Franchising | August 2014 | By Bryan Reesman

Helping Out the Boss

Bruster’s franchisees Colleen and Bret Wagner use their software skills to contribute an operating system for the whole franchise.
Quick service restaurant franchisees help franchisor by building new computer software.
Bruster’s franchisees Colleen and Bret Wagner developed a software system for the whole franchise to help others get the most of their email marketing. Bruster’s Real Ice Cream
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Every franchisee has the opportunity to bring specialized business savvy to its quick-service units, but it’s rare that a single operator affects the entire system.

That’s exactly what Pennsylvania-based Colleen and Bret Wagner did when they introduced their proprietary software system to the Bruster’s Real Ice Cream corporate team. While serving as co-owners of two Bruster’s locations, in Dillsburg and Etters, Pennsylvania, the couple developed a software system called BOSs, which stands for “Bruster’s Operating System.” The system gives the company’s franchise operators the ability to organize promotions, marketing, social media updates, and email blasts within one program.

Last fall, the corporate team beta tested an expanded system that the couple designed in about a dozen units, and now BOSs is used in all Bruster’s locations for a variety of functions in each store. In continuing to improve the system, Colleen Wagner develops marketing ideas and provides training to other franchisees, while Bret implements new features.

The Wagners discuss how a franchisee can take in-store experiences and customer feedback to address the needs of the larger operation.

1. Listen to what the customers want

Colleen: We make all of our ice cream in house, so everything is made fresh daily, ready to serve. Our biggest customer complaint was, “You never have my favorite,” because we make more than 200 different varieties of ice cream. When you hear that enough at the window, you decide you have to have a way to let them know when we do have their favorite. That was the background behind the Favorite Flavor email program.

As a franchisee, the only thing we’re required to have daily is vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Everything else can rotate, so we need to know what flavors our customers want us to have, and we also need them to know when we have those.

We make small-batch ice cream, three-gallon buckets at a time. Typically, over the summer, if we make it in the morning, it’s gone by the next day. Every time I make Almond Chocolate Coconut, 108 people who have signed up for that flavor are going to get an email or text, so they’ll know that we made that flavor that day.

2. Get on the same page as corporate

Colleen: We use a lot of different forms of social media, and we send out what we call Sweet Rewards e-blasts. Two are corporate sponsored every month, and then the store has the opportunity to set up one of their own. But stores didn’t know what corporate was sending out, so this daily marketing calendar within BOSs details what’s going out. If I click on any day, it highlights a promotional theme like National Family Week, Be Kind To Animals Week, etc., and this makes it easier for them to recognize what’s going on this week and what they can highlight in their store.

3. Leverage innovative ideas with the potential to streamline work

Bret: BOSs allows you to do all of your social media marketing within 15 or 20 minutes, whereas before, I’m sure it used to take stores hours. Every night there’s a script that runs out and captures all the information from the Bruster’s corporate website. It brings it into the BOSs, so the nice thing from that standpoint is that the stores don’t have to log in to the corporate site anymore.

When I sold this to corporate, my goal was not to create something new. I was just going to leverage what other companies are already doing well. I was referencing the application programming interfaces (API) for Facebook and Twitter. If we find a company that has services that the stores would enjoy, more chances than not they’re going to have an API, and that’s how we would leverage that.

4. Be responsive to your fellow franchisees

Colleen: With training on the BOSs, it’s not unusual for me to get a text message or a call on a Saturday evening, and I answer it because we’re in the business, too. We know that these people are working seven days a week. Our store opens at 11 o’clock in the morning, and most stores now close at 11 p.m. So whenever they get a moment to sit down and actually look at the system, if they have a question, we try to be as responsive as we can because we feel for them. We’re in the same boat.

A lot of people ask can they do this or they’d love to see us do that, and because we are familiar with the business, we can say “sure.” If someone asks for something we find relevant, usually Bret will create it within 48–72 hours, so I think they appreciate that we’re listening to what they’re asking for and they have the opportunity to steer the ship.

Bret: We do have credibility with the storeowners. We’ve been around for a while and developed a reputation for being the go-to folks for technology questions and social media questions.

Do you have tips you'd like to share with other franchisees? E-mail them to FranForum@qsrmagazine.com.