Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Braum's: A 20-year Problem

As time passes, it is clearer and clearer to me that not everyone has read Steve Jobs' biography.  I just don't see how any executive in a large company can read that book and not be inspired to make changes to the way their company does business.

My first case study would be Braum's.  Braum's has long been known for their great milkshakes, premium type groceries and some pretty good food.  In my experience, they have also been known to have the dirtiest, unkempt restaurants in America.  This is not a recent phenomenon, either.  I can remember being a kid in Burleson, TX and thinking that this restaurant needs a good cleaning.  This was only reinforced when we ate at our local Braum's in Euless.

First of all, the design decision to make the floors a dirty shade of brown was most likely the worst decision since the Cue Cat.  I am sure that somewhere someone thought that if they make the floors look dirty all the time, they wouldn't change if they were actually dirty.  So, even the cleanest of restaurants look dirty.  This Braum's was a disaster.  There were no napkins at the station.  Ketchup was EVERYWHERE.  Straw wrappers littered the floor.  Tables were unwiped.  There was melted ice cream on chairs.  This was only the beginning.

I realize that making food, especially liquid food like milkshakes, is dirty work.  It is next to impossible to keep it spotless.  This Braum's took it to a new level...the entire floor behind the counter was wet.  Which means that every time an employee walked out from behind the counter, they tracked dirty water across the restaurant.  There was literally a track of dirty water from the counter exit throughout the entire store.  Both trash cans were overflowing with trash, and on top of the trash cans were dirty towels and a spray bottle of cleaner.  Please don't get me started on the restroom.  There is a difference between a restroom that isn't clean because the trash bin needs to be emptied and when it looks like the bathroom hasn't seen a mop in three days.  Mold stains on the urinal don't exactly inspire confidence in the cleanliness of the kitchen.

The amazing thing is that people just kept coming in, which is a testament to Braum's' food and ice cream.  People love that place.  Imagine the kind of brand that Braum's could be if they would just pay attention to the little things.  I realize you get busy...it happens to every business.  But, imagine if you hired someone to work during the busy periods whose only job it was to clean tables, empty the trash, wipe down the ketchup station, etc.  This person would probably make 7 dollars an hour and be glad to work 20 hours a week, and you won't ever have to worry about this kind of problem again.  When was the last time you went into a Braum's and said, "Wow...these people are sitting around doing nothing!"? Probably never.  It seems that they are consistently understaffed, which creates problems.  Our local Taco Bueno employs a special needs teen who does nothing but cleans tables, wipes the salsa bar, and empties trash.  The restaurant is spotless, and it shows their dedication to making their customer's experience a great one. Plus, it creates a much needed job for someone who might have trouble getting one otherwise.

Another frustrating thing about Braum's is that they try to do two things at once...a mini grocery store and a restaurant.  They have a separate checkout counter for the groceries, which consistently pulls someone away from another duty to ring up someone who is just picking up a gallon of milk...which means you always need an extra headcount just to make sure those people don't get pissed.  Why not combine the registers and leave a dedicated person there?  Problem solved.  Even the newer Braum's, which are a little better designed, have this problem.  You will see someone standing at the grocery line, waiting for someone behind the food counter to walk across the restaurant to ring them up.  Insanity.

The final nail in the coffin for me, and this will probably keep me out of Braum's for a while, is the craziest thing I have ever seen. When you walk into this particular Braum's, the first thing you see to your right is the mini-grocery store.  What is the first item, closest to the door?  Is it awesome ice cream?  Nope...Is it Braum's' delicious cheese (Braums has AWESOME cheese)?  Nope.  The first thing you see when you enter Braum's is a 4 pack of toilet paper.  Yep.  Toilet paper.  Some executive in Braum's' hierarchy decided that they couldn't possibly forego the 55 cents of profit that selling TP would bring in.  Never mind that the first thing that your customers think of when they walk in the door is taking a dump.  You are selling toilet paper in a restaurant!!!!!!  Imagine if you walked into a Sprinkles cupcake store and they had tampons on display....that is the same impression that your customers are getting.

The hardest thing about this is that the employees were GREAT!  The girl behind the counter hand delivered our milkshakes to our table. That was awesome.  She was sweet, and it appeared that everyone behind the counter was busy but not unhappy.  The guy ringing up the customers was friendly and professional.  It just seems that there is a lack of management at a local level who is accountable for the cleanliness of the store.

So, back to Jobs' biography.  If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it as you will see why Apple has become the biggest company in the world.  By never compromising what makes them great, Apple has done things that were considered impossible 10 years ago.  It also serves as a pretty good guide to other companies on how to create customer loyalty by doing the things you do well and nothing else.  It is clear that these messages aren't making it to the executives at Braum's headquarters.  It makes me sad, too...because I liked Braum's.  I just don't know how appetizing their food sounds after having such a bad experience.
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