This edition of Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine's Research Roundup features news on the appeal of the color red  at Valentine's Day from Baldor Specialty Foods, the best cities to open a restaurant from Bid on Equipment, restaurant loyalty and  top bagel loving cities.

The Appeal of Red Produce

The experts  at Baldor Specialty Foods noted the increase in sales of red produce in the two weeks leading up to Valentine's Day.  From pink dragon fruit to baby beets, to Radicchio Rosa, sales have shown to increase from 100- 300 percentin just two weeks leading up to this special day.

  • Sales on Radicchio Rosa Digorizia increased by 198 percent
  • Sales on Red baby beets increased by 159 percent( peeled increasing by 333 percentand unpeeled increasing by 152 percent)
  • Sales on Blood Oranges increased by 112 percent
  • Sales on Passion Fruit increased 103 percent
  • Sales on Red Grapefruit increased by 250 percent
  • Sales on Red Watercress increased by 156 percent
  • Sales on Red Romaine increased by 114 percent

Best Cities to Start a Restaurant 

The team at Bid on Equipment surveyed to find the best cities to start a restaurant. There are certainly plenty of factors to think about when it comes to opening a restaurant. Buying restaurant equipment, hiring staff, obtaining permits and marketing are only a handful of “to-dos” that aspiring restaurateurs must keep in mind before opening their doors to the public.

And perhaps the biggest factor of all is location, location, location.

So, what’s the best market to open up a restaurant? After ranking the best cities to start a restaurant, we were able to find out where restaurateurs can get the best return on their investment. To narrow down the list to the top 50, they analyzed four key factors across 236 cities including:

  • Annual restaurant sales per capita
  • Restaurants per capita
  • Number of restaurant industry workers per capita
  • Median income in each city

To learn more, read the infographic and click here

restaurant cities

Good News for Restaurants

Encouraging news keeps coming for restaurant operators. Same-store sales growth was 2.0 percent during January as the industry posted its eighth consecutive month of positive growth. January matched December’s growth; the best two months for the industry in more than three years based on same-store sales growth. These insights come from TDn2K’s Black Box Intelligence™ data, based on weekly sales from over 31,000 locations representing 170+ brands and nearly $72 billion in annual sales.

 “Winter months are tricky to report on due to the noise in the data coming from weather and the potential effect of holiday shifts,” said Victor Fernandez, vice president of insights and knowledge for TDn2K. “However, it is hard not to remain optimistic about the relative strength of restaurant performance, especially when looking at sales growth over a longer time period. January’s same-store sales growth compared with January 2017 was 1.3 percent. Industry two-year sales growth has now been positive for the past four months, after more than two years of declining growth.”

New Store Openings Continue To Hurt Same-Store Traffic

The bleak headlines continue when it comes to same-store guest counts in chain restaurants. January’s same-store traffic growth was -0.7. Despite remaining negative, traffic growth shows some signs of improvement. The average same-store traffic growth over the last two months was -0.8 percent. By comparison, the average for the previous six months was -1.5 percent. A recent study by TDn2K released to its members at the Global Best Practices Conference in January, analyzed the Black Box Intelligence traffic for existing chain restaurant locations from 2013 to 2018. The study revealed that the average restaurant location lost almost one of every ten restaurant visits in the last five years. The picture is quite different when factoring in the traffic of these newly opened restaurants. Total traffic growth for chain restaurants was actually positive in the last five years. In other words, consumers are not moving away from chain restaurants; in fact the opposite is true. The stark reality is that the net growth in new restaurants opened during the period outpaced population growth. Restaurant visits are diluted over a larger base, which translates into same-store traffic falling on average. Additional studies by TDn2K revealed that despite the industry’s same-store traffic woes, best in class performing restaurant brands are driving positive traffic consistently.

