How Marnie Swedberg Systematized 2 Businesses that Run Successfully without her Constant Involvement!

In this interview, Marnie Swedberg reveals how she Systematized 2 Businesses that Run Successfully without her Constant Involvement!

She is the owner of a restaurant and a retail store. You will discover what her business coach taught her that enabled her to step away from her businesses and free up more time to spend with her family while at the same time both business continue to thrive without her. She even implemented an employee bonus system that encourages them to actively find more ways for her to spend less time working in her businesses!

Marnie Swedberg, CEO and Business Coach.




Tweetable Quote:


In this Episode You will Discover:

  • Why Marnie believes that the biggest challenge in business is figuring out what the bottlenecks are.
  • How Marnie was able to start delegating responsibilities to free up more of her time.
  • How Marnie and her husband implemented a bonus system for her employees so she could spend less time working in her business.
  • Why Marnie believes in setting the bar of excellence with your staff using best practices.
  • Why Marnie has her senior employees teach the new employees.
  • How Marnie is able to track the results her employees deliver.
  • Why Marnie believes in making a great first impression with her visitors before they even come in the door of her businesses.
  • Why Marnie believes in making one change at a time in business.


Noteworthy items Mentioned in this Episode:

  1. The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and for Life by Laurie Beth Jones
  2. Leading with a Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness by Dan B. Allender


Episode Transcript:

OWEN: My guest today is Marnie Swedberg, and she is a business coach and founder of two businesses, one in retail and the other in the restaurant industry. Marnie welcome to the show.

MARNIE: Hey Owen and high everybody, great to be here.

OWEN: Let’s dive right in. What exactly does your company do and what big pain do you solve for your customers?

MARNIE: Well, I suppose the restaurant is the most obvious. We feed hungry people and more than that, we really have a focus at both of our business of taking care of people. We spend a lot of time nurturing our customers with good eye contact, with great service, actually caring about them and taking care of them. At our retail store, there’s 12 departments. And so we solve a lot of problems for- [Unintelligible 00:00:43] at a retail store, anywhere from books, to pets, to fabric, to crafts, to coffee shop, to party supplies and office supplies. It’s just all over the board there.

OWEN: In your restaurant, how many employees and maybe in the retail how many employees? That way the listener can understand what’s going on.

MARNIE: These are both small family-run businesses. So the restaurant has no full-time employees and 9 part-time employees. The retail store has 1 full-time employee and 11 part-time employees. Of course, my husband and I are the owners. We’re involved in the business but not on the floor 40 hours a week or anything even remotely near that.

OWEN: Awesome. What was last year’s annual revenue for the business and probably what you kind of expect for this year?

MARNIE: The restaurant last year was about a 338,000 and the retail store getting close to 500,000 there and 45,000. We’re on track for a pretty decent increase for the restaurant this year. The store, looking at about 10% increase. The store however, it’s looking good. We’re hoping to come in at a 3% increase. We had a really tough winter last year and a tough summer this year. Last year we had horrendous weather. Everybody around the country knows that. Where we are is right up on the Canadian border and so we had multiple days of below 20, below zero temperatures. At which point most people don’t lie to go outside anymore let alone go shopping. They wait for UPS to drop it at their door. In the summer, we’re in a touristy location, and in the summer we flooded. Our lakefront was completely diked off all summer so we lost our summer. We’re coming into the fall, looking pretty strong to break even or do a little bit better this year which is really terrific. Considering what we faced as far as challenges in the past year, it’s been a good year.

OWEN: That’s good to know. This interview is all about getting guest like yourself who have actually systemized their business and now it’s in a situation where it runs without them. In your case you have two different businesses running without you successfully. So I’m sure there’s a lot we can learn from you. But one of the things we always want to do is go back to the beginning so that we can give the listener kind of a journey of how this came about. So let’s talk about what was one lowest point in the business. You can choose either of them and describe how bad it got.

MARNIE: When we bought the restaurant, it was a failing restaurant. It was still open for business but it had really deteriorated. The lawn was overgrown with weeds. It was just horrible. The inside was filthy. In fact, when I went and I just shadowed for a day to see if it was something… I’d never worked in a restaurant let alone run one, so I needed to just find out if it was something I could do. I shadowed for a day and what they would do is the customer would come in and walk in, and the scene that they saw was down the center. There they could see the hallway and two employees would be sitting in this little hallway, and they’d be smoking, or petting the dog. Then they’d get up and they’d go to the till, they’d take the money, and then they’d go make the food, all in one fell swoop without any washing of hands, without anything happening… If we want to talk lowest point that was the lowest point. Then what we had to do is we remodeled the interior of the building. From day 1 our staff wore uniforms and caps with the name of the business on it. We washed our hands and put gloves on for every last thing we made. So it was a very big turn to get it from where it was to where it was supposed to be. And really faster than 3 months we started seeing the suits I call them, guys in suits would start coming in and that was the big change. Then pretty soon within 3 months we had the kids back. That’s where the parents felt safe to bring their children into the restaurant. It was clean enough now and safe enough where they could do that. Those were the huge changes and that all happened very quickly with some very proactive things, very simple steps. Just go over-the-top toward cleanliness to make up for what had been happening in there.

