Q&A with David Kaiser, VP of Great American Cookies
With a total of 342 stores, (320 in the U.S.) Atlanta-based Great American Cookies has focused its international attention predominantly in the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE. In addition, the company is focused on a handful of key initiatives throughout 2015: going trans-fat free, increasing the beverage side of the business, improving customer service, increasing online sales and implementing online gifting.
Vice President David Kaiser says the company is also focused on increasing its visibility within malls and lifestyle centers to stand out in the era of Amazon Prime and fewer new mall openings.
Franchise Times: Great American Cookies has aimed its recent international development in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE. What is appealing about the Middle East?
David Kaiser: The population of the Middle East embraces American brands. Wearing a Gucci purse in the UAE is probably more noticed than it might be in Atlanta. [Middle Eastern customers] require an even more contemporary store design, and don't want any changes made to the product itself. Our stores in Saudi Arabia, for example, have their cookie batter made in the same facility as every other store around the world.
FT: What are you personally working on this year?
DK: We have five key initiatives that we are focused on. The first is converting our system to be 100-percent trans-fat free. We also are trying to increase the beverage portion of our business. We also have a customer service initiative underway. We do a very good job of taking care of our customers, but we think we can do a better job. The other big initiative is increasing our online sales. Even though our transaction counts were flat last year, we still saw an increase in same-store sales and a 50-percent increase in online sales.
FT: What are the company's biggest opportunities?
DK: Being a mall-based brand, I would say over the last 18 months we've opened as many stores in lifestyle and outlet centers ... so finding ways to continue to attract people to our counters in the malls is going to be a challenge, because shopping online is getting more convenient with Amazon Prime. Continuing to stand out in the malls is going to be important to us, and we think we have a pretty good plan to figure that out.
FT: How do you aim to achieve that goal?
DK: What we're finding is we don't have to be in the malls. We can be outside of the malls as well, and that's an opportunity and something positive as well.
FT: Your company recently upgraded its point-of-sale systems to NCR Silver. How has that helped your company become a faster, more modern enterprise?
DK: We're going to roll out a new flavored cookie. In the past, I had about 250 of my stores on one POS system, so I was making decisions on success or failure [based] on 75 percent of the system. Now I'm able to look at 300 stores to understand whether this has been a successful promotion or not. It gives us much better insight from the whole system on how we're performing, which is terrific.
FT: What advice would you give to a company considering changing up its POS?
DK: They need to at least take a look at these newer tablet-based systems—I think that's the wave of the future. If I'm going to do a county fair or street festival, rather than taking a cash drawer and not being able to accept credit cards ... I can just download the POS system on my iPhone, plug in a swipe card reader, log into that store, and now I'm taking cash and credit cards through my iPhone with no problem.