How Tender Greens is disrupting the restaurant industry - a Sage Intacct Advantage story

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed October 30, 2019
Last week, Sage Intacct made a big case for the strategic impact of AI and automation for finance. But is that vision a viable pursuit for customers? I got some answers via a sit-down with restaurant industry disruptor Tender Greens.

Sean Skuro of Tender Greens at Advantage '19.

When you're on the cloud ERP beat, one big highlight is running into companies shaking up their industry.

At Sage Intacct Advantage 2019, I got the chance to sit down with Tender Greens, a restaurant industry upstart. Doing things differently while fueling your business growth - sign me up.

But why does the restaurant business need a shakeup? As Sean Skuro, Tender Greens Controller, told me:

We consider ourselves a disruptor. We are a fine-casual concept. We kind of pioneered this space a long time ago. We were one of the first on the scene from the sustainability standpoint back in 2006. We say "fine casual" because we're fine-dining quality, at fast-casual prices. It's a very unique subset in the system.

Sustainability starts with your employees

I made a big mistake: I checked out the Tender Greens website when I was hungry. Two things caught my eye: one was sourcing local organic products. Skuro:

To your point earlier, we have sustainable products. We work with our farmers, ranchers. Everything's locally sourced, and we believe in sustainability, not only for our products, but for our people.

Wait - sustainable people? Skuro:

We have a sustainable life project, which brings in foster youth and teaches them basic kitchen skills. Often times, if they graduate the program, they'll end up in a Tender Greens location. They'll be offered a full-time job. We've had some work their way all the way up to management. We believe in internal growth, and internal promotion.

The other thing I liked: each Tender Greens location is run by a chef with plenty of menu autonomy.

All of our executive chefs run all of our kitchens. That's unique to our space as well... Most of our executive chefs have grown up through the ranks, and our regional managers are all internally grown as well. It's a very unique operation.

Professional growth applies to the accounting side as well:

Two members of my accounting team, one started as a dishwasher. They both worked their way up in the restaurant and then decided to pursue their passion. They graduated college and now they're part of the accounting team.

And how does a controller fit into all this?

I manage the accounting department, controls, processes. I was talking about this yesterday with somebody through probably Sage Intacct - they've been, I would say, a catalyst as to where I am today, in that I'm very heavily focused on systems.

I just have a basic philosophy that there must be a better way to do something or everything. I've been focusing heavily on automation and trying to streamline the back office.

Cloud ERP projects always have a moment of truth

But there are no fairy tales in cloud ERP. There is always a twist, adversity to overcome. When Skuro joined Tender Greens four years ago, Intacct was already implemented. But the engine wasn't exactly humming. Why? We come back to a key factor in the cloud ERP outcome: choosing the right implementation partner. Skuro: 

It was running, but not well. It was underutilized. I would argue it was improperly implemented by my predecessor. It was done in a vacuum through one of our partners that we implemented with.

A contact Skuro trusted told him Sage Intacct software could deliver - if it was properly configured and embraced by the business.

We decided to fully embrace Intacct and its capabilities, fix some of the issues we were experiencing on the original implementation, and really started building infrastructure around Intacct.

I could tell Skuro didn't want to throw anyone under the bus, and it's not like you can blame one person for a problematic project anyhow. But was there a lesson from jumping in like that?

Any software can go bad with any implementation. If you don't have the right partners, and really if you don't know what it is you're trying to achieve, any implementation can go awry. Software companies exist because there's obviously some great ingenuity behind it. Understanding what that software brings and how to implement it is just as important as selecting the software itself.

It wasn't easy getting it all sorted; Skuro says there were lots of calls to the Intacct development team. But the team pulled together:

We have a very knowledgeable team. My assistant controller, she is amazing. She's gone through many implementations. She really pioneered it, and championed fixing our system. She and I put our heads together, and really made it what it is today.

Skuro brought in the right partners:

We worked with one VAR partner that I met last year at Advantage, and they were instrumental in building out what is our reporting platform within Intacct today. We utilize Sage Intacct's customized reporting capabilities to really take our financial reporting to the next level.