OWEN: Yes. During the pre-interview you mentioned that it was hard especially in the restaurant to figure out how to get things going. Let’s talk about that.

MARNIE: I think that is always the number 1 challenge, is to figure out where the bottlenecks are, to figure out what is wrong. Because however much business you were doing, when we bought it they were doing very little business but they were still doing some business. And it’s like how do you get it from where it is today to where you want it to be. What you have to do is you have to find out where the failure points are, so the log jams. The best way to do that is to just start paying attention to what is working, and then to how something that isn’t working can be turned around.

OWEN: Another thing you mentioned too is that at the lowest point it was kind of difficult to figure out how to get the team to do something consistently after you’ve figured it out.

MARNIE: Absolutely. I think the only way to go about doing that is to use systems. That’s what we’re talking about sweet processes where you have these systems in place where it is automatic. Either it happens or else there’s like… It is not an alarm that goes off in the air but there is something that triggers that this is not happening properly, that this isn’t being done. And so, it doesn’t have to be you watching it all the time, at some point you have to set this up. So we had brought in drivers at one point and trained them how to go and do deliveries. But they would come in from their deliveries, and because they weren’t trained on the floor they would just stand in the doorway and watch everybody, and they wouldn’t know what to do. I was so frustrated by that. I was like, “Why don’t they just help?” But one of the drivers couldn’t run their shift and I was the driver. And even being the owner and even having trained everybody that was there, when I came in after my run, I came in and they were busy, and I just stood in the doorway and I watched because I didn’t know how to get involved. I didn’t know what exactly I should do. And so, it became clear to me that there had to be a process so that when they came in after the run, they knew exactly what to do. If you don’t know what to do you go to the sink and you start washing dishes. Then they can pull you away from that to assign you to a project in a couple of minutes, but at least you know exactly what to do.

OWEN: Do you remember that specific moment in time in the business where you’re like, “I couldn’t take this anymore. Something has to give. I have to change how this business works.”

MARNIE: In the restaurant I really do. I was about ready to have a nervous breakdown. Because what would happen is I was managing from home, and we live about a mile from the restaurant. What would happen is up to 8 times day they would call me with an emergency and I’ll just run over there. I drop everything and run over there, and take care of the emergency then go back home. I was trying to home school my kids at the same time so that’s why I wanted to be home. What happened was I just was so frustrated. I remember actually hiring a coach at that point to help me figure out what to do. She did a little project or exercise with me. Can I do it with you right now?

OWEN: Go ahead. Exercise up.

MARNIE: Okay. Put your hands out in front of you, you’ve got two hands and your fingers spread apart, and I want you to just name each finger and your thumb as the different parts of your life, okay?

OWEN: Okay.

MARNIE: All right. I had you know my husband and my kids and all this. One finger was the restaurant, just one finger was the restaurant.

OWEN: Yes.

MARNIE: And she said, “Put your hands together and fold your hands over. Now, I want you take the restaurant finger and I want you to press that really hard into your hand, so your painful point. You press that really hard into your hand.”

OWEN: Yes, I’m doing that.

MARNIE: Keep pressing. She said don’t let up. You’re going to want to let up, but don’t let up, don’t let up, don’t let up. I’m like that really hurts. She’s like don’t stop yet, don’t stop yet. She said press harder now. Now press harder Owen, okay? Finally, I’m like, stop that really hurts and she goes, are you ready to make a change, are you really ready to make a change? I’m like, yes, that really hurts. And she says, okay release.

OWEN: What if I have high tolerance for pain?


OWEN: Go ahead. I’m just messing with you.

MARNIE: I think most business owners must have a high pain tolerance. Anyway, she said, “Marnie it really is your choice. Just because they call you 8 times a day does not mean they have to run over there 8 times a day. You’re making a choice.” I said, “Well I kind of do have to run over there. If I don’t run over there then a customer isn’t going too served well, or something’s going to fall down.” And she goes, “But that’s a choice. You can either make the choice to run over there every time the phone rings, at which point be happy with that choice, or you can make a different choice.” Owen, it’s the first time that I really owned it. I will tell them I was drowning in the ocean and the waves would come over. I would just let them drown me. I realized, “Oh my goodness, I have a little boat, its okay, get in it. Ride in the boat, you don’t have to do this.”

OWEN: You realize that things had to change. I’m curious, what was the very first thing you did to solve the problems you just mentioned earlier?

MARNIE: The first thing I did was of course, because I had identified the problem I could fix the problem. So I started listening to what they were asking me for. Instead of just dropping everything and running over like a person without a brain, I just started going, “What are they calling me about?” A lot of the calls were somebody’s here to find out if we can donate something to their cause.” I’ll be like, “Okay, can you tell them I’ll get back to them?” “They just wondered if they could just pick it up now.” “All right, I’ll come over.” I drove over there and write up a certificate. You know what I had to do, I just had to say, “Here’s the policy. Team leaders you are authorized, I empower you. If somebody comes in looking for a donation, you can give them, depending on the type of event it is. I have two different’ categories. You can give them this freebie or you can give them that freebie, but you can just do it. You walk in the back room, you get the certificate, you walk back out, you say, “Here you go. Can you just give me your name and number to pass along to Marnie for our records?” And then they sat at my place. Other things like that that were just happening over, and over, and over. They simply never called me after that. I was done. That took care of 2 to 3 a day just that one alone.

