Sustaining Business: Zane Tankel On Growing During Tough Times

As the economy continues to struggle through a slow recovery, business people everywhere are looking for any or techniques that will help them keep their businesses alive and thriving. Zane Tankel, CEO of Apple Metro, Inc., a company that owns 34 Applebee's restaurants in the New York area, is no different.

Yet Tankel has not only kept his business afloat during the recession, he even grew his businesses - opening ten new Applebee's restaurants since 2008, while garnering the brand's coveted Franchisee of the Year in 2009 and 2010.

Last time, Tankel began offering some tried and true tips that businesses should note in order to sustain and even grow their businesses in the days, weeks and months ahead in an uncertain economic climate. Here, from his own experience and insight, are 6 more valuable tips.

1. Make the Most of Your Marketing Budget. A franchisee generally does not have a voice in how its marketing dollars are allocated by the parent franchiser. That's why franchisees need to take an active roll in the process. One way: Participate in franchise councils. We campaigned for and now hold seats on three of them, including Franchise Business, Franchise Kitchen, and Franchise Marketing Councils.

Another strategy: Team up with vendors - and I mean all of them, from suppliers to firms - to come up with joint marketing campaigns. This cross-promotional strategy goes for other, more unrelated businesses too. In our case we have had great success partnering with local attractions.

2. Splurge to Save. Capital expenditures are always painful, especially when the returns on those investments don't come for months or years. But there are ways to save a lot of money later by spending a little now - and even green up your operation in the process. Three examples from our operation:

  • Waterless urinals: These cut our water bills by saving us 40,000 gallons of water per year.
  • LED lights: Replacing all recessed and track lighting fixtures with LED reduced our restaurant's KWHs by 88 percent.
  • On-demand (tankless) hot water heaters: They're 84 percent more efficient.

3. Be Willing to Try New Products. There are three ways to learn: introspection, copying/mimicking, and good old-fashioned trial and error. We didn't serve for years - it wasn't part of our corporate mix or core business - but given high rents in Manhattan, we needed to revisit our model and squeeze the most out of the box on which we pay rent 24/7. To for the breakfast crowd, we had to tweak our service cues, work out staff scheduling, and refine the menu offerings.

4. Conquer Your Supply Chain. Franchisors have standards for approved vendors. We go beyond those standards and do separate audits of financial stability, competencies, and the like. Also, never put all your eggs, as they say, in one basket. If one vendor can't deliver, make sure you have another - perhaps in a different location - lined up in a pinch.

5. Mind the Metrics. Our managers are expected to watch a number of metrics on a daily basis. Food, liquor, and labor costs are the basics. Managing those means that you are running a tight ship and delivering good service - which means that revenue will follow. Cash flow and EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) also are reviewed by on a weekly basis, as well as other data points, including guest feedback, internal operational performance inspections, city inspections, and staff turnover.

6. Reiterate the Mission. Our steering committee meets once a week. At the beginning of each meeting, one of us will read aloud our mission statement and strategic initiatives for the current year as a reminder to maintain our focus.

These strategies have worked for Tankel and he believes they just might work for you.

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