Even System Superstars Can Have the Wrong End Up.
The Subway Sandwich franchise has been around for many, many years. With 33164 restaurants in 90 countries, they are the world largest restaurant chain. So they have it all figured out. Not only are they extremely systematized but also every system is perfect. Right?
I like to stop at Subway to pickup a late dinner after a workout at the gym. Not much changes there other than updates in decor and the menu. But a while ago I noticed a change in the Sandwich Building system. It was a small change but with a significant impact.
One of the last steps in preparing your custom built sandwich is to tell the clerk making your sandwich to add your choice of condiments such as mustard, sweet onion sauce, spicy sauce, salt and pepper.
Liquid condiments are in plastic squeeze bottles with a pointy spout on top, similar to the figure below.
Bottles have labels on their sides identifying the contents: Mustard, Sweet Onion Sauce, Mayonnaise, Ranch and more. They are stored in a bin (spouts up) in the chill counter top.
These condiment bottles work well at dispensing a controlled amount of sauce.
However, they also have a few problems:
Customers can’t see the labels on the bottle side when the bottles are in the storage bin. The clerk has to explain choices or lift up bottles so customers can see the label. This is frustrating to customers and employees. It also wastes time — the customer’s and clerk’s. It also takes longer to fill an order. If you’ve been in the order line watching customer after customer choose their condiments you’ll understand. Longer order fulfillment limits a store’s total daily sales. Multiple that by thousands of stores and the impact is very significant.
- Subway put labels on the edge of the storage bin for customers to read. However, that didn’t work well because clerks often returned bottles to the wrong bin or to the wrong spot in the bin to match the bin labels.
- Messy tips are pointing up. This creates a bad impression with some customers. Perhaps to the point they became ex-customers or worse bad-mouthed Subway to others. Messy tips can transfer to the clerk’s hands. Messy fingers can let a bottle slip while handling and shaking.
- Clerks often need to shake bottles to get the contents from the bottom to the top and into the spout before the bottle can be squeezed. This takes time. A shaking bottle might slip loose and hit someone or create more mess. Or the contents might accidentally squirt from the bottle.
- The bottles are difficult to clean with only a narrow top opening.
FIFO to The Rescue
About three years ago I noticed the pointy top bottles were gone. New condiment bottles were in their place. The average customer might not notice the change. But to someone with the System View (like you and me) the change was immediately apparent.
The new condiment bottles are called FIFO Bottles. They solved a lot of Subway’s problems.
The new bottles open at both ends, which make for easier cleaning. You can screw on a variety dispensing caps. The cap Subway chose has a recessed dispensing valve that doesn’t drip. This means the bottle can be stored bottom up. And here’s a big win – the label can go on the bottom end of the bottle – where everyone can see it!
What a difference a bottle can make.
- Now, customers can see and read their choices — every time, all the time. This saves time and reduces frustration for everyone. With fewer delays, order fulfillment is a bit quicker. Quicker orders mean happier customers and more revenue.
- No more messy spouts and bottle tops. The new bottles always look clean. No more disgusted customers. No more bad mouthing. No more saucy clerk hands. No more flying bottles from slippery fingers.
- Since the bottles are stored bottom up the contents are always readyto be squeezed out. No more shaking bottles. No more accidental squirts of sauce all over the place.
Sometime a simple change can fix many problems.
So What Does This Mean to You?
System improvement is for everyone – including you. No system is ever too perfect – not for long. Businesses aren’t static. They grow. They shrink (hope not). Markets change. Operating environments change. Systems need to adapt and improve.
For Subway, years and years ago they only had a few condiments. So some of the issues I pointed out earlier might not have been problems. Today, Subway has many different sauces in response to market demand. With all that choice the old system, which worked fine before, started having problems.
Subway practices system improvement. They spend time checking existing systems, watching them in action, listening to feedback from franchisees, listening to customers. They saw a part of the Sandwich Building system that could be improved. They tried various changes and kept at it until they fixed it.
Subway may have been aware for some time that their existing condiment bottles were a bit of a problem. But, it wasn’t until the new style bottles became available in 2007 that they were able to make the change that fixed all their problems.
(I don’t know when or if all Subways made this change, but all my local restaurants have.)
- Even the best system can be improved.
- System improvement is an on-going exercise – even for system superstars like Subway and McDonald’s. That’s how they got to where they are.
- It really pays to watch the system in action, use it, talk with those that use it, observe and talk with your customers.
- You may have to try a number of changes to find the best improvement.
Is there a system in your business you can improve with a simple “flip”? Make system improvement a part of how your business operates and create your own system superstar.
Have you implemented a simple but effective system improvement? Have you noticed other national brand companies that made similar system improvements? If so, share it here so we all can learn more about system improvement.
Finally, whatever method you use for organizing and managing the development and use of your business systems make sure it supports revision. I am happy to say that revision of systems documents is an integral part of the Business System Organizer solution.