OWEN: The first thing is basically looking at what are the things that they kept on calling you on a recurring basis, and then figuring how to empower them to get it done without you. Is that how you went about that?

MARNIE: That’s actually how I do all of the businesses. Whether it’s the restaurant, or the retail store, or even I have an online membership program too. How I developed my webpages for that one is I just watch what’s coming in as the customer service complaints. What can’t people find. What is it that they’re struggling with, fix it. Find a way to make it automated. Come up with a process or a strategy that works without you getting directly involved. This is going to work everywhere. For example, my staff would call all the time. “Come and cover my shift because I can’t work my shift.” I drop everything, I go work their shift. At one point my husband just says stop that, we aren’t going to do that anymore. He actually put a bonus system where it’s called the Send Marnie Home Bonus. It’s worth up to 6% of their wages for the month and it’s calculated over a month period of time. And if they can keep my on deck hours… We call on deck making food, on deck hours is down under certain level, then they get that bonus, or they get a percentage of the bonus. What happened is that…

OWEN: Was that shared by the entire team or specific to who made you come over to the office?

MARNIE: No, it’s by the entire team.

OWEN: Okay.

MARNIE: All of a sudden the team is running it, right? Not me running it, the team is now running it and they’re like, “You can’t keep calling in to sub, just mark it off before she puts you on the schedule. When you give her the schedule, request, don’t say you can work it and then not work it because you’re messing it up for all of us.” They kind of run it. What happened is they bend over backwards to cover each other shifts. I am so rarely on the floor, very rarely. But that was not how it was before we saw the problem and took specific action.

OWEN: I think later during the call we’ll actually talk about the bonus structure you guys have. We’ll go into more details about that. What was the very next thing you did to solve the problem? I think during the pre-interview you mentioned about exploring solutions and adopting best practices. Let’s talk about that.

MARNIE: The best practices are so important for you to actually set the bar exactly where you want the bar to be. I was just doing a training the other day and one of my older staff. She’s not that old but she’s in her 40’s. And she said, “Isn’t that common sense?” I looked at my younger staff who are in their teens or early 20’s and I said, “Not these guys. They haven’t lived as long as you. They don’t understand what I’m talking about until I train them.”

OWEN: Yes.

MARNIE: This is what happened. We just have to look at what comes really naturally to the mother of 3 children who’s used to juggling balls, answering the phone, and doing all kinds of stuff at once, and train those same skills into to the newer stuff. They’re younger and don’t necessarily come by that naturally. You want to look at what your great employees are doing right and then teach that to your employees that aren’t quite pulling their own weight yet. Usually it’s not a defiance issue, sometimes it is, but more often than not it’s a process issue.

OWEN: So how did you go about doing what you just mentioned? Because I think during the pre-interview you mentioned how when this was an issue you actually went through a series of steps to figure out what was working for those employees who were the rock stars. And figure out how to apply that to the newer staff that were probably having issues.

MARNIE: Well, one of the ways, like in the coffee shop to make a latte. One of the 12 departments that our people at the retail store have to learn to juggle is they have to be a barista, that’s just one of the 12 things they do all day. But just like making a latte there’s 13 steps to making a latte. So what happens was that the older staff or people that were experienced in coffee, they came in and they just knew what to do. But our newer staff they were struggling with the how to get this done. What we had to do is we had to teach them the order to do things in. For example on making a latte we had to say the fifth thing you do is look up the recipe. It’s not the first thing you do. You want to greet them, you want to take the order, you want to do the money transaction, you want to start the espresso, and you want to start the milk steaming. Then you look up the recipe because you got 60 seconds right there. There’s just these scenarios and tell you step back and see where the log jam. Each of our new staff was taking an extra 2 to 3 minutes per beverage because they’d start by looking up the recipe. Not necessary, they had to know what order to put it in. Another thing we did is put together trial baskets where we grab stuff from all over the store and we put them into a cart from all the different kind of ring up things that we have. When you’re running a small business it’s not like Wal-Mart where everything just scans. Even with Wal-Mart we all know about the self-checkouts now, it’s not as easy as it looks, right? But when you’re in a small store you got all kinds of different codes and different things that are going through the till. And doing these child baskets and these test cards with the staff really increase both accuracy as well as speed in just a couple of carts. It doesn’t take very long to really make a huge difference in the speed and the accuracy of a checkout.

OWEN: Yes, I think another you mentioned during the pre-interview is how you ensured that you were able to train the old people and the new people together. Let’s talk about that.

MARNIE: Absolutely. If you can do it, this is the best way to train.

OWEN: Why?

MARNIE: Because you’ve got this older person… Maybe not even older, but the senior employee there. Maybe it’s a younger person but they’ve just been there longer, doing it longer. They already know all the tricks they know, everything. But maybe more importantly, the newer employee has the opportunity to look at what they’re going to become. Because when you come in to a new business you have to change your perspective of who you are. I used to work at the gas station, now I work at this place. You have to change who you are. And this older or more senior employee can really help to take you to that next level of who you are, and to raise the bar. So one of the things that we do at the restaurant all the time is we help each other. So somebody’s making a pizza, somebody else pulls the wrapper, pulls the baking sheets or whatever. You just help each other. And having this other person there with you to model the behaviors that are going to be expected of you, that’s such a better way to train somebody than to have them sit in front of screen.

