In March 2020, MD Restaurant Group was getting ready to close on a major loan, opening a 10th Culver’s restaurant and actively looking to replace its QuickBooks accounting software with an ERP system.
That could have been enough to get anyone in the weeds. Then, the pandemic and resultant shutdowns hit, and Tim Banks, vice president of operations, suddenly found himself stepping into a highly unexpected role.
“I was the datacenter — in my house,” said Banks, who leads finance and operations for the Schaumberg, Illinois-based group that manages 10 of the award-winning quick serve restaurants. “I literally packed up the desktop computers, took them to my house, set them up on the Internet and turned my house into an Internet farm for everyone to connect to. That was another push to move to a cloud-based software pretty fast.”
When you hear about the pandemic pushing technology projects already in motion into hyper-speed, MD Restaurant Group serves up a prime example of how businesses rose to the challenge — launching NetSuite in the spring of 2020 in just a month.
Impressive Growth for Midwestern Favorite
Before the pandemic, the company had already achieved growth targets at a rate that warranted a much more robust accounting system than QuickBooks could provide. Charles Martin opened his first Culver’s — a midwestern-born chain that consistently earns a top spot as one of America’s favorite quick serve chains — in 2004 in northeastern Illinois. With more than 700 franchise restauratns, Culver’s is famed for its ButterBurgers, frozen custard and family-like hospitality. Success with his franchises eventually led Martin to partner with fellow franchisee Tim DiVerde to launch MD Restaurant Group. In 15 years, the restaurant management group has opened 10 Culver’s restaurants, hired 370 people and boasts of annual revenue of $25 million.
Banks joined in 2009, and several years ago led a successful project to rationalize the company’s HR processes and systems. In late 2019, management felt it was time to do the same for financial processes.
To run the business as one financial entity, loans held separately by each restaurant were consolidated under a single loan and bank. But with 15 different QuickBooks instances, providing the consolidated financial reports the bank would require on a regular basis was a huge task. Each restaurant had slight differences in its chart of accounts. The company owned the real estate for eight of the restaurants with a separate entity managing it all. Anytime Banks needed to run a report for those 19 different entities (10 restaurants, eight properties and one property management company), he would have to run 19 different reports in QuickBooks and build a spreadsheet to collate them. He’d inevitably find something didn’t line up and would have to make that correction and start that entire process all over again.
“Just the idea of running a consolidated report was something I didn’t do unless I absolutely had to,” he said.
Ability to customize key to quick go-live
Between the living room datacenter and a tight timeline to meet the bank’s financial reporting requirements, management knew a cloud-based system was a must. Their choice came down to NetSuite and Sage Intacct. The dashboard in NetSuite was much more dynamic and customizable, Banks said, and bank reconciliation functionality more mature. Banks knew he could configure NetSuite’s reporting functionality to the unique processes and specific language of the business, quickly. This would facilitate user adoption, while still allowing the business to draw on NetSuite’s out-of-the box finance functionality, both of which would help move the implementation at the aggressive speed demanded.
NetSuite Professional Services team “jumped through hoops” to help Banks and the team go-live in the spring of 2020, he said. This included prebuilt templates and best practices through SuiteSuccess, NetSuite’s implementation and engagement methodology, along with robust tools to support data migration. Banks could rely on quick answers dug from the decades of restaurant industry experience on the NetSuite team for any question he had, as well as strong support from the training organization to quickly onboard users, so that things could move at lightning speed.
“(NetSuite has) a good team in the restaurant world,” he said. “I’m still able to reach out and get an answer very quickly on a question I have.”
New things on the (finance) menu
Now, the finance department’s days are no longer consumed with manually pulling, collating, comparing and correcting different P&L statements from different entities to accomplish a month-end close, and that kind of efficiency moves the team to look at things they wouldn’t otherwise. In the past, for instance, year-end budgeting across the restaurants was done in an isolated way, Banks said. Now, the business can see what the average is across all restaurants for more data-based and consistent budgeting processes. What’s more, finance can regularly run reports on restaurants of comparable size or volume of business, to dig into things like differences in food usage as a percentage of sales, or differences in labor costs. Being able to see the data in this way helps them to establish best practices.
“Suddenly, I’m looking at the whole picture and I would never have done that before,” Banks said.
MD Restaurant Group aims to open two new restaurants every year. The ability to flexibly view and consume data, as well as access to a vast NetSuite community of people and solutions, will support this business strategy.
“That’s the part that excites me the most, I’ll just be able to keep tinkering with this for a long time to come,” Banks said.