Thursday, May 29, 2008

Employee Suggestion Program

Back in my old engineering corporate days at the 'big company', we had what was called an Employee Suggestion Program, or ESP for short. There was a fancy form in quadruplicate and an official five step resolution process. Metrics were tracked on how fast departments responded to ESP's. Employee teams were tracked on the number of ESP's they submitted. Results were displayed on posters. To an engineer, they were mainly just one of those annoying little responsibilities that came up whenever you least had time for it. The cool part, at least for the employee, was that if your idea was good and actually saved the company money, you got cold cash for your idea. How much you got was based on some fancy calculation that involved some percentage of the savings for the company, your age, your shoesize, and who was president at the time. Most of the ideas didn't pay out, but sometimes an employee would get a nice ESP bonus in their check, just enough to encourage them to submit more work for you in the future.

I haven't exactly instituted an ESP here, although I've got a great crew and they're constantly coming up with good ideas. As I've mentioned and you've probably seen, I do have suggestion jar in the shop. It's been the source of some great ideas, except for poplar tree spore ice cream and a few others perhaps, and provided a nice way for customers to shout out for their favorite flavor of which I haven't made in forever, in their estimation.
One of my recent suggestions came from a little girl just under four feet tall. I was making ice cream in the back when she poked her head around the wall and asked if I could tell her what the flavors of Jelly Bellies were on the top row. Seems the labels are on the tops of the jars and well out of her viewing range. Never noticed it since, although I'm no giant, I'm tall enough to look down on the tops of the top row of jars. So ESP or no ESP, this week I sent Katie into action to redo the labels and move them to the front...

Ta da... And sparkly new labels for all the j-beans...

I've often diss'ed the corporate gig as one of the ultimate creativity crushers, able to dissolve any semblance of fresh thinking into a cloud of ESP's and TPS's. So I guess it almost goes without saying that one of the great things about owning your own business is there's no 'creativity governor' on your brain. It can be tough to shut off and simply relax sometimes, but I always enjoy trying to think of stuff to try in the shop. And as they say, no need to reinvent the wheel every time. So when I go into someplace interesting like the Williamsburg General Store, I'm always on the lookout for stuff to try in my shop. This place is cool. Your classic old-country store. Chock full of candy store ideas.

One of the things I noticed there, and seen at a number of candy store-type places, is pre-packaged stuff with their store label on it. So what did I just purchase? You got it, a slick Dymo LabelWriter and a gang of cello clear bags. A quick design of the label and a protype build, and Lauren was off to make the first batch of Mt. Tom's candy bags...

And here they are. Set up a display right by the front counter, and they've been selling briskly ever since.

Here's another idea I 'borrowed' from a shop I visited somewhere recently. T-shirts in rolls on display. Sorted by color. Easy to grab.

Not rocket science, but t-shirt sales have picked up significantly since. And it saves the scoopers a bunch of time trekking down to the basement to hunt for sizes and colors all the time. If that one had been an ESP, real labor savings and a payout for me. Nice. And we did it all without a form.

Finally, we've had the thinking caps on for this one for a long time now. When the shop gets busy, things quickly turn chaotic. Some people heed the 'order here' signs and form a proper line in front of the dippers. Then other people come in and just go right to the cash register, which is fine when there aren't a bunch of people in here already. Short of redesigning the whole shop (and possibly having to remove the soda fountain barstool counter, just can't do that), traffic flow is problem not so easy to solve, even for a guy with more engineering degrees than a train conductor. In any event, I welcome all suggestions. The old standby 'Can I help the next person in line!' yell works in most cases, but that gets frustrating for all parties eventually.
Enter the velvet rope. It was given to me by my buddy Mark back when I opened, and it's sat in the basement ever since.
Until today.
In the spirit of this rant, I thought, let's just dust it off, place it out there, and see if it helps. So here it sits. I don't think it'll solve the problem, but I'm hoping people might see it when they come in the front door and be drawn to it like butter on movie theater popcorn. It seems to be helping a bit so far. I'll keep you posted...
What does all this mean, really? I guess it just comes down to, in life as in biz, the only way to know if something will work is to try it. And solution and ideas are constantly around us, just waiting for us to notice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I feel your pain on line management in the store, it was a constant problem in my soda jerk days as well. Even though I see the optimal line dynamics when I come in, it is hard not to make a beeline for the flavor list. For MT Toms, I have thought a sign down by the cash register, in the center section near the tables, with a button hook diagram instructing customers "go here to order" might be effective. Your staff has the talent to be creative and make it eye catching as well.