OWEN: You also mentioned something about… Talk about the system where you have a piece of paper and a name…


OWEN: Yes, talk about that.

MARNIE: What we did in the store is we have a tester and the testee. The tester has about the first half of the page is what they do. Then the second  half of the page is what the testee does. The whole page is about checking things out through the register and knowing where things are located in the store. The tester actually takes an empty cart and they have a list on the top half of the page, they have a list of item types that they have to collect. And they have to collect these from all over the store which is 12,000 square feet. So we give about 20 minutes to do their part of it. They collect everything, all of these different types of items they bring it up to the front and they run a test tape. At that point they pull in the testee, and they’re just assigned these randomly. It’s not like they can pick who they’re going to get this week or this month, it just comes up. Then the testee comes and they have to run it through as quickly as possible. They have to have it accurate within a dollar, and these orders are going to ring up too. A couple of hundred dollars, whatever they have to be within a dollar. And they have to have it done in less than 7 minutes. After they’re done doing that successfully, and some honestly, the first cart people do, sometimes they’re off a $100 on a $250 order, it’s terrifying. If you don’t have something like this in place in your business you have to set it up where you have a way to actually test people under pressure, under the gun, because that’s how they’re going to be with every customer. After that you send them back out, and then they have 30 minutes to find every place that they got that product from and put it back on the right peg. So, it’s hugely helpful in getting to know the store, getting to know the product, and getting to know how to ring it up properly.

OWEN: What I take from that is basically figure out the nature of your business and figure out test that you can initiate on the fly to test your employees to see how well they understand the different areas of the business that applies to them.

MARNIE: Right. And then there’s this extra step which you’re all about Owen, is how much of that training did I do personally, right? I came up with a piece of paper. That’s all I did from there, the staff does it. They’re either the tester or the testee today, they do it. They just put it in my box. I just look at the times. They just write down how long it took them and how close their till tape was. It’s something that can be perpetuated over and over again. Once a month they can run through this drill and they can see how they’re improving, how they’re getting to know the store better, it makes them feel great. I’m not standing over anybody, cracking a whip or… It basically autopilots, and that’s what we’re talking about here.

OWEN: Yes. And what specific systems do you now have in your business that allows it to run without you? So I think we can talk about the specific details of the three pronged bonus system.

MARNIE: That was what my husband had put in place when he found out how much strain I was under trying to run this restaurant from home, because we had done the remodeling, we had employees who are trained. So why was I needed over there so much?

OWEN: I’m trying to understand his own background as to how he figured out this system he came up with.

MARNIE: Dave’s background?

OWEN: Yes. I think you mentioned something about him being in management or something like that?

MARNIE: Right. He has a master’s degree in human relations.

OWEN: Okay.

MARNIE: And he’s quite a thinker. He’s always thinking all the time. So he has these ideas, but he knows that from human relation side in business, one of the ways to motivate people is to pay them for actual productivity. Instead of just… You get a check, if you’re doing at least adequate work you get a check at the end of the day or the week for the hours that you worked. But if you put bonuses that are attached to actual performance it changes behavior. What happened was one of three-pronged bonus. The first one was 6%. Actually that wasn’t  the first one, that was the third one, the send Marnie home bonus. And these still are in place right now 12 years later. The second one was 6%. It was called cost of goods. The percentage that we needed to have the cost goods compared to sales, that was one bonus that they got if we could hit that. Of course, it’s different every month depending on the season. Obviously, Christmas is busier, like that. The other one was daily sales. Just straight up daily sales compared to other years of this month. So if they could beat the daily sales averages for that month then they could get a bonus.

OWEN: So the three of them, then send Marnie home meaning that if you’re not there…

MARNIE: Right. I shouldn’t have to cover your hours. If you told me you could work those hours… And this is another thing that I do Owen, is that before the month begins they can turn in a piece of paper that has X’s on it that says, if possible, I’m going to be out of town that weekend, or this what I like off. Then I build the schedule around that. As much as possible honor those day off requests. If they didn’t cross it off then they’re accountable for that day. If they called me and I have to work then that’s where the bonus disappears. If they find somebody else to cover for them if something comes up then they still get the bonus.

OWEN: You also mentioned during the pre-interview that part of the specific systems in your business is you have established routines or standards for all repetitive functions or processes. Let’s talk about that.

MARNIE: Okay. Let’s talk about both restaurants. We have a coffee shop in the retail store as well as the restaurant, that’s at a separate location. Both of those restaurants  use a.m. and p.m. check off reports. It’s multiple pages, it’s 3 pages long of line items, probably about 25 items per page that you have to go through in the morning and in the afternoon to run this restaurant efficiently. And so the manager or the team leader that’s on that day for that shift takes it around. At our restaurant we’ve got, I’m thinking 8 or 12, I can’t remember. That’s a lot of refrigeration units. At the morning shift and the afternoon shift we always track what temperature all of the units are at so we know if something’s starting to fluctuate or be problematic. We also check all the supplies so that we know that we’re not going to get in the middle of a rush or firestorm, and we’re not going to run out of something. It doesn’t happen at our restaurants. We don’t have that happen because we are so prepared for everything. But this is not something that I have to call and say, “Did anybody check the temperatures today?” This all just automated, everybody just knows that when you come on shift and you’re the team leader that’s the first thing you do is to go through that list.

