Fast data for fast food

Knowing exact inventory levels can help an employee at a fast food restaurant steer clients towards better-stocked options, improving the overall experience. Knowing customer behaviour patterns allows automatic generation of useful customized coupons. Closely monitoring staffing and business levels can lead to more efficient scheduling and cost savings. Inventory and transactional trends can help catch employee theft.

It all comes down to collecting data specific to the restaurant and retail space, analyzing it, and using it to improve efficiency, customer satisfaction and profits. This is where Halifax-based Livelenz steps in—and has already made a big splash, if the early pickup and enthusiastic response to its product at the National Retail Foundation’s Big Show in New York in early 2013 are any indication.

Starting just three years ago and focusing on the market they know best, Joel Doherty and Daryl Fraser developed a product targeting the fast food and quick service industries. Fraser owns and operates a number of Subway restaurants. It was during a conversation about how to improve the bottom line in each store that their ‘eureka’ moment happened.

“We realized there is a fundamental problem: we can’t get good, store-level data in a useful way,” says Livelenz CEO and co-founder Doherty. Even with all of today’s technology at their fingertips, it was still impossible to get ongoing information out of the store and into the operator’s hands, quickly.

“All across the restaurant and retail space there is no standardization of technology, especially in point-of-sale equipment,” Doherty says, referring to the devices that accept payments, register card data, and create receipts—systems that can cost thousands of dollars. “Franchisees tend to cobble together what they can.”

The business partners looked at all the technology that might be found in a restaurant, searching for a solution.

“We settled on the lowest common denominator: the receipt printer,” says Doherty. “Every location has a receipt printer. We investigated a little further, to find out who the dominant player in receipt printers is. As we found out, Epson has 75 per cent market share.”

Early conversations with Epson went well. Epson joined the fledgling Livelenz to develop and engineer the new service. The resulting proprietary technology (currently patent pending) is now in receipt printers in over 6,000 stores in North America.

The basic Livelenz product is a small card that is inserted into an existing receipt printer. The upgrade transforms a rather mundane printer into a data gateway, with built-in intelligence and a wireless Internet connection. It collects and analyzes data in real-time, transmitting it to the cloud, where it can be accessed from anywhere.

A restaurant owner can be thousands of miles away and know when inventory levels are dropping, how much money is being collected, which items are selling well (and with which other products) and which employees are on shift.

Crucially, it is “point-of-sale agnostic,” meaning it will work with the payment system the restaurant already has. Livelenz is the only data analytics company in the world that can make this claim.

“It covers all aspects of data: sales, labour, inventory, employee theft,” says Doherty. “We do not simply provide data analytics for the sake of analytics; we’re not just producing reports for you to file away. Our reports are a different experience.”

Doherty says Livelenz produces readable, actionable reports—the kind of report an 18-year-old shift manager can use, at a glance, to see what’s going on in the store. The reports are available in real time, says Doherty, which means they can actually change employee behaviour in real time.

Fraser’s four Subway locations remain the “living lab” to test Livelenz’s advances and improvements. Already, Doherty can present numbers showing their data service can reduce food costs by 1.5 per cent, labour costs by two to four per cent, and increase sales lift by three to four per cent. Livelenz currently has 12 employees in Halifax; Doherty expects that will increase, and other offices will be added soon.

“It’s a foot race,” he says. “Right now, there is no dominant player in real-time store-level analytics; we want to win the foot race. I think we are in a good spot to do that.” His next focus is on the North American convenience store market.

The applications are endless, says Doherty. “That’s the fun part: coming up with all the questions. We have the answers in this amazing data set. What other problems can we solve?”

Stephanie Porter
About Stephanie Porter

Stephanie Porter is a freelance writer and editor living in St. John’s. In 2003, she helped launch The Independent, a spirited weekly newspaper distributed across Newfoundland and Labrador, known for its investigative news and features. Stephanie was managing editor of the paper until its untimely demise in 2008. She has also worked as a reporter and writer for Downhome magazine, the Express (also now defunct), The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, picking up Atlantic Journalism Awards for her feature and news writing. Stephanie is delighted to be a regular contributor to Atlantic Business Magazine. Photo Credit: Paul Daly.

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