When you look at a Checkers Drive-In Restaurant, you might see abuilding that’s smaller than most of its competitors. Rick Silvasees a competitive advantage. A potential franchisee won’t needthe same capital outlay to open a new Checkers as he or she wouldfor a McDonald’s, and that’s something that Silva says is a competitive advantage for him. Silva, the president and CEO ofCheckers Drive-In Restaurants Inc., which also operates storesunder the Rally’s name, is constantly studying his customers andfranchisees. “We look at those two tiers and say, ‘How do we differentiate ourselves from the competition?” Silva says. “‘How dowe set ourselves apart from the competition in those two areas?’That goes to where our core equities are where are we reallygood at?” For instance, the drive-through restaurant chain, whichposted systemwide sales of approximately $650 million in 2007and employs 18,000 people, offers seasoned fries that the competition doesn’t. While on the surface, something like seasoningmight seem insignificant, Silva sees it as a core advantage his company has over the competition.
Identifying those advantages and then leveraging them in yourfavor are the keys to creating a vision and driving it throughout theorganization.
“When you talk about a vision, you’ve got to understand thatfirst,” he says. “Sometimes people jump ahead and say, ‘OK, whatis my vision for the company?’ If it’s not ground in who you are,how you compete and what your core equities are, then it’s a nice,intellectual, maybe even emotional experience, but it won’t yieldyou much benefit.”
Know your strengths
The first thing you have to do when deciding on your core equities is to check your ego at the door and forget all preconceivednotions.
“I think if you’ve been in the business for a long time, you may bevery vulnerable to not having clear vision, and I think you need tounderstand that,” he says. “So, if you’ve been in a particular business and that exact brand for a long time, we all begin to acceptthe paradigm we’re in. So, sometimes you begin to believe yourselftoo much.”
You should look to external factors for data to find out where thecompany excels compared to competitors.
“That is finding a good way to talk to your consumers directlywithout a bias, without a filter, without them knowing what thebrand is,” he says. “There are inexpensive ways to doing that. Weuse focus groups a lot here to evaluate ideas, concepts as well asspecific food, and it’s amazing how easy and how relatively inexpensive that can be. Because you can have people sourced thatare, for example, in my segment, we can purposely source consumers that are heavy users of the category. We can purposelysource people that are users of the category but not of our brand.So, we purposely get those insights from people.
“Obviously, external sources beyond the consumer are critical,as well. If you have a board of directors that have smart people onthere that potentially have different industries there are folksthat can help you figure that out. The other thing is just your ownexperiences.”
Once you have that data, you have to be careful because toomuch data can hinder progress. There are always 100 things thatpeople want you to look at, but there could be only three that arethe most important. The other 97 might be potentially important,but at the end of the day, they aren’t the reasons the customer is orisn’t patronizing your business.
“Information is very valuable,” he says. “Data is the buildingblocks to information.”
You convert data into information first and foremost by theprocess of integrity that ensures that, one, your data is clean, and,two, that you are testing for the right thing.
“You and I both know that you can manipulate data,” he says.
“So, you can look at a set of numbers and say, ‘Wow, this is tellingme this,’ and someone says, ‘It is telling me something else.’
“The way you do it is, first, by making sure it’s clean, making surethat you are asking the right questions, and you limit it to thosethings that are most important.”
Silva says to make sure you have integrity in your process, makesure data comes from reputable sources.
“When you start looking at your own business directly though,you are generally going to have to go out to an independentresource that can help you take data that is out there and potentially get some additional data from your consumers,” he says.
A lot of businesses think they are good at something, but youneed to have metrics in place to factually compare yourself againstthe competition.
“If you don’t have a metric to understand what you’re good at,you’re going to begin to work against the wrong one,” he says.
Accentuate the positives
While knowing your strengths is vital to developing a vision, youneed to know how to leverage them to win in the marketplace.
“I may know I have a height advantage over you, if you and I areplaying basketball,” Silva says. “But, my ability to use my height onthe court is critical to winning. You and I have seen it a milliontimes: A guy may be taller, but he gets his butt whooped in basketball because he’s not using his height advantage. Just havingthat advantage is nothing. It’s understanding how to use it. Peopleassume because you have it, you use it and you win with it. Quitehonestly, it’s scary how many businesses you look at that may havean advantage but aren’t using it appropriately.”