OWEN: I’m assuming that based on their role and position you kind of create a checklist. As they go through that checklist and checking off their stuff of what they got to, they’re essentially doing what they’re supposed to do for that day based on their role, right?

MARNIE: Exactly.

OWEN: Okay, I get that. You also mentioned that you have a Google shared document for online scheduling and project management, talk about that.

MARNIE: That has really helped. With the Google share docs you can share documents. In fact you and I are sharing a document right now. You can share a document with anybody, anywhere, anytime, as long as you have access to a computer, which is such a beautiful thing. We use that at the store specially for the daily projects. When I have a project that needs to get done, I just enter it into the shared Google doc, and we use and Excel format for that. I think they call it a database in the Google Docs. Every column has its own title at the top. Some of the titles, like the date that it was added, the due date, who’s responsible for it. Sometimes not who’s responsible but who knows how to do it. I’ve told someone here’s what I want and then instead of writing out e every detail I just say, go talk to Michelle or something like that. Whether we have zones. Is it in the front of the store, the back of the store, so that we know who might be able to tackle it, because that depends on which location they’re working in on that day. Also, we have an ETA, estimated time of attainment. At a retail store at a restaurant, in any business you would say that your ETA’s are always going to be uninterrupted times and then you allow for the interruptions. For example at the retail store, if I’m working in the front till, one day I timed because I was frustrated I was like I can’t hardly get anything done except just run the till. I timed it and it was never longer than 3 minutes between customer checkout. I had all these projects I was supposed to do but I also had to check everybody out. So you just have to know, “Estimated time of attainment is uninterrupted.” All we have to do is we just have to look at the daily till, what the total amount was for that person that was checking people out. Either they could get their work done or they couldn’t the other work done, based how much checking out they did. So the Google shared docs has really helped us to have a good handle on who’s getting work done, who’s just standing around between customers, and it tells them exactly what to do.

OWEN: You also mentioned that you have a shared daily log, what is that?

MARNIE: We use a program called, SuperSaas is actually the name of a programming language it’s Saas. What we do on that one is we have these schedules. For instance upstairs at our retail store we have a 4,000 square foot glow-in-the-dark mini golf course in the upstairs of our building, as well as a party room and a Wii room up there. We sometimes book birthday parties for that. Especially on weekends we have dance that goes on up there during the week. We have this calendar that shows what’s going on on that day so that when the employees walk into the door they clock in and then they open the shared daily log. They can see exactly what’s coming at them. They can know, “We got to have 30 balloons blown up by 10 o’clock, or we’ve got a party coming at 2 o’clock.” We have whatever’s going on that day. That is also the point where we actually put the link to the shared Google doc so that there’s a [Unintelligible 00:28:56] anything else to open up. You’re just looking at the daily log, then you go over and see what projects you’re going to do today.

OWEN: I’m looking at it like business is made up of different parts. On one end, I want to imagine there’s a conveyor belt flowing through your business. On one end you have this customer who is probably hungry and wants to go to the restaurant. On the other end, that same customer is satisfied and raving about your business. I want you to walk the listener through the different parts of your business and how they’re interacting to deliver that result that they’re looking for.

MARNIE: I think the first one before you even walk in the door, I think it’s really important to understand what they’re thinking before they walk in the door. What do they see first outside the door. That’s why, like a yard that’s full of overgrown weeds. Instead now ours is very carefully manicured. We also have flowers along the side of the building in the summer. What are they seeing before they get to the door, and even as they get to the door, has the door handle been cleaned, is the door itself clean, or do they right away get the scary feeling of, “I’m not sure what kind of food I’m going to get here.” You want to really want to set the tone for the whole thing even before they open the door. Once they’re in the door they need to be greeted very quickly with a “Hello, we’ll be right with you” or “Come on in. Here’s the daily specials” or whatever you’ve got going on there. When they come in a personal greeting. I always teach my staff to do eye contact for about 2 to 3 seconds. Owen, this is so important for staff. A lot of times you hire this person and they’re not really comfortable with looking people in the eye or smiling. And I would always say, “Let’s just practice right now. You and me look here. Hold me eye contact now.” Then we hold it past 3 and I go 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. At 8 seconds I say, “Okay, now, if I was a guy and you were a girl, right now we would know that we had something going on.” So, you don’t want to hold eye contact past 2 or 3 seconds. But 2 or 3 seconds really is a wonderful amount of time to actually have eye contact with a person and let them know that I see you. You are an individual. I care about you. If you’ll just take those 2 or 3 seconds it’ll make the difference in somebody’s day. It’s amazing how few people get eye contact and a smile in their day. Once they get that then they come to the counter. Ours is a 100% take out in the restaurant. It’s a 100% take out. We have picnic tables outside in the summer but otherwise it’s all take out. So come to the counter. Then we help them to decide. We have the overhead menu like you see at many fast-food restaurants. But also if people have a hard time, if you can see they’re struggling a little bit we also have the handheld menu ready to hand to them right then. We take the order and we review the order with them right there to make sure that we have it correct. Then it goes back to the cook. It goes to the cook process. At the cooks counter we have 3 double checks to make sure… The statistic for fast food is horrible. The national average is that 25% of drive through fast-food orders are incorrect.