Consumer Spending Expected To Continue Expanding at Moderate Pace

“In the span of just two months, we went from stock market meltdowns to government shutdowns,” commented Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors and TDn2K economist. “Yet despite all the chaos, the economy keeps moving forward. Job growth remains solid and while consumer confidence was hit hard by the Washington political games, the decline is not expected to slow household spending significantly. Ultimately, people determine their consumption levels based on their incomes. Given that the rise in wages should accelerate as the labor markets tighten further, spending on discretionary items, including restaurants, should hold up quite well.” “The only major issue overhanging the economy is the potential for a full-fledged trade war. More than likely an agreement that is more puff than pastry will be the outcome. Once that hurdle is cleared, the economy and consumer spending should expand at a moderate pace the remainder of the year.”

Sales Were Strong Throughout Entire Industry In January

Sales performance was strong across the entire industry for the last two months. All industry segments posted positive same-store sales growth in December and January, the only time this has occurred in the last three years. The best performing segment based on same-store sales during January was fine dining, undoubtedly assisted by a shift in the New Year’s Eve holiday, which fell into the first week of the year in 2019. Conversely, this segment was among the worst performers in December, as the effect of this holiday shift worked against them. Other top performing segments during January were quick service and family dining.

Weather A Factor in January

Severe winter storms were a factor in four out of the five regions of the country with the lowest same-store sales during January, ranging in sales growth from 0.1 to -0.5 percent. New England, New York-New Jersey, the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic all reported same-store sales growth worse than -5.0 percent during the third week of the month, as winter storms kept some consumers from dining out.

Staffing Challenges Continue for Restaurants

According to TDn2K analysis based on data from White Box Social Intelligence™, service is the key attribute of the restaurant experience where top performing brands in the marketplace continue to excel. However, the staffing crisis being experienced in the restaurant industry is making it close to impossible for brands other than those at the highest level of performance to deliver on the service levels they aim to provide. There are many factors contributing to these increased staffing headaches. The industry continues to expand, placing a lot of pressure on those people responsible for keeping restaurants fully staffed. Year-over-year growth in restaurant jobs was 2.4 percent in December according to TDn2K’s People Report™. The sentiment in the industry also points towards rising staffing difficulties. According to the Q4 People Report Workforce Index, 59 percent of participating brands reported that recruiting managers during that quarter was more difficult than during the third quarter. 68 percent of brands reported increased recruiting difficulty for restaurant hourly employees. Poor employee retention continues to be the other roadblock for restaurant service. People Report analysis shows turnover for both hourly employees and restaurant managers increased again in December. Turnover rates remain at historically high levels, which translates to large portions of the industry’s employee base being short-tenured, not fully trained and unengaged in their jobs. For chain restaurants trying to win the share of stomach battle, this situation is not ideal. Poor retention makes it more challenging for operators to provide guests a superior experience that keeps them coming back.     TDn2K™ (Transforming Data into Knowledge) is the parent company of People Report™, Black Box Intelligence™ and White Box Social Intelligence™. People Report provides service-sector human capital and workforce analytics for its members monthly. Black Box Intelligence provides weekly financial and market level data for the restaurant industry. White Box Social Intelligence delivers consumer insights and reveals online brand health. TDn2K membership represents 43,000 restaurant units, nearly 2.6 million employees and $72 billion in sales. They are also the producers of leading restaurant industry events including the Global Best Practices Conference held annually each January in Dallas, Texas.  

Loyalty Engages Customers, Engenders Trust, Guarantees Brand Profitability

Brand Keys research finds that consumer expectations increase annually on average 25 percent. “Trust has become the connective tissue between brands and loyalty,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys. “Expectations for trust are up across all product/service categories and brands an average of 250+ percentyear over year. Meanwhile, customer concerns regarding privacy, security, and brand transparency have reached a tipping point.”

Top brands customers rated highly at creating emotional engagement and loyalty in the restaurant categories are:

Fast Food

1. Chick-fil-A

2. Whataburger

3. In-N-Out

4. McDonald’s

5. Hardee’s

6. Subway

7. Burger King

Fast Casual

1. Panera

2. 5 Guys Burgers & Fries

3. Au Bon Pain

4. Shake Shack

5. Arvy’s


1. Domino’s

2. Pizza Hut

3. Papa Murphy’s

4. Little Caesars

5. Papa John’s

6. Chuck E. Cheese

Out-of-Home Coffee

1. Dunkin’

2. Starbucks

3. McDonald’s

4. Tim Hortons

Top 10 Brands That Know The Secret of Loyalty

“Brands looking for guaranteed profits, can’t do better than loyal customers,” noted Passikoff. This year’s 2019 CLEI identified 10 brands regularly #1 in their categories, some from the time the category was established. “The following brands are perennial stars.”