While it may sound as simple as just doing more of what you aregood at, Silva says that is not the case.
“Although that sounds intellectually logical from a reasoning perspective, organizations don’t work that way,” he says. “You’re notconnected by a metal chain. It’s just not that simple. The activitythat is happening in one of our 830 restaurants across the countryis being done by people who are humans and the people turn over,so it’s not always the same person doing it.
“A great deal of the success of creating, making the activity successful goes into how you train, how you hire, how you communicate, what the environment is like, what systems you have in placeand what reward programs do you have in place.”
In order to leverage your advantages, you need to make sure youcommunicate what those are and engage the whole organizationby explaining why you are successful.
For example, an engaged and motivated employee might have thebest intentions when trying to improve the company. But, if theemployee’s efforts go against what the data show, you have toexplain to that employee why you don’t do it his or her way.
“Our policy is to put a half an ounce of ketchup on a burger,” hesays. “So, when you are training your employees, it’s a half anounce of ketchup. It sounds pretty simple, right? But an employeeloves ketchup and loves more ketchup on their burgers, and theyreally care about guest experience, they are going to pour on theketchup, right? I want you to give them ‘plus one’ service. I wantyou to give the service that you want to give your family member.He’s thinking, 18;Man, this is cool. I’m going to give them a full ounceof ketchup because it’s going to make that burger taste better.’
“Simple example, but the reality is, if you explain to that employee, ‘Guess what, we’ve done tests, and we’ve tested it, and we realize that half an ounce of ketchup is optimal because it doesn’t overpower the onions, it doesn’t overpower the pickles and it ... complements the taste on the beef.’ (You) go through that with them andsay, ‘This is why it is so important that you get exactly half an ounce,not more, not less.’
“That employee will be focused on saying, ‘Well, hold on a second. If I want to give this customer the best service ever, it’s gettingexactly half an ounce.’”
While you may not be dealing in ketchup and burgers at your company, an employee could be well intentioned but uninformed, whichmeans you need to communicate why something is done a certainway to effectively leverage the data you have collected.
“Once you explain that to people, they understand why they’redoing it and how it connects’” he says. “You don’t have to continueto remind them about half an ounce. It’s amazing how much moreemployees will give you when you explain things to them.”
Find the best talent
Once you’ve identified what you are good at and determined how toleverage those advantages, you then have to surround yourself withthe best talent. When Silva came on board about two years ago, heneeded people who were going to be able to fulfill the company’sgoals, which meant he had to make changes on the executive team.
He says if you are facing a similar situation, you shouldn’t automatically write off everyone from the previous regime.
“I may have a physical asset or a people asset that actually all I haveto do is reprogram, change,” he says. “The person hasn’t been told thatthis is what I want them to accomplish, and they may be very capable.In fact, they may be demoralized in the job they’re in and you realize,hold on a second, there is a real capacity there.
“You explain it to them ‘Guess what, the history is the history. Letme explain to you; this is what I need you to do. These are the skills Ineed. You’ve got them. Let’s see you excel.’ People will step up andexcel.”
If you do have to replace people, you have to be very clear aboutwhat you want out of the person and the position when searching tofill the position.
“Put together a great job description where you truly set down yourexpectations for the job, what you expect them to do and what skillsyou are going to need for the person,” he says. “We all sometimesassume we know what it’s going to look like. Until you put it down inwriting, it’s truly hard to draw the line and go, ‘I like this personbecause he or she meets all the requirements.’”
Before the interview process, start by asking yourself what the position is that you are hiring for, what you want the person to do and howthat fits in to your overall business strategy. Once you do that, write itall down.
“That will help you frame what that job is,” Silva says. “Then youlook and say, ‘OK, I need someone who could do that. What skill setsam I going to need in that position?’ You force yourself to go throughthat process. Now you’ve given yourself a filter to use.”
HOW TO REACH: Checkers Drive-In Restaurants Inc., (813) 283-7000 or www.checkers.com