OWEN: Tell me about it. My Dunkin’ Donuts.

MARNIE: Yeah, right? How hard can it be? But you know what, it is really hard. So we actually have 3 measures in place to make sure that people get the right food quickly. First of all, the cook when they take the ticket out they look at the order and they start to make it. As they’re making it they’re just making sure that they’re getting exactly what the customer wanted. We do a lot of custom. So then when they are packaging it up they actually…

OWEN: How are they making sure that the customer’s getting what they want, I’m curious.

MARNIE: Because everything is customizable. So at our till we’re able to change everything up. For example, Mega Super Soft-shell that comes with double meat and double cheese, beans and rice, and up to 10 vegetables. So how do they want it? Maybe they only wanted 3 vegetables, maybe they wanted double, or 2 vegetables and none of the other. Our till is able to just do all that right there, which is why we always go through and confirm the order before we send it back to the cook. It’s just exactly how you want it, okay? Then the other thing is, this brings up a good point Owen. We train to specifications. Most new restaurant employees come in wanting to make the food the way they like it, and that is just death to a restaurant. You can never allow employees to make the food the way they like it. You must have everybody making it to spec, to a specific recipe, exact measurements, right down to the ounce. Because otherwise the customer really loved it last time, they come back this time they get a totally different item. They can’t keep doing that because it’s money, it’s time, they don’t like it as much and they won’t be back. You have to [Unintelligible 00:33:52] the way that it is all the time. Then, it enables the customer to say more or less of whatever the next time.

OWEN: I think the cook, they check three times…

MARNIE: It comes back, they check it, and then they make it. As they’re walking over to the counter they’re reviewing it in their hand, they’re making sure that they have this order correctly. Then, as they pass it to the customer they don’t say number 32. They say, “Here is the…” And they actually go through it again with the special items on it. Because so many times, and this doesn’t happen… It maybe happens once every 3 or 4 days but it’s often enough. Many times a person at the pick-up counter will say, “Oh no, I didn’t say add tomatoes, I said I didn’t want tomatoes. We immediately say, “I’m so glad we caught that. Let me just go make it for you right now. We’ll get it right.” At every point in the process we communicate that our entire goal is to get their order perfect.

OWEN: Okay. Now they got the food and now they get what they want. I’m curious too because creating systems as you know is challenging. What challenges did you experience when you initially try to create some of these systems and probably how did you solve them?

MARNIE: I suppose my first challenge was that I really felt like whenever there was failure was because they were being stubborn. Isn’t that terrible? But that was really my first challenge. I had to come to understand that usually when people were failing to do it properly there were other reasons besides them being stubborn. One of them was that the process was just too difficult to do. They could maybe do it a couple of times correctly for a test, but then to do it everytime correctly it was just too hard. Sometimes they didn’t have training, they just didn’t remember how to do it correctly, they needed more training. The maybe needed more instructions so the instructions were in their head but not there where they can look at them. There were all kinds of things that were difficult.

OWEN: You mentioned during the pre-interview that number 1 challenge is that change was always difficult. Let’s talk about that and how you work around that.

MARNIE: Change is so difficult for people. We have to communicate it in a way that allows them to get past their change resistance. So applying some kind of a bonus or help to get them past that. One of the things we like to do is I like to hire competitors, people who are naturally competitive.

OWEN: Wow.

MARNIE: What they do is they become competitive with themselves. So if they could make pizza in 67 seconds last time they want to get it down to 65 or 60. They compete with themselves and we have impromptu Olympics along the way. But one of the things we did is whenever they break the all-time day record, or the all-time evening shift record, or the all-time overall day record, everybody on that shift gets a little bonus, a little reward for that. So they’re watching the till all day. These are super days. They’re flying and they’re working so hard. If somebody’s over there checking the till we’re within 300, or we’re getting close or whatever. They’re watching the till because when they beat a record what they get Owen is they get a bottle of pop. That’s their full reward but it isn’t even about the bottle of pop, it’s about breaking the record. They just love to break records, they love to break their own, they love to break each other’s, and they work together to make it really great. That’s one great way to help be better is actually incentivize them.

OWEN: Regarding challenges you also mentioned during the pre-interview something about if it’s an individual process and you’re trying to go for 800%. But if you’re trying to introduce multiple changes at the same time don’t do it all at once. Can you speak to that and explain why you said that?