Discover Card – Credit Cards: 23 years

Avis – Car Rental: 20 years

Google – Search Engine: 19 years

Domino's – Pizza: 15 years

Dunkin' – Out-of-Home Coffee: 13 years

Konica Minolta – MFP Office Copiers: 12 years

Hyundai – Automobiles: 10 years

AT&T Wireless – Wireless: 10 years – Online Retailer: 10 years

Amazon Kindle – E-Reader: 9 years

“Today, loyalty is a fusion of emotional engagement, trust, and an ability for a brand to engage; to meet or exceed expectations consumers hold for their Ideal product or service. The brands on top of this year’s category lists know that,” said Passikoff. “More importantly they know how.”

Loyalty’s Fiscal Bottom Lines

“Marketers relying on a definition of ‘loyalty’ and ‘engagement’ as something they’ll recognize when it impacts their brands will be disappointed,” said Passikoff. “Brand awareness is not loyalty; satisfaction is not loyalty; entertainment is not loyalty.”

In 2019, and for the foreseeable future, there are three concrete fiscal realities of loyalty and engagement that marketers should keep in mind:

  • It costs 9 to 11 times more to recruit a new customer than to keep an existing one.
  • An increase in loyalty of only 7 percentcan lift lifetime profits per customer by as much as 85 percent.
  •  Depending upon the sector, an increase in loyalty of just 3 percentis equivalent to a 10 percentacross-the-board cost reduction program.

A complete list of the 2019 CLEI’s loyalty and engagement winners can be found here.

“Decision-making has become increasingly emotionally-driven over the past decade,” said Passikoff. “But the addition of increased expectations for brand trust has radically altered the category landscape. Neither ‘business as usual’ nor ‘more social networking’ will cut it in this new brandscape. Brands have to move loyalty to the top of their to-do lists.”

Healthy Eating and Bagel Lovers

Starting with January, ezCater tracked healthy eating habits tied to New Year’s Resolutions and revealed that salad orders grew by 10 percent nationally through the year's first three weeks, while pizza orders nosedived by 20 percent, compared to the same period in December.  

As the network that connects millions of lunch-hungry office dwellers with over 60,000 restaurants and other caterers annually, ezCater also produced some notable city-specific data:

  • Indianapolis is 2019's healthy eating star thus far (salad orders up 36 percent, pizza orders down 56 percent)
  • Silicon Valley (salad up 23 percent, pizza down 6 percent) and Seattle (salad up 26 percent, pizza down 27 percent) are in a tech HQ good eating grudge match
  • Los Angeles is keeping up its spa cuisine image (salad up 12 percent, pizza down 37 percent)
  • Boston can add better food bragging rights to its beloved Sox and Pats boasts (salad up 15 percent, pizza down 30 percent)
  • Chicago has moved well past its brats 'n beers rep…at least come lunchtime (salad up 6 percent, pizza down 31 percent)

The company also set out to find the top bagel loving cities across the nation as well as how bagel orders compared nationally throughout 2018.

No surprise, New Yorkers love their bagels with NYC making up nearly 40 percentof all bagel orders on ezCater, followed by Boston and Washington, DC.

Top 10 Bagel-Loving Cities

1.     New York, NY

2.     Boston, MA

3.     Washington, DC

4.     San Jose, CA

5.     Atlanta, GA

6.     San Francisco, CA

7.     Chicago, IL

8.     Philadelphia, PA

9.     Los Angeles, CA

10.  Phoenix, AZ

The South saves their carbs for other meals – Houston, Austin, Nashville and Raleigh are among the cities that ordered the least number of bagels last year. The network that connects millions of hungry office dwellers with over 60,000 restaurants and other caterers annually also revealed the following month-to-month data:

  •  Carbing-up for the winter, September through November racked-up the highest bagel orders while the lowest bagel orders occurred in January and February, presumably as people start their low-carb healthy eating resolutions.

