Executive Spotlight: Ryan Staver


September 14, 2018

Executive Spotlight: Ryan Staver, Senior Manager of Supply Chain, Tropical Smoothie CaféRachel Manthei, 2nd year MBA Student, TCU Neeley School of Business, conducted the interview.

Rachel Manthei: Can you tell me about your background and how you got to your position as Senior Manager of Supply Chain at Tropical Smoothie Café?

Ryan Staver: I studied at the University of South Carolina, with a major in finance, graduating in 2009. My graduation happened to be in the middle of the financial crisis, and it was tough to find a job in that industry. I began applying for entry-level positions in logistics and supply chain operations and found a small company in Atlanta that was a food manufacturer and that’s how I got my start in supply chain. After working there for three years, I followed my manager to Floor & Décor, a retail hard surface flooring company, with corporate offices in Atlanta. My role at F&D covered many facets of the supply chain including: domestic and international transportation, customs, procurement, supplier compliance, supply chain IT systems and vendor management.  After 5 years with F&D, I was approached with the opportunity to build and develop the distribution for Tropical Smoothie, and I jumped at the opportunity!

RM: That’s really an interesting background. I have two different questions for you. First, with your background in finance, but also with the work you did with IT, how have those two different functions helped you in your supply chain roles? How integrated do you think the functions are?

RS: Yeah, I’d say nowadays everything is uber integrated.  On a daily basis, I use my IT and finance experience to get the job done.  Whether its developing a forecast for a supplier to build our products into their production schedule or doing yield studies to develop our food costs, I am constantly leveraging both these skillsets to successfully perform my role.

RM: Obviously the finance side is very important, because you can’t give a recommendation without saying what the financial implications are. And of course, now IT is so important, but it is interesting to see how you didn’t follow the traditional education program for IT, but learned those skills in other roles to use them now. In talking about technology, can you talk at all about new technologies Tropical Smoothie is adopting in supply chain, and what the benefit and challenges of those are?

RS: Currently Tropical Smoothie Café (TSC) is upgrading the systems franchisees use on a daily basis to perform their jobs and giving corporate better visibility into their performance. We are improving the level of visibility into the café’s inventory hoping to provide franchisees with better Limited Time Offer (LTO) management and food costs.  We will use this data to improve inventory, ordering and much more.  Also, we are looking at the way we have historically accounted for food costs and improving that approach through the use of better systems and processes.  We hope that by leveraging better systems it will turn data into information to make better decisions, leading to increased profitability.

RM: Right. Would you say that these changes, and upgrading the POS system and what happens on the backend too, is a challenging process because of process changes that have to occur, because of the technology, or what?

RS: No, I wouldn’t say it’s process changes. When you engage all the different system vendors, if you select the right solution, then there shouldn’t be a whole lot of process change. Nowadays, there are so many different vendors and solutions, you should be able to find a solution that will not require a lot of changes for franchisees. Where a lot of the work will take place is anytime you are implementing a solution correctly, you have to do the work on the front-end. Your IT team must select the right vendor, go through a full vetting process and ask the right questions. Then, contracts will occur, which takes time. Once that has been agreed upon, you then must design the systems. This requires the IT folks sitting with supply chain, finance, and operations, learning everyone’s different processes and making sure systems are configured correctly to run within those processes. And then you have to test it. No matter how well it is designed, there will still be bugs in the system that need to be tested before it is rolled-out, which takes the bulk of the time. During user-acceptance testing, you create test-cases and run them, run into errors, report to IT, and get the problem fixed. You continue doing it until you break the system, hoping to break it before it is rolled out to the end-user. Next, you go through a pilot, choosing a portion of cafes that you want to roll it out to. No matter how well you tested the system, they will do something to it that you didn’t foresee them using it for. IT will then fix the problem. A schedule will then be put together to roll the system out to all of the franchisees. It is quite an undertaking, it takes a whole lot of people from every department to get it done correctly.

RM: Thank you for explaining that whole process so well!

RS: Of course. I’ve been through several implementations, so I know they’re a lot of work.

RM: Yes, definitely. Can you talk a bit about your specific role at Tropical Smoothie Cafe? What does an average day look like for you?

RS: Working for a brand like TSC is exciting and intriguing to me because while I have my day-to-day duties and responsibilities, you also get exposure to many facets of the business you may not experience with a more mature brand.  My role at TSC is to manage inventory and distribution, our 700 cafes are fulfilled out of 36 broadline distribution centers across the country.  It is my job to make sure those 36 distribution centers are carrying the right product for our cafes to fulfill the customers’ demand.  

RM: That’s a lot happening from the supplier to the café, with a lot of different roles and relationships that you are having on any given day. If you could give advice to young professionals looking to get into the foodservice supply chain industry, what three skills would you advise them to develop?

RS: Sure. I would say one that is specific to my role and the inventory management piece, on an hourly basis throughout the day, I am constantly using the Microsoft Suite tools: Microsoft Access, Excel, and other tools like Tableau. In my role, you have to have the ability to consume data and turn it into actionable information. There are more mature organizations that have ERP systems that can do a lot of that for you, but even in those ERP systems, a lot of times they need analysts and folks to export the data and work the data in those Microsoft tools to turn it into information. Turn data into information and make good decisions!

The other skill is communication.  95% of the issues I deal with can all be traced back to a breakdown in communication.  There will always be disruptions in the supply chain, but the person who is able to communicate the problem effectively and come to a solution is an invaluable resource for any company. 

RM: Those are two great skills, across industries and roles, to develop. Thank you so much for talking this afternoon.