When we began the task of cleaning up and building the D.P. Dough brand in 2011, we inherited a point of sale (“POS”) computer system from the late 1990s with software that was “at the end of life,” according to its manufacturers. (A POS system is at the heart of daily restaurant operations. It provides reliable sales data and many other necessary insights about your business.)
The term “end of life” meant that if we ever had issues with the POS system, then there was no one that we could call for support. Another problem with the old POS system was that it lacked online ordering functionality, which is critical for the D.P. Dough demographic that expects us to be as technologically savvy as they are.
Transition to a Modern POS
As the leaders of the franchise, we felt a responsibility to find a reliable and affordable POS system for current D.P. Dough owners and future franchisees. Conveniently for us, before we acquired the D.P. Dough brand we were already testing a new POS system in the Athens location. This software – we’ll call it Yoshi for the sake of this blog – was light years ahead of our old POS system, offering product reports, easy menu modifiers for customer substitutions, online ordering, and delivery tracking.
After having success with Yoshi in Athens, we had further discussions with the creators of the software about our needs and expectations. It was important to us that they be willing to continually improve on their already solid software so that we could have a POS system custom-tailored for the needs of D.P. Dough owners.
When we were convinced that the Yoshi creators shared our long-term vision, we recommended Yoshi to all D.P. Dough owners at the first ever D.P. Dough Owner’s Conference in Cleveland in July 2012. At that time, a little more than half of all D.P. Dough locations were still using the old system. Several more owners signed up for Yoshi, after the software designers promised a number of fancy new features at the conference. We were looking forward to a continued relationship with Yoshi and were excited about Yoshi creating custom solutions for D.P. Dough owners.
Things changed in the Fall of 2012. It became increasingly apparent that our understanding of the customer/vendor relationship was incompatible with Yoshi’s. We, as the franchisor, expected to be able to have input in the design and functionality of our exclusive POS. Instead, the Yoshi creators refused to accept our input regarding continued development and the customer experience. In fact, not only did the lead designer not accept our feedback, he was upset that we even provided feedback at all.
In December 2012, we attempted to fly to meet with the Yoshi designer in-person so that we could iron out our differences. Disappointingly, he was refused to even meet with us in his hometown. That was the last straw. We were not willing to be victims in a business relationship. Staying with the same POS company would have been the easier, and maybe safer, thing to do. But, it was too scary to have such an unstable relationship with such a crucial vendor.
Zoneware Is Born
We did not have many acceptable options for purchasing an off-the-shelf POS system. Existing POS software was either prohibitively expensive for franchisees, not customized for delivery, or both. In Fall 2012, we began to explore the possibility of creating our own POS software. We didn’t have to look far.
My cousin, a software developer, shared our vision for a POS that could become a competitive advantage for D.P. Dough owners. While we made last ditch efforts to fix the relationship with Yoshi, the foundations of Zoneware were being designed as a back up plan. In February 2013, we let Yoshi know that we would not be continuing to work with them.
We had a vision to have an in-store POS system, online ordering, a mobile website, and other cutting edge bells and whistles. All that we needed was a name for the software. My wife suggested, Zoneware, a name that expressed the nature of the custom solution we wanted to offer to D.P. Dough owners.
We started our own POS system because we wanted to have technology to stay ahead of the curve in the D.P. Dough world. Controlling the design of the POS puts us in the driver’s seat of our future as a company.
We began testing Zoneware in some D.P. Dough locations in February 2013. It was a work in progress. We were under the gun to finish the software and online ordering so that it could replace Yoshi, who at any moment could have turned off online ordering for all D.P. Dough locations out of spite over losing our business. Despite constant software updates and many sleepless nights from the Zoneware team, the early adopters of the software had to contend with bugs and glitches for the first few months. By Fall 2013, we had a reliable in-store POS and online ordering solution that was as good as Yoshi. The Zoneware foundation was built.
By the way, we did not require or force any D.P. Dough locations to switch from Yoshi to Zoneware. Every owner who transitioned to Zoneware did so because they thought it was best for their business. There were 15 D.P. Dough locations using Yoshi at the start of 2013. Today, 22 of 24 D.P. Dough locations use Zoneware.
Recently, we completed our new and improved online ordering design for both desktop and mobile. We were excited to find that the desktop online ordering site has average ticket prices that are 11% higher than in-store purchases. The mobile site is even better, with customers ordering about 15% more than on the desktop version. The improved online ordering is already making D.P. Dough franchisees more money. We also launched the Dough Dashboard, which gives owners a real-time view of their store’s sales from their mobile phone or any computer.
Where We Are Going
We now have a complete POS solution: in-store, online, mobile, and an back end mobile site (Dough Dashboard). We will continue to improve on those core elements of Zoneware, in addition to adding new features such as in-store kiosks, mobile apps for drivers, geotracking of orders, increased reporting capability, and anything else that is helpful for D.P. Dough franchisees.
The best news of all is that we now have a critical mass of locations using Zoneware, which means that we can afford to support a full time software developer who is dedicated exclusively to Zoneware.
We never set out to start a software company. We already had our hands full being a new franchisor. It has certainly been a blessing in disguise. Though it was very time consuming and, at times stressful, we now have a customized POS platform that is poised to adapt to the college market and to be a competitive advantage for D.P. Dough franchisees.