The Impact of Missing a Shift

A study reveals that for today’s hourly workforce, missing a single shift comes at a steep cost. The new research from WorkJam — a leading digital workplace platform — found that for nearly half of employees surveyed, one missed shift means late payments on rent, utilities, and other basic necessities.

“Today’s workforce is living paycheck to paycheck,” says Steven Kramer, co-founder, president, and CEO of WorkJam. “For them, the loss of a single shift can jeopardize control over their entire livelihood.”

Titled “The Economic Impact of Missing a Single Shift,” the study is based on data collected from over 1,000 U.S.-based hourly employees and employers across the retail, hospitality, logistics, healthcare, and banking industries. It exposes the far-reaching implications of missing a single shift, including being unable to pay utilities on-time (49 percent of respondents), missing rent (27 percent of respondents), and foregoing groceries for a week (25 percent of respondents). 

According to Kramer, these findings should call attention to the impact miscommunication and erratic scheduling practices has on frontline workers. 

“It’s never been more important for employers to make communication and scheduling a priority, so that they aren’t putting their employees at risk of foregoing basic necessities,” he said. 

But improving scheduling is a tall order for industries still reliant on outdated methods. As the study revealed, 55 percent of hospitality and 57 percent of retail workers still depend on paper schedules posted in break rooms to determine their weekly shift assignments. 

“Miscommunication and scheduling inconsistencies deepen the disconnect between employers and their frontline employees,” Kramer said. “This drives down employee engagement, which can have a major impact on a company’s bottom-line.”

A consistent work schedule can empower hourly employees to control their economic well-being. By simplifying the front-end distribution and management of schedules and unexpected shift changes, digital workplace platforms such as WorkJam help managers improve staffing while aligning work shifts to the needs of their employees. 

“It’s never been more important for employers to consider investing in a digital workplace platform,” Kramer said.

To download the report, click here.

RBI Performance Expectations

Restaurant Brands International is headed for success in 2019, says GlobalData

Following Restaurant Brands International’s full year and Q4 2018 results, Lewis Towell, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData, offers his view:

“2018 was a year which saw the company playing catch up with competitors, implementing all day breakfasts in Tim Hortons, rolling out delivery, and trying to expand all of its brands more aggressively using its franchising model, with Popeyes seeking expansion in areas such as the Philippines.

“The full year results suggest that the company is starting to see the benefits of these decisions. However, Tim Hortons' results continue to cause pause for thought, especially in the US. With the fast food and coffee market in the US so rich in world famous brands that are facing a lot of small, innovative brands, it takes more for larger brands to do well there. Until they deliver something unique, it is going to be difficult to turn consumers' heads. Nevertheless, Tim Hortons and Restaurant Brands International as a whole are headed in the right direction.

“The company has done well to cater to local tastes when introducing Tim Hortons abroad while maintaining products which are synonymous with the brand, such as offering tostadas for breakfast in Spain alongside its regular menu. It has also successfully began shifting its franchises toward the new normal in fast food, with kiosks, delivery and loyalty schemes all seeming to help keep sales headed in the right direction. All of this indicates that the company is headed in the direction and should continue to reap the benefits of the changes it has implemented in the first half of 2019.”

Holiday Retail Sales Fell

Holiday retail sales during 2018 grew a lower-than-expected 2.9 percent over the same period in 2017 to $707.5 billion, the National Retail Federation said today after the Commerce Department released data that had been delayed by nearly a month because of the recent government shutdown.

 “All signs during the holidays seemed to show that consumers remained confident about the economy,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “However, it appears that worries over the trade war and turmoil in the stock markets impacted consumer behavior more than we expected. There’s also a question of whether the government shutdown and resulting delay in collecting data might have made the results less reliable. It’s very disappointing that clearly avoidable actions by the government influenced consumer confidence and unnecessarily depressed December retail sales.”

The numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, fell short of NRF’s forecast last fall that holiday sales from November 1 through December 31 would grow between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent to between $717.45 billion and $720.89 billion.

