvement, so that part has been a pleasant surprise. We got more bang for the buck right out of the gates than I was expecting.
Just the drill through capabilities of being able to dive into stuff from a financial statement, all the way down to the source documentation. We made the decision day one to start scanning all of our AP invoices. They're all attached to the bills and adjustments, so we can skim down and see the actual underlying source document. Same thing with journal entries and that kind of stuff - all those source documents were right there.
That made an impression on the auditors:
About four weeks ago, our auditors were in doing some year-end review for us. They were really nervous about the fact we had done this implementation mid-year. So I'm showing them through the system, and demonstrating how they can drill down. When you want to look up the invoice, boom, there it is. They're like, "Wow, this is really cool." I said, "Well, tell you what. I'm just going to give you a user ID, an inquiry only. You look up anything you want." She was like, "Are you kidding me?"
The wrap - dashboarding on deck
Once they get through their year-end auditing, Gale's team wants to push ahead with dashboarding. Yep, that's the walk -> run stage. What will that look like? One option is to build dashboards within Acumatica. Gale wants Acumatica to make it possible for customers to get access to hundreds of dashboards from other customers, which they can customize, rather than building them from scratch.
Another option is doing their dashboarding in Power BI. BLD Brands is already running Office 365, which means Power BI is bundled and ready. It's not hard to pull Acumatica data into Power BI - Microsoft has even shown off Acumatica/Power BI at their own conferences. One potential advantage to Power BI: pulling in data sources beyond Acumatica. Top of the list: POS systems from two of their franchises. The proprietary data in those systems is languishing from an analytics standpoint.
What type of metrics would they dashboard? Some candidates are restaurant industry standards, such as:
- sales per square foot
- drive through times
- home deliveries per hour
Gale wants to push that further, contrasting those measurements against the financial numbers:
Where we see some of the value is then being able to take some of those metrics and cross them against financial stuff and now say, "Okay, is there a direct correlation my drive through time and my sales per hour?" There's a lot of stuff that's assumed to be meaningful, but is it really?
Once they determine what the truly meaningful correlations are, those will be dashboarded and tracked. Whatever his team decides, Gale likes that he has options on where to push or crunch Acumatica data:
That's one of the things I really like about the Acumatica model, and it was one of the things we found appealing in the evaluation process: it was the ecosystem. It was as much about the ecosystem as it was about the actual Acumatica product, and the ability to go out and grab best of class tools that make sense.