39: How Technology is Transforming Tropical Smoothie Café
I’m passionate about technology, how we can change and how tech can enable businesses. But on the flip side, I’m also fascinated by human stories. What drives people? Where does that passion come from?
I recently came across a guy named Mike Rotondo, the CEO of Tropical Smoothie Café. What caught my attention with his story was how a personal experience to him not only completely changed his outlook on life but also helped his business go from strength to strength. That on its own is a fantastic personal story but on top of that, he’s been incredibly forward thinking in his use of technology. I invited Mike on to the show to talk about his journey and how he’s leading the way with technology in his business.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your journey and how your own health issues helped you connect with your customers on a personal level?
I have been in the food industry since I was 14 years old. It’s always been a very big passion of mine. So when I had the opportunity to join Tropical Smoothie Café I thought it was a very interesting concept. I loved the idea of smoothies and food and I connected with that.
I had a heart attack in 2011 and had to change the way I lived my life. I lost a little over 30 pounds and changed my eating and exercising habits.
I started to think about the consumer. That’s when we made a modification to our mission. Our mission in 2012 became “to inspire a healthier lifestyle by serving amazing smoothies and food with a big of tropical fun.” I even shortened it to “inspiring a healthier lifestyle”.
We started creating smoothies that didn’t only taste great but were really good for you. I wanted them to be healthy, I wanted them to be good for you, but they still had to taste great. Because I don’t care how healthy something is, if it doesn’t taste good you’re probably not going to come back and get it real often.
Can you explain a little more about the chain itself?
Yes. This “eat better, feel better, live better” is a concept that is smoothies and food. Our food has very bold, but approachable, food. We have food with chipotle, food with a little bit of spice and we have smoothies that are a little bit out there with spinach and kale and avocado.We even make a smoothie with roasted bananas.
Can you tell me a little about your online ordering platform and how it delivers orders to your business and the feedback you have received from customers?
We’ve partnered with two great companies to help us launch our own proprietary app. We work with a company called Level Up for the loyalty side of the business and then a company called Olo for the ordering side. They have developed for us the Tropical Smoothie app that brings in loyalty but not just “buy ten get one free.” It is loyalty rewards, mobile pay, order ahead and pay and all those things that really encompass a great app.
The customers were a little nervous at first but as people have used it they absolutely love it. We’ve seen the frequency of guest visits go from nine days at the beginning of the app to after thirty days we have a good group of people down to five or six days between visits.
I believe you have administrative dashboards which can be used to track purchasing and behavioral data. How does that work and is it proving to be invaluable to your business?
With the app you’re able to track how people respond to offers. You can literally segment your database and say “I have to be aggressive with this group by sending them an aggressive offer so they will come in. But with this group all I have to do is tell them we have a new product and they are going to come in.” Now my discounting goes from being a shotgun approach to more laser-like and I’m actually able to compress my discounts and give the right offers to the right people at the right time.
Many businesses flirt with the idea of launching an app-based loyalty program. What lessons have you learned in delivering a successful one and do you use an element of gamification as well?
There are three things that I really focus on:
- It has got to be user-friendly.
- You have to keep it super easy and functional. It’s best to be integrated into your POS system.
- Do the levels of loyalty. Give people reasons to want to achieve the different levels of loyalty and don’t make it just the basic “buy ten get one free.”
What’s next for you guys?
We’re looking right now at trying to help our franchisees improve their profitability. The two biggest measures in a food establishment are your food costs and your labor. We are working with new technology to understand how to help our franchisees better control their food costs which cuts down on waste and also helping them understand how to best deploy their labor.
What’s the best way to contact you guys?
Go to our website www.tropicalsmoothie.com. Everything about becoming a franchisee is there or if you want to reach out to our support center you can go right to that website and contact us.
Are franchises available internationally or just in the U.S?
We’re strictly in the U.S right now but I’m always willing to talk about any expansion outside the U.S.