The total includes $146.8 billion in online and other non-store sales, which grew 11.5 percent over 2017. NRF had forecast that the online sector of retail would grow between 11 percent and 15 percent to between $151.6 billion and $157 billion.

November – the first half of the holiday season – grew 5.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year. But December was up only 0.9 percent year-over-year and down 1.5 percent seasonally adjusted from November. NRF does not count October as part of the holiday season, but much holiday shopping has shifted earlier, and October was up 5.7 percent year-over-year. As of December, the three-month moving average was up 0.7 percent over the same period a year ago.

“Today’s numbers are truly a surprise and in contradiction to the consumer spending trends we were seeing, especially after such strong October and November spending,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “The combination of financial market volatility, the government shutdown and trade tensions created a trifecta of anxiety and uncertainty impacting spending and might also have misaligned the seasonal adjustment factors used in reporting data. This is an incomplete story and we will be in a better position to judge the reliability of the results when the government revises its 2018 data in the coming months.”

NRF’s numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which said today that overall December sales – including auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants – were down 1.2 percent seasonally adjusted from November but up 2.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

The holiday numbers come as NRF is forecasting that retail sales during 2019 will increase between 3.8 percent and 4.4 percent to more than $3.8 trillion.

Year-over-year results from key retail sectors during the November-December holiday season include:

Online and other non-store sales were up 11.5 percent at $146.8 billion.

Clothing and clothing accessory stores were up 4.2 percent at $61.7 billion.

Health and personal care stores were up 2.6 percent at $60.8 billion.

General merchandise stores were up 2.3 percent at $146.8 billion.

Grocery and beverage stores were up 1.9 percent at $130.5 billion.

Building materials and garden supply stores were up 1.6 percent at $61.5 billion.

Electronics and appliance stores were up 0.2 percent at $22.3 billion.

Furniture and home furnishings stores were unchanged at $22.6 billion.

Sporting goods stores were down 13.5 percent at $16 billion.

Travelers Eat Breakfast

A new survey from the Hyatt Place brand found that the more people spend their time away from home, the more likely it is that they will eat the proverbial “most important meal of the day.”

The survey of 1,507 respondents, which was conducted by Toluna on behalf of the Hyatt Place brand, looked at a range of breakfast habits among those who travel at least six times or more per year (frequent travelers) versus those who travel five times per year or less (infrequent travelers). The findings are as follows:

  • A majority 63 percent of respondents who identify themselves as frequent travelers indicate they eat breakfast at least three or more days per week
  • 45 percent of infrequent travelers indicate the same
  • Nearly half (49 percent) of frequent travelers indicate they eat breakfast more often while traveling, while 40 percent of infrequent travelers indicate the same
  • For those who indicated why they eat breakfast more often while traveling, frequent travelers were most likely to credit extra time as a key factor for “why,” while infrequent travelers were most likely to credit someone else making it for them as their main reason “why”
  • Eating breakfast tops the list of things frequent travelers would do with an extra 30 minutes in the morning, while infrequent travelers were more likely to choose sleep
  • A majority (53 percent) of all Americans, and nearly two-thirds of frequent travelers (63 percent) have chosen a hotel because of its breakfast offering
  • Nearly half (49 percent) of frequent travelers describe breakfast as being made up of their favorite foods, compared to 36 percent of infrequent travelers
  • One in three frequent travelers have met someone new while eating breakfast at a hotel
  • Eggs/omelets are the go-to breakfast choice for Americans overall (26 percent), followed by breakfast sandwiches (15 percent) and then pancakes (eight percent)

Customer Service Frustrations

When asked to rank their top three frustrations with telephone customer service, the largest percentage of people chose being kept on hold (57 percent), followed by rude service (52 percent), and automated phone menus (51 percent).The data comes from a new survey report that explores why businesses must prioritize speed when managing their phone lines, and how they can implement improvements. Clutch conducted the survey of 501 people who called a business more than three times in the past six months.

Businesses should think both analytically and creatively about how they can reduce phone hold times. To approach the issue analytically, businesses should collect data on their hold times, asking questions such as:

