The young founders of the Cook Brothers Bars group have built up a solid core of seven hospitality outlets over the last seven years, but now they're expanding into new territory with a tool designed to help hospitality business owners better manage their day-to-day operations.
Loaded Reports has been designed and tested over several years in all seven of the Cook Brothers outlets, which include Fort St Union, three Velvet Burgers, Captain Cook Tavern, Seale Lane and Alibi bar and restaurant. And since its launch in September, nearly 100 customers have signed up, including Britomart Hospitality Group, Lone Star and celebrity chef Josh Emett’s Queenstown restaurant , Rata.
Cook Brothers director Richard McLeod, who along with CEO James Arnott started the original business back in their university days with the purchase of student pub Captain Cook Tavern, says their frustrations with current systems led to the development of their purpose-built software, Loaded Reports.
Loaded Reports brings together the key financial and operational management systems in one place including cash ups, budgeting, rostering, time clock, stock management and analysis key metrics.
“We had limited business knowledge and limited hospitality experience and found ourselves immediately responsible for a turnover of more than $2m and a staff of 50 people,” says Arnott.
“The biggest obstacles were the hospitality operating systems which we felt were pretty much hopeless. We also found the procedures for monitoring the revenue and expenses quite archaic and the only way to monitor the financial performance of the business was via a monthly profit and loss report, which meant data being analysed was always historical. This made it incredibly difficult to act quickly to improve profitability.”
McLeod says juggling spreadsheets, paper timesheets, POS and rostering systems was cumbersome and "painful".
"James was pretty intent on finding us a whole package solution He spent a lot of time trying to find something and couldn't and decided to build one."
Arnott had been studying software development before the pair dropped out to focus on building their hospitality empire, and they brought on developer Chris Baxter, who's now a shareholder.
McLeod says Loaded Reports has taken off because it's been built and tested by hospitality operators with a technical understanding, not a technology operator with a hospitality understanding.
He says often technical types miss the mark because they're not hands-on with users day-to-day.
"A lot of software is designed by companies trying to understand the requirements of an industry as opposed to actually living them. It's quite hard to do it from the outside in," he says.
"We were just lucky we were in there and feeling the pain, and had some guys who did have a technical understanding."
But McLeod says they never considered selling the product to others until their business advisor, also a bar owner, asked if he could use Loaded Reports himself. As more and more of their contacts were keen to trial the software, they eventually decided to make it widely available in 2011.
About 20 percent of customers are referrals, and Loaded
Reports has set up a reseller network programme, which is eventually
expected to drive the bulk of sales. McLeod says they're also finding
business through the likes of POS companies whose customers are
installing or upgrading their technology.
They've bootstrapped the business over the years, but right now
they're looking to raise capital and find outside investors with
experience in taking technology companies international.
Loaded Reports already has a few users in Australia and McLeod says they expect to have carved out a proper foothold there within the year.
And he says Loaded Reports is highly scalable, with only minor tweaks required such as different pay rates and GST rates in other markets.
"Operating from the bottom of the world we can easily distribute Loaded via the cloud all over the globe in much the same way that accounting software company Xero does."
Chief operations manager for Lone Star and Joe’s Garage franchises, James O’Connell, says the level of business intelligence offered by Loaded Reports has been “a major area of weakness in the hospitality industry".
“Until now no-one has taken the time to provide a comprehensive one stop shop like this. What is significant is that Cook Brothers have trialled the system in their own business. Mostly these programmes are developed by IT people but these guys have been hands-on and get the difficulties of operating in this industry," he says.
“It’s a very significant tool, operating in an industry where the margins are tight. It’s really a no-brainer if you’re in hospitality and looking to increase your profitability..”
Michelin chef and Masterchef NZ judge Josh Emett is another Loaded Reports user.
“I have been involved in restaurants all over the world but none of them had a system which works so comprehensively and is as user-friendly as Loaded Reports. It has the ability to change the way hospitality owners do business because it allows them to be very hands-on and helps them make good decisions. It is definitely a time and money saver and for multiple sites it is an ideal system.”