Outside Insights | July 2013 | By Jodi Sorensen

Smooth-Sailing Spreadsheets

From planning a grand opening to selecting real-estate sites for their next unit, brands are discovering that enhanced organization software allows for collaboration and communication.

Veggie Grill uses Smartsheet to smooth the real-estate selection process.
Veggie Grill uses organization tools like Smartsheet to smooth the real-estate selection process.
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As a consumer, whenever I see a sign for a restaurant that says “Grand Opening”, I usually think about creative menus, unique specials and promotions, and new customer relationships. While it can be very exciting for patrons, many restaurant owners and managers find opening a new location to be stressful and exhausting. If you’re part of a chain of restaurants or the owner of a franchise, you have the added pressure of ensuring brand consistency. Juggling so many balls in the air at once and making sure every deadline is met can cause nightmares.

While there are many different ways to manage all of the activities that go hand-in-hand with a grand opening, most businesses default to using basic spreadsheets with tasks lists and status information, sharing the files via e-mail. Though spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel are easy to use, they have limited capabilities when it comes to coordinating all the moving pieces involved in grand openings and other restaurant activities. These tools weren’t originally designed to support multiple collaborators, store attachments, send reminders about deadlines, update calendars, or run on mobile devices—all components that are critical for managing these fluid processes. In today’s highly competitive world, a simple spreadsheet just isn’t up to the task.

One way to help improve grand openings, new product launches, or ongoing activities is to use technology that is designed to help promote collaboration and communication between employees and different locations. For example, Magnolia Bakery, whose cupcakes have appeared in “Sex and the City,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” and “30 Rock,” had seven stores in the United States and was looking into global expansion in the Middle East, the Far East, and South America. One of the main challenges the team faced was how to pull off a new location launch while ensuring that each new store would have the same look and feel as each of its existing units.

Having a cloud-based solution means that everyone involved can access one centralized place to make updates, which means no more hunting for the latest version.

“To make sure each of our stores have a consistent look and feel to them, we designed a highly detailed franchise plan to ensure that every Magnolia Bakery location has the same homey, quintessential American bakery feel as our first store on Bleecker Street in New York City does,” says Amy Tucker, project manager at Magnolia Bakery.

Tucker knew that the way the brand had done it in the past—using spreadsheets or a spiral notebook to track activities—wasn’t going to work as it scaled internationally. “We needed technology that could help us ensure brand consistency by sharing signage files, menu descriptions, and training documents,” she says. “Not only could we keep track of each activity, but we could help ensure accountability and provide the team with updates in real time. I showed our team how Smartsheet could help with our grand openings and everyone jumped on board.”

One of the many benefits of using a collaboration tool like Smartsheet is that it allows Tucker and her team to add attachments to specific tasks, such as work orders and signage specifications; set e-mail reminders to alert others about upcoming deadlines; and update the status of activities in real time from any device. Having a cloud-based solution means that everyone involved can access one centralized place to make updates, which means no more hunting for the latest version.

“Sometimes new collaboration technologies can be overwhelming and don’t work the way you want them to,” Tucker says. “We needed a solution that was so easy and flexible to use that everyone on the team would really want to use it.”

When Tucker was introduced to Smartsheet’s work collaboration tool, she says it felt right. “It looks like a spreadsheet, but does so much more. It’s not a stretch to say using Smartsheet has changed the way we work at Magnolia Bakery. In fact, we don’t start any new projects without incorporating it into the planning process. The bottom line is that changing the way we work together as a team has helped us become more efficient and productive.”

Aside from organization, another important factor in having a successful grand opening is being in the right place. However, one of the challenges with working with realtors is that much of the day-to-day activities are conveyed back and forth via e-mail, and coordinating project details, proposals, and approvals can be a real challenge.

Vegetarian chain Veggie Grill found itself caught in a real-estate nightmare when it looked into opening new restaurants on the West Coast.

“To find new locations, we had real-estate brokers travel throughout the West Coast to scout new restaurant locations and pitch them to our development team in Santa Monica,” says Therese Stover, project manager at Veggie Grill. “With such a large scope of details about each property, collecting and organizing documents, notes, and images is essential. Using e-mail to keep track of project proposals was impossible, and Veggie Grill’s IT department simply didn’t have the bandwidth to develop relevant software.”

One of the brokers suggested the team use Smartsheet to tackle these work coordination issues, as well as fit the brokers’ needs for anytime, anywhere access. Using this type of technology quickly changed how Veggie Grill worked with its entire development team.

“Each broker now updates the specs about potential real-estate locations and includes documents such as the LOI, site surveys, property flyers, photos, plus relevant e-mail discussions and notes,” Stover says. “The Veggie Grill team rolls the individual sheets together into a Master Real Estate Pipeline, centralizing all opportunities. It’s safe to say that our team is much more collaborative than before, and we can move extremely quickly with confidence. With every task visible to the entire team, we’re all on the same page with less.”

Jodi Sorensen works at Smartsheet, a Seattle-based company that creates work collaboration software.