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Back in 1981, Frank Crail decided he wanted to raise his family in Durango, a charming, friendly little city nestled in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Crail rented space on Main Street and opened the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Today, the operation has expanded to a 53,000-sq.-ft. factory that serves 296 franchise stores in the United States, as well as locations in Canada, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere.

Managing the data handling and reporting needs of the company and its franchisees is the responsibility of Key Jobson, Rocky Mountain’s chief information officer. Last fall, Jobson and his team began implementing an open, web-based data management solution from WhenToManage Restaurant Solutions. One of the major attractions of the new system is that it can collect and report sales data from multiple point-of-sale systems provided by multiple vendors.

“The impetus for this project was around providing options to our franchisees,” says Jobson. “In the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory network, we have been requiring our franchisees to use POS systems from a single vendor since 2001. A couple of years ago, we made a move into the self-serve yogurt market with Aspen Leaf Yogurt. During the process of launching the brand and acquiring franchisees, it became apparent to me that we didn’t need to be tied to a single POS vendor any longer.”

Freedom now
The Rocky Mountain Chocolate side of the business was also continuing to add franchisees, and it was obvious to Jobson and his colleagues that an open system would have advantages there as well. “The basic concept for me was to avoid pain,” he says. “Any time you tell a franchisee they’re going to have to put in a particular POS system, they’re going to be unhappy. If you give them options, they’ll be less unhappy.”

Meanwhile, the company began co-branding Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Aspen Leaf Yogurt, intensifying the need to uncouple franchises from a particular POS system. “We were starting to do cross-branding and co-branding activities and were having to pull the data together into off-line databases,” Jobson says.

The question became: How to allow franchisees, both on the yogurt side and the chocolate side, to choose the POS systems they have in their stores — and still manage the business? “We needed a database solution that we could tie all the POS systems to,” Jobson says. “Coherent reporting across our brand is very important to us. We use it extensively. My goal is to have all of our brand data in a single data warehouse, so we can do all the kinds of retail analysis we want on it.”

Jobson talked to several vendors, “But when we ran across WhenToManage,” he says, “it became apparent pretty quickly that they were ideally targeted to the kind of solution we were looking for.”

WhenToManage Restaurant Solutions is a cloud-based software-as-a-service company. It offers modules for POS intelligence, employee scheduling, inventory management and enterprise-level business intelligence.

WhenToManage sales and marketing vice president Walker Thompson says Jobson wanted “to let the various POS systems do what they do best — handle transactions, collect data and organize the individual store at its location. Then on top of that, add this third-party data collection and analysis capability.”

In addition to the enterprise-level data collection and reporting function, franchisees have the option of incorporating the WhenToManage POS intelligence, labor scheduling and inventory management modules into their operations.

A rolling start
“The reality of integrating a 12-year-old POS data source into WhenToManage was something neither we nor the supplier had faced before,” Jobson says. “When we started we had a list of 20,000 items. There was a lot of duplication and a lot of antiquated items, and we trimmed it down to 1,500 items to get a current product mix.”

Deployment of the new data reporting solution began in October 2012. “Considering we started before the holidays and that our franchisees are very busy all the way through Mother’s Day … we’ve received very good acceptance in the field,” Jobson says.

Jobson estimates that a substantial majority of the franchisees will take advantage of the various WhenToManage components. “Traditionally,” he says, “about two-thirds of our franchisees find a web-based, sophisticated reporting system valuable. I anticipate that about two-thirds of our franchisees in the U.S. — somewhere around 220 stores — will migrate toward WhenToManage.”

Overall, the new system will provide Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, both at the headquarters and store levels, significantly improved visibility into operations. “With WhenToManage we have pieces we didn’t have with the prior system,” Jobson says. “Before, we did a lot of ad hoc analysis. We’d develop reports that were meaningful and push them out via e-mail, but there was a lot of manual interaction around all of that.

“WhenToManage provides the dashboard concept upfront so that a corporate user or a franchisee can log in and see a dashboard they’ve configured to have the most meaningful data right on the front page. If they’re a single-store operator or a store manager, that might be a daily sales report. If it’s me or our CFO, it’s probably a rollup of stores by region. From there we can drill down to the individual store level, product mix level — or a check, if we want to click that far.”

Finally, one of the factors that seems to be making this implementation a success is the tight fit between the solution and the environment into which it has been introduced. “Frankly, they’re not the most sophisticated reporting analysis engine I’ve seen,” Jobson says, “but they have good functionality for presentation to a franchisee that fits our model. Most of our stores are single-unit owners — our largest franchisee has six stores.”

This has real and important implications for data reporting. Franchisees are “not IT professionals,” Jobson says, “and they’re not big organizations. The opportunity is to provide them with retail data the way they — and we — want to see it. I want to influence how they look at retail performance, and I want to provide them some flexibility around what they look at and how they receive the data, whether it’s e-mail or a dashboard or an alert.”