MARNIE: I think one of the biggest mistakes that I’ve made and I see a lot of managers make is to try to do too much at once, too much change at once. People really can’t remember at all. So you have to do slower processes where if you’re going to make one change, great. Just go for it and really make the change. But if you’ve got 6 changes to make you better back off and either make one at a time, or maybe introduce one a day for 6 days, or something like that. Or say this is the one we’re going to do this month and then next month we’ll tackle the next one. But just giving people a heads up, lots of changes coming, and you’re going to get them through it, they’re going to learn it and it’s going to be good. Those are all really important, instead of just dumping a bunch of change on people and walking away.

OWEN: You mentioned dealing with the challenges. You said something about getting very clear on your expectations and having a way to track what you’re doing, or track it for them. Talk about that.

MARNIE: Right, because anything you don’t track is not going to happen. Let’s just go back to the scenario we’re talking about. You’re trying to run a business without being there 24/7, 365. You won’t to have it at least somewhat automated and the reality is if you say do this and you never follow up, they’ll maybe do it once, or twice, or 10 times but it will fall away unless there’s some way for you to actually hold them accountable to it. Anytime that you see that something you’ve instructed is not getting done anymore but you know you told them to do it, then you just got to go, fill your feedback. You have to say, “Okay, this isn’t working.” For some reason either it’s too hard or they forgot that I told them to do it. They got too busy, whatever. You have to understand that for some reason failures, feedback, don’t get mad, don’t blame, just say “What am I going to do to fix it.” You have to come up with a way to track it.

OWEN: Given all these challenges, how did you stay committed to the direction of systematizing your business?

MARNIE: Well, I guess for me because we have 3 businesses I don’t have any choice. I have to be committed to it or I’ll just drown. Either my staff is going to do the work of the business or the business is going to go under because they simply can’t be three places at once. That’s beautiful for everybody listening who thinks they have to do it all. You don’t have to do it all, you can train people to do it. But you do have to set-up systems that are going to hold them accountable to get it done.

OWEN: Yes, we might have talked about this already. Basically, you might have to expand on some of the points. I’m curious, what are the systems that you have in place that literally suddenly enables your employees to know exactly what they need to do as part of their role?

MARNIE: We use the SuperSaas systems from both locations so that from my home office I can go ahead and add any project to either business at any time. When they log on they can just see exactly what I expect of them over and above customer service today, or over and above their daily chores of that day. If a certain day of the week they always do certain things, that’s actually on the chart at the store and they know that this is the day that they do that. But if it’s something in addition to that, definitely the SuperSaas… There has to be a way the shared Google Doc that you link to from our daily log. There has to be a way for you to actually communicate it, and for them to day, I got 30% done, or I got rows 1 through 19 done, you have to have a way for them to identify if they got it done and who did what. Because otherwise what you’ll find is just like in any family. You’ll have the passive child who will just end up doing all the work and the other more tough people that work for you, they just boss the little ones around and you can’t have that. You want them to sign off so you can see who’s actually doing the work.

OWEN: I’m curious too, how do you document procedures and processes that you have in the business. What tools are you even using for that?

MARNIE: Because we’re individual business which is probably most of the people listening to me aren’t like a franchiser, whatever, we do just have regular typed up manuals. Obviously you could get out of the computer too or whatever, but we just have a lot of things typed up in 3 ring binders, that’s most of the way that you’ll find the documentation for our business.

OWEN: Awesome. So how do you track and verify the results that the employees are delivering?

MARNIE: Well, self-scoring of course. They say I did it. Then usually we have a team leader on premise…

OWEN: I guess it’s best to answer that question based on the business, maybe at the store and also at the restaurant, that way it’s clearer.

MARNIE: On that chart of projects they have to actually self-score, they have to actually write down I did it and put their initials. If they didn’t do it they don’t put their initials. Then there’s the supervisor that can identify if they actually did it or not. That’s the main way for both places.

OWEN: Okay. What was the thing you mentioned about 3 measurables, daily sales, constant sales, and send many…

MARNIE: Yes, that’s the same as the bonus.

OWEN: Okay.

MARNIE: If you can tie all these together so there’s less for them to remember that’s perfect. Your goal is simplicity as far as you can.

OWEN: Okay, I get it.

MARNIE: I heard somebody’s new model the other day was complexity made simple. That’s what we have to go for, that’s what Google did. I love the Google homepage. There is not a more complex site on the web than Google as far as what it actually accomplishes in the back to give you the results. But when you go to their page it’s so clean and simple, and you just feel so much room to relax there. That’s how we’re supposed to make it.

OWEN: What I’m getting from that is if you’re coming up with a way to track what your staff is doing for you make the tracking process very easy to understand. And also very easy for them to implement and send in the data. That way it’s simple. Keep it simple basically.

MARNIE: I think that would be one of your first feedbacks, is if it’s too complex it’s not going to happen.

OWEN: Since you have a business that runs without you, I’m curious, what’s been the longest time you’ve been away?

MARNIE: For sure 3 weeks. I think we actually went for 6 weeks one time but I can’t confirm that on my calendar. But I know for 3 weeks at a time is not unusual at all. I do speaking trips and do media, and we do buyer shows, and of course family vacations. So we do actually leave quite  a bit.

OWEN: Awesome. How would you say the company has been transformed as a result of you systematizing the business?

MARNIE: I think definitely the biggest advantage is that the more people you have directly involved in the idea generation, in the actual running of the company, the better the company’s going to run. There’s a greater level of ownership when you’re not there all the time actually. The employees begin to feel like they’re kind of owners of the business. That’s a huge bonus.