Moving into finance automation

For Skuro's automation goals, he selected a partner with a track record:

Right now we're working with a different VAR partner, Sensiba San Filippo. The reason behind that is we are leveraging not only Sage Intacct, but BlackLine. BlackLine has a lot of really cool automation and functionality. We're trying to meld the two systems together, and this particular VAR partner has knowledge of those systems. Having that consistency is important for us.

Skuro must be digging the Financial Leadership 3.0/workflow automation themes of Sage Intacct Advantage this year then?

I love the theme of this event. I have lots of similar philosophies. Another one is "If you can dream it, it's possible." That's what Sage has done; it's really solidified that for us - and saved us hours of time. I may not work less, but I'm spending my time doing much more important things for the organization. It used to take us hours to do reporting.

Count his CFO as a convert:

A story I've been sharing this trip is: my CFO asked me for a report for the board and I said, "I'll update it. I need a couple hours." She goes, "No, I need that now." She said, "Just estimate the numbers." We did - at the time.

Today, she won't even ask for the report, because she has it as part of her favorite reporting within the Intacct dashboard. She can pull that report whenever she wants, in real-time, which is something that we've really never been able to do.

Drill down for the win:

Also, if you ever want to drill down into the underlying data, you can go from as high level as a summarized P&L, all the way down to the invoice.

Automation projects are ongoing, but Skuro's team already has plenty of nifty features in place:

As far as reporting goes, one of the coolest features is the statistical accounts... We leverage statistical accounts to import our calendar cycle. We're on a five/four/four calendar. When you're looking at sales from a five week period versus a four week period, you need to have that division, so you can look how your weekly sales are trending. We're able to bring in that information, which is something that I think is unique and really awesome for the system.

Skuro says they also pull in their transactional accounts, so they can look at the average check and other key metrics. "The functionality of Intacct is, like I said, 'If you can imagine it, it's possible.'"

The wrap - building a platform for growth, with AI on deck

If you want to grow without blowing out your bottom line, you need that blend of automation and high impact financials. Skuro has seen that growth firsthand. When he joined Tender Greens in their LA headquarters, they had eighteen restaurants, supported by eight accounting team members. Now his six and a half person team supports thirty restaurants, and more than 1,300 employees. As Tender Green grows, he sees no impediments from the finance side:

This isn't just Sage Intacct, but Sage Intacct gives us the ability because of its seamless connections with a lot of these open API companies. Through some of our partners that we've worked with, we've been able to estimate we might be able to grow to potentially even 50 restaurants with our same team. 

But Skuro isn't stopping there:

If I can get to the level of automation, that I'm thinking about, I couldn't even give you a number of how many restaurants I think we can go to with the team we have right now.

We talked about Robert Reid's prior Sage Intacct goal of getting customers to 80 percent strategic finance and 20 percent accounting/admin. Skuro thinks he can get farther than that:

I went to a BlackLine conference about a month ago. These huge companies, like Duracell, Home Depot, Dominos, 50% to 70% of their close is automated through BlackLine. They had this idea, talking about in five to ten years; they have visions where they expect the close be fully automated.

Now we're in Sage Intacct's "continuous close" vision:

If you have a fully automated close, you can almost do a daily close, do daily transactions, and have this continuous recording, automation,  reconciling. Really, it might be 5% accounting, 95% strategic in real-time. Being able to pivot, being able to filter information.

Sage Intacct's "Intelligent GL" comes into play also:

Also, the next level is getting those dashboards, getting those reports, those KPIs, really everything into everyone's faces at all times. You have tahe systems, the AI, doing all that analysis for you.

Getting out in front pays off, but it comes at a cost also. Skuro acknowledged that as one of the flagship customers to heavily integrate Sage Intacct with BlackLine, Tender Greens had growing pains. That's changed now; BlackLine supports the integration for a number of Sage Intacct customers.

As for Sage Intacct's AI push, Skuro liked what he saw on the Advantage 2019 keynote stage:

Seeing Sage Intacct really building this roadmap for leveraging AI, I think is unbelievable. I called my boss right after, and I said, "They have this technology with journal entries and it'll help me identify anomalies..." I am reviewing every single journal entry, just like they said. Yes, I catch a handful of things here and there, but to be able to have AI helping me...

Yep, Skuro's wheels are turning again. Definitely one to pick up at next year's show.

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