Techniques: Microcases


Problem: Collecting sales data from satellite locations
Solution: Hands-off communications software
Payoff: Enhanced productivity that supports fast expansion

Back in 1991 the economy was in recession, but Grenville Byford and his partner, Gary Gut, were on the lookout for a business idea. "We wanted a company with potential to become big," says Byford. "And we had to be able to finance it with our own money." Rejecting such possibilities as cold-storage warehousing and fish wholesaling, the two men decided that a brewery restaurant was their best growth prospect, and in 1992 they opened their first John Harvard's Brew House, in Cambridge, Mass.

Within five years Byford and Gut had opened 12 more of the English pub-style restaurants and were poised to add, on average, one to three more per year over the next decade. But they had a problem.

Every evening at the close of business, each restaurant's turnkey point-of-sale (POS) system compiled files summarizing sales totals and employee hours. But the system for transferring the data to the Boston headquarters was highly inefficient. Each morning the home-office accounting staff would click on PCAnywhere, a remote-communications package, to retrieve the data that governed decisions about each restaurant: Do cash receipts match orders? Are staff performing as expected? Do rising sales call for additional staff? Is it time for menu changes?

Trouble was, PCAnywhere could dial in to the remote computers only when the restaurant managers had set their machines to "host mode" the night before. Managers frequently forgot that last task of the day, and headquarters staff wasted countless mornings tracking them down. "The delays slowed things down considerably," says executive vice-president and CFO Louie Psallidas. Not to mention the fact that at the end of each month Psallidas invariably found that he lacked several days' worth of data that he needed to make strategic decisions about staffing, ordering, and expansion. "We realized we were never going to build a national company this way--not without an army of accountants," he says.

So in the fall of 1996 he and Mike Wilson, director of information systems, decided to capture more and better data with a system that would not depend on managers' memories. They upgraded to Connect:Remote, a customizable communications program from the Managed Systems Division of Sterling Commerce (800-322-3366; $200 per basic retail site), and at the same time installed new POS software.

The Connect:Remote software runs on a Pentium workstation at headquarters and on restaurant PCs, each of which is networked to the five or six POS terminals inside each restaurant. Every night the communications program automatically dials one restaurant after another and, without human intervention, retrieves sales data, delivers E-mail and administrative paperwork, and picks up accounts-payable information. Headquarters staff have early-morning access to current data for the entire chain, and the new system makes analysis so easy, says Psallidas, that "we do the job in minutes."

It has also enabled Byford and Gut to revise their growth projections for the $50-million company: John Harvard's Brew House now operates 14 restaurants across the United States and expects to add 3 to 5 new outlets annually.