When a Game-Changing Vendor Comes Along

The best ideas don't always crop up at a convenient time for your annual budget, but your association should have a plan for when a vendor comes up with an innovation so game-changing that you need it now. That’s a lesson the fast-food industry is learning at the moment.

Even if you’re not a fast-food connoisseur, you probably know that these chains rely on lots of machines. And machines break. Often.

One machine that’s famous for breaking down is the soft-serve ice cream maker at McDonald’s. A customer craving a McFlurry or hot fudge sundae has no clue that the machine is down until they get to the restaurant counter or drive-thru, ensuring disappointment and wasted time for the customer and a lost sale for the restaurant. It’s such a common problem that someone created an app that tells people when a specific restaurant has a broken ice cream machine.

Unless you run an association of fast-food franchise owners, you probably don’t have this exact problem, but you most assuredly have one like it—an imperfection in your infrastructure that, when it takes critical tools and processes down, can drive your staff and members nuts and cost your organization big time.

Naturally, it’s the perfect way for a vendor to make their mark. And fast food recently discovered its white knight.

Enter Kytch, a technology startup that built a device that effectively connects the constantly breaking soft-serve machines the internet of things. Add a little brick to the device and log in to the website, and suddenly you have in-depth knowledge of what needs to be replaced or fixed ahead of time—as well as what, specifically, is causing it to break. Additionally, the device can help avoid issues that can force the machines out of commission long beyond their normal heat-cleaning cycle, which already lasts for hours.

According to Business Insider [paywall], franchise owners at McDonald’s and Burger King have found the device essential in the nine months it’s been on the market.  “From our standpoint, it’s unbelievable the amount of safety it provides to us,” said Burger King franchisee CJ Timoney. “After not having it, it’s almost scary to think about having shake machines without these or soft-serve units without these devices.”

An association might run into a situation like this, where a new technology emerges that would affect your ROI so quickly that it’s worth breaking up your traditional budget cycle to purchase it right away.

Granted, you may feel like you’re getting pitched on “revolutionary” ideas constantly, and you’re left trying to figure out which one is for you. My suggestion is that you sit through some of these pitch meetings with an open mind, even if you’re not looking to buy. And more importantly, listen to what your staff is telling you about the pain points on the ground. Too often, those pain points might push staff toward “shadow IT” solutions if they feel you’re not taking their problems seriously. (And as I’ve written in the past, shadow IT is often a great way to uncover tools your employees actually want.)

It’s not exactly shadow IT, but the way that Kytch has quickly emerged as a preferred solution for fixing soft-serve machines likely is going to have Burger King and McDonald’s considering whether such a solution needs to be promoted chain-wide. A few years from now, Kytch might be selling a full menu of similar devices to its customers—devices that help figure out when a fryer needs its oil replaced or the conveyor belt needs a maintenance call.

If you had a vendor like that, wouldn’t you rather be an early adopter than a late one?

A recent startup has revolutionized the maintenance of soft-serve ice cream machines. (mustafagull/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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