Whether it's paleo, keto or low carb, there seems to be a new diet trend capturing the fascination of diners every few months. The ability to cater to those preferences is key to a restaurant's success.
As the chairman and CEO of Great Harvest Bread Company, Mike Ferretti knows firsthand about the importance and challenges of keeping up with what diners are partial to at any given time. Since coming on board in 2011, Ferretti has guided the company through a wave of various diet fads, including the South Beach, Mediterranean, low-carb, gluten-free and keto diets.
We recently had the chance to speak with Ferretti about how to build a business that can adapt to changing times and how to best communicate those changes to your customers and employees. In addition, we asked him some rapid-fire questions about technology, his career and advice he has received over the years.
Building a flexible business model
Q: How do you know which trends and fads are worth your business acting to adapt?
A: This is a hard question. You have to look at each one as they come up and analyze them individually. There are so many carb-focused diets now they have become mainstream. We do look at each one and develop specialty products for some.
We have some stores that still sell a lot of low-carb bread. We also have a recipe made with gluten-free ingredients but don't call it gluten-free, since it is baked in a gluten-filled environment. The gluten-free issue is real and we respect it. That is a real disease with real issues, and we would never want to sell to a person with celiac disease. Our product is more for someone with minor gluten issues.
Q: How do you best express to your customers that you are changing to meet current demands, and how do you ensure your changes are being implemented smoothly?
A: Communication. We do press releases, publish blogs and have in-store signage.
Q: Food choice changes aren't the only thing those in your industry must adapt to. There is a number of new technologies, such as kiosk ordering and contactless payments, that are making waves. How do you evaluate when, and if, it is worth implementing these new technologies in how you operate? Do technological changes affect your business plan?
A: Technology is completely changing the food business. For the longest time, the industry thought it was immune to the pressures of Amazon and the internet, but now, as technology is proliferating, that just isn't the case.
We are not yet looking at kiosks, but we are heavily embracing online ordering and smartphone technologies.
Q: What tips do you have for other small business owners looking to create a business model that is agile enough to adapt when necessary?
A: This may sound contradictory, but you have to remain true to your brand and what it promises your customers. But at the same time, you have to adapt. Technology is changing everything, and you have to embrace that.
Q: How do you get your employees to buy into a change in how your business operates or what it sells?
A: Most of the time, this isn't an issue. A lot of our change is driven by local franchisee innovation, and a good bit of that comes from their employees. But there are times we have to tread lightly.
An example we are currently dealing with is the wave of third-party delivery. The economics of that are challenging for a small business, so we listen to the concerns of our franchisees and work with them to change when and how this makes sense for us.
Q: What piece of technology could you not live without?
A: Personally, my iPad. I am very mobile, and that keeps me in touch at all times. Professionally, there are two items. Increasingly, we can't live without the data available from modern POS systems. And we have an internal website that we use to communicate with our franchisees.
Q: What is the best piece of career advice you have ever been given?
A: Don't be afraid to declare victory and move on. What that means is you can't solve every problem. Focus on the ones you can control, and adapt to the ones you can't.
Q: What's the best book or blog you've read recently?
A: I read to relax these days, so my book reading list probably isn't very interesting. But I do read Seth Godin's blog every day. He has such great insight into marketing, sales, branding and business trends that I find his writings invaluable.
Q: What's the biggest risk you've taken professionally? Did it pay off?
A: Joining Great Harvest, and I wouldn't go back on that decision for anything. I love what I do and who I do it with, but I came into the company shortly before the Atkins craze hit 15 to 20 years ago. As carb-focused food trends have continued to evolve ... it hasn't been easy. But I love a good challenge.
Q: As a leader, what's the biggest challenge you face?
A: People. We are a very culture-driven brand. Finding and retaining people that share our beliefs is never easy, but, knock on wood, right now we have an ideal team, and it is the best we have had during my time with Great Harvest. We plan to keep that rolling.