Magazine article Personnel Journal

Mrs. Fields' Secret Weapon

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Mrs. Fields' Secret Weapon

Article excerpt

After opening her first cookie store in Palo Alto, California in 1977, Debbi Fields discovered pretty quickly that she was onto something. By 1983 she was sure: Sales in her 160 stores in 17 states and Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and Sydney had reached $30 million.

But by this time, the company was moving into territory into which few retail operations had dared to venture. Despite its size, Mrs. Fields Inc. was still a non-franchised company and had every intention of staying that way.

The reasoning behind this strategy was that the management skills Debbi used in her first store had made the company successful, so why not continue implementing them? To accomplish this successfully, Debbi and her husband, Randy, who's president of Mrs. Fields' parent company, decided that the company's management structure would have to remain flat.

From the beginning, Randy realized this would be no easy task, which is why he began thinking about it as soon as the second Mrs. Fields store was opened. By 1984, he and Paul Quinn, the company's vice president of management information systems, had found a solution: Retail Operations Intelligence (ROI), an innovative computer software system.

For its efforts, Mrs. Fields Cookies has been recognized as one of PERSONNEL JOURNAL's 1991 Optimas Award winners. The award is given annually to companies that display excellence in human resources management in 10 categories, which range from managing change to global outlook. Mrs. Fields Cookies was the winner in the Innovation category.

ROI is a computer system that links the 650 Mrs. Fields cookie emporiums and bakeries to its company headquarters in Park City, Utah. Simply stated, the system allows store managers, district managers and regional directors across the country to have contact via computer with Debbi and the rest of the company's top administrative staff.

According to Quinn, this contact is accomplished through two avenues. FormMail, the company's own version of electronic mail, allows employees to ask specific questions of anyone in the company, even Debbi, with a promised response within 24 to 48 hours. The other avenue is the automatic electronic flow of information and operating results, which is the heart of the ROI system.

There are 20 modules, or applications, of the ROI system. They range from production planning and inventory to interviewing and sales reporting and analysis. It's these applications that allow Debbi's management skills to be spread throughout the company to help emloyees sell lots of cookies, which is critical to Mrs. Fields' success because it doesn't sell high-ticket items.

For example, Debbi set hourly sales quotas for herself in her Palo Alto store and baked up the day's inventory based on daily experience. It was also her policy (and still is) not to sell a product that's more than two hours old.

Through the production planning module, store managers know how many units of a particular cookie they can expect to sell to meet projections from hour to hour, how much dough must be prepared and when to bake to maximize sales and minimize loss. The system charts hourly progress versus projections and makes suggestions on how to keep selling cookies.

Because the ROI system tracks sales continuously through the cash register, it provides everyone from Debbi on down to district and store managers with each day's results. By pressing a few keys on the computer, Debbi can tell which stores did the best that day and which did the worst, or which stores met their sales projections and which stores didn't.

Quinn says one of the things Debbi loves to do is call up the performance test results first thing in the morning and start calling store managers right away to congratulate them on their performance. "People can't believe that she knows so quickly how they did the day before," says Quinn. "It makes them feel as if she's watching and that she cares. …

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