Case Study

If You Run Your Country’s Largest Retail Franchise, How Do You Pull Together, in Sync?

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Tired of failing email systems, ACDC Express, South Africa’s largest electrical retail franchise, switched to G Suite. The move created a highly stable, responsive communications platform, which pulls its expanding network together. It has eliminated email downtime, engendered cross-company assessments on dashboards thank to Google Data Studio, enabled faster sharing of ideas and techniques with Google Drive, and ensure that the administration teams are now twice as effective.

In 1984, Mario Maio set up a small business manufacturing electrical transformers in his Johannesburg garage. Over the next two decades, the ACDC Dynamics company he created came to dominate manufacturing, import, and distribution in South Africa’s electrical goods sector. Then, in 2007, Mario’s son, Ricardo Maio, founded a retail arm to the business, ACDC Express. Today ACDC Express is South Africa’s largest electrical retail franchise, with 29 franchise stores across the country. Eight of those franchises joined in 2017 alone, and ACDC Express is experiencing quarter-on-quarter growth of 28% per year.

Rapid expansion increases the demands on the ACDC Express central administration, which provides each franchise with IT support and a full suite of marketing, operational, and bookkeeping functions. So when email server downtime became a frequent problem, Ricardo and his team chose G Suite to transform the way the franchise worked.

“We lost revenue when our email servers went down. When I researched Google’s SLA of 99.9% uptime and experimented with G Suite on my private Gmail account, I could see the difference this technology could create.”

Ricardo Maio, CEO, ACDC Express

“On consecutive occasions, our entire email server went down,” says Ricardo Maio, CEO at ACDC Express. “It would take more than one or two days to bring it back up. We had already highlighted software cost overhead as a potential thing to reduce, so when that happened several times within a short period, we knew it was time to make a change.”

Building a better franchise

Franchise businesses undergoing rapid expansion must respond quickly to the demands of new stores. At ACDC Express, 33 staff run the national franchise, delivering core services and support to 29 franchises across the country. Key tasks, such as updating the operations manual, were hampered by a reliance on paper forms and mail services, while email servers experienced repeat failures, which compromised communication. By implementing new, cloud-based productivity tools, ACDC Express looked to cut down on slow and expensive practises, and deliver an agile, reliable online communications platform.

To do that, ACDC Express migrated its franchise to G Suite with Opennetworks. “We lost revenue when our email servers went down,” says Ricardo. “When I researched Google’s SLA of 99.9% uptime and experimented with G Suite on my private Gmail account, I could see the difference this technology could create.”

Since moving to Gmail, ACDC Express reports that the problem of email server downtime “is no longer existent for us,” while with Google Drive, versioning problems have been resolved. Using surveys on Google Forms, ACDC Express quickly and easily collects data from stores and customers—whether they are in stores or on the road—and populates Google Sheets with the information.

“Our operations manual is a binding document, and it’s a living document that gets regularly updated. In the past, we would struggle to track which franchise had which version. With Google Drive, we can be sure that everyone is looking at the right one.”

Ricardo Maio, CEO, ACDC Express

With Google Data Studio, the managing team then consolidates that data on dashboards, creating snapshots of performance, complete with averages and simple comparisons, which make it easy to spot issues and outliers in need of attention. Individual businesses that do require help are then contacted over Google Hangouts Meet to assess what they need, part of a culture of sharing expertise, which Ricardo sees as key to the franchise mode.

“As a franchise, sharing knowledge is as important as maintaining control,” he says. “If there’s a new procedure or system that worked in one store, we can immediately update our manuals and documentation so that everyone has access to it. That’s been fantastic.”

“Our operations manual is a binding document, and it’s a living document, which gets regularly updated,” says Ricardo. “In the past, we would struggle to track which franchise had which version, and every time we had to make a change we would print out a version and send it to stores through an unreliable postal service. With Google Drive, we can be sure that everyone is looking at the right one.”

Remote training, rapid migration

Rolling out new IT tools across a franchise is often expensive, demanding extensive travel and numerous training sessions, which often repeat the same material. Instead, ACDC Express set up training on Google Hangouts that staff could drop into at their convenience, creating a cost-effective training schedule, which meant individual stores could plan their own learning process.

“When we moved to G Suite, we did it all at once, with every employee changing at the same time. We took a band-aid approach, switching to the new tools as rapidly as possible. After six months of training, there have been no reported problems with G Suite at all.”

Ricardo Maio, CEO, ACDC Express

“The whole benefit of franchising is that you can learn from your peers,” says Ricardo. “When we moved to G Suite, we did it all at once, with every employee changing at the same time. We took a band-aid approach, switching to the new tools as rapidly as possible. After six months of training, there have been no reported problems with G Suite at all.”

More mobile, more reliable

Today, ACDC Express operates 240 Google accounts, and information from the franchises’ marketing systems, research, operations, and accounting is fed back automatically to Google Sheets and Google Dashboard at the headquarters in Edenvale, Gauteng. By Ricardo’s estimation, the administrative team is now so effective with G Suite tools, it can achieve twice as much as it could without them.

Now, ACDC Express is looking to use Google Chromebooks in a new web-based point-of-sale system, and considering moving its ERP onto Google Cloud Platform for greater stability, in another project with Opennetworks.

“We’ve developed an in-house point of sale system that’s web-based and can use a functional touchscreen,” adds Ricardo. “We’re looking at rolling that out with Google Chromebooks. We really like how straightforward and simple the Google Chrome devices are, and because we’ve taken a lot of infrastructure into the cloud, we no longer actually need physical machines on our counters. We can work anywhere. That’s something that applies from our head office right down to our smallest franchise store.”

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