OWEN: Wow. How will you say your personal life has been transformed as a result of systematizing the business?

MARNIE: I was thinking about Tim Ferriss and his book 4-Hour Workweek. Are you familiar with Tim Ferriss.

OWEN: I’m just messing with you, of course.

MARNIE: I was going to say you’ve got to… It’s kind of little tongue and cheek because Tim Ferriss is probably one of the hardest workers that I’ve ever come across. He actually just loves to work. I think that’s me too. Definitely freeing up time from one business does not give me time to sit and read more novels because that’s just what I wasn’t… I wasn’t going to do that. But it does give me time to pursue my dreams. That’s what’s really the most important thing. If reading novels were my dream, well then, that’s what I’d be doing.

OWEN: I guess not having to bogged down and tied into the business as much, now with being free from that as much, what areas of the business do you know focus on and why?

MARNIE: If you picture a spinning top, the bulk of the weight of top is in the very center, right? So there’s the point that’s down on the ground or on the paper. Then there’s center of top, and then there’s the top part that spins it and that’s very small also. I really feel my part is that stem down the center of the top. I am the part that keeps that top actually centered. Then from there it spins. So definitely to keep track of the direction, the overall global premises of why we’re here, why we exist, what our standards are, how we treat people, all that kind of stuff. That all is still on my player.

OWEN: Awesome. What will you say is the very next step that someone who’s been listening to this interview all the way to this point has to take in order to get their business moving in the right direction towards the point where it can run without them?

MARNIE: I think you would look at what are the logjams that require your attention. Then you have to get those unclogged up and flowing smoothly. It becomes pretty easy. It’s like back to when I was a restaurant owner and manager. They call me and I’d just drop everything and run, and not really think it through.

OWEN: Yeah.

MARNIE: If you’re really trying to get your business on autopilot it’s time for you to start paying very close attention to what is sucking the life out of you and get that fixed. But first you have to identify that that’s what it’s doing. It’s not necessary that it’s doing it, but sometimes you don’t step back long enough to see that.

OWEN: Yeah. What’s the best way for the listener to connect with you and thank you for doing the interview?

MARNIE: Just go over to, all kinds of great stuff there. Lots of free stuff there to help you manage your time better. I love time management. One of my mottos is B.U.S.Y., best unique strategies for you, so that you can get out from under the stress that comes along with most things in life.

OWEN: I’m wondering too. Because this way of thinking of systematizing your business and getting it all in a sufficient way it can run with your employees doing stuff and also make use of tools. And not really requiring you up there all the time. I’m curious, what books have influenced you in this way of thinking?

MARNIE: My favorite one is the bible, and there’s so much management instruction in there. Everything you can imagine. Laurie Beth Jones wrote a book called The Path which is a wonderful book that really can help you identify your strengths and where you need to bring people around you to help you. Of course I mentioned 4-Hour Workweek, I wish I would have written that book because it’s really good. Another book that I really like is called Leading With a Limp by Dan Allender, and it’s just talking about how all of us our broken. None of us are 100% fully functional and proficient at every last skill set. We’re all just coming with our own strengths and weaknesses. And as soon as we can recognize that then we’re ready to bring a team around us that can really complement us where we can really be helpful to the business, and helpful to us as individuals.

OWEN: Awesome. Rounding up, is there a question that you wish I asked you during the interview that I didn’t ask. And if so, post the question and the answer.

MARNIE: I asked a question to my staff. Last week I was doing a training with some of my team and I said I want you put yourself in my shoes for just a moment as the owner of this business. I want you to tell me which of these four categories are more important. Number 1, is the customer the most important? Number 2, are vendors the most important? Number 3, are the owners the most important? Number 4, are the employees the most important?

OWEN: Yeah.

MARNIE: They all sat and they looked at me. And I said, “Good, it was a trick question. Yes, they’re all the most important. You can’t have a business without customers, vendors, owners, and employees. You’ve got to have them all and they have to be balanced.” And back to that top illustration you have to keep it in balance, and that as an owner, that as the manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure that the top spins. If you do that it’ll all work out.

OWEN: Awesome. Now, I’m speaking to you the listener. If you’ve listened to this interview all the way to this point and you’ve enjoyed it, I want you to do us a favor, I want you to go ahead and leave us a rating on iTunes if you’re using an iPhone. And to do that you go to If you’re using an Android and listening to this interview via the Stitcher app you can leave us a feedback by going to Why do you want to leave a review? The reason is when you leave reviews other people will read you reviews, and by reading them they’re like, why do you go and leave a review on this podcast. They will check it out. That brings more eyeballs and listeners to us. That inspires us to go out there and get more entrepreneurs like Marnie who’s going to come on here and discuss how they were able to systemize their business so it runs without them. Finally, if you’re at that point in your business where you’re tired of being the bottleneck and you literally want to get things out of your head. And literally show your employees step by step how you get tasks done so they can get it done with you, well, sign up for a free 14-day trial of SweetProcess. Marnie, thanks for doing the interview. We’re done.

MARNIE: Thank you Owen.


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