While a number of startups are achieving the impossible with jaw-dropping technological feats, soft-serve machines continue to prove impossible for the international billion-dollar company, McDonald's.
So much so that there's even a website dedicated to tracking McDonald's broken soft serve machines, McBroken.com. It uses a bot to automatically attempt to place an order for ice cream at locations across the country every 20 to 30 minutes as a means to determine which machines are up and running. In the process of hacking into the ordering system, it was discovered that upwards of 16% of ice cream machines are out of order at any given time.
Meanwhile, McDonald's works on serving up new products, from its new Glazed Pull Apart Donuts or branded merchandise, such as hoodies, hats, T-shirts, and even fanny packs. In return, thousands of disgruntled patrons are begging to know why it can't fix its broken ice cream machines?
To understand why the machine is always down, you need to understand how the C602 ice cream machine by Taylor works. Because the C602 consists of a multitude of dairy-laden pipes, it's incredibly prone to bacterial contamination. To combat this issue, the machine heats the ice cream mixture once per day to kill any bacteria growing in it. This process involves heating the mixture to about 151 degrees Fahrenheit. From beginning to end, heating and then refreezing the mixture so that it can be pumped out as ice cream takes around four hours.
Now, four hours per day equates to about 16% of the day--the same amount revealed by McBroken.com.
So while that case might be closed--and in fact, the McDonald's ice cream machines aren't broken, but very much running properly--that doesn't answer the question as to why a company with profits in the billions can't get better machinery?
The problem in part is that in addition to having to be out of use four hours per day for a business that often operates 24-hours a day, 7 days per week, is that when there is an issue, the machine doesn't provide insight into the problem. And so the go-to troubleshooting method is to run the cleaning cycle again--causing the machine to be down for another four hours.
When that doesn't work, the only thing a location is left to do is to call a technician, which presents another problem. The manufacturer, Taylor, requires that only an authorized Taylor service technician can make a repair, and their technicians reportedly can take weeks to get on-site. So why not hire someone else? Well, if a franchise uses an unauthorized technician, Taylor voids their warranty altogether. Not surprisingly, 25% of Taylor's more than $300 million revenue comes from maintenance and repair services.
McDonald's made a mistake when contracting Taylor for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it opted for a product that isn't aligned with its needs, given that the machine requires four hours of downtime per day, while a growing majority of McDonald's operate 24/7. It also made the mistake of working with a product that is not only difficult for franchisees to self-troubleshoot while also making franchisees beholden to the ice cream machine manufacturer's repair techs--who aren't even readily available or within easy reach.
The nightmare of the ice cream machine continues to haunt McDonald's, with irate customers abusing McDonald's staff and cutting into McDonald's profits. It goes to show that any business--whether the world's largest fast-food chain or a solo startup--needs to be incredibly cautious about the providers (e.g., manufacturers, equipment, suppliers) that it works with. However, what's arguably worse than McDonald's mistake with Taylor is its issue resolution--or lack of.
Issues will undoubtedly arise. As much as a business can work to prevent problems, the reality is that problems are part of operations. What matters is how a company works to resolve any messes it ends up in.
In the case of McDonald's, the billion-dollar company could afford to purchase new machinery elsewhere. It could purchase backup machines from Taylor so that one machine is always operable while the other is undergoing daily maintenance. It could even create its own proprietary machine. Or it could create its own technician training program and have its own repair staff. And yet it doesn't do any of these things. McDonald's might be "too big to fail," per se, over a lack of ice cream, but nonetheless it is failing its customers, its staff, and its bottom line.
If you're not a well-established business, this type of blunder could be to the detriment of your business. While you might not always be able to avoid falling into the trap of a bad contract or getting burned by a bad manufacturer or supplier, businesses need to face their challenges and find a way to overcome their obstacles. After all, that is much of what entrepreneurship is: tackling challenges with innovative thinking, doing what others won't, and giving your customers what they want in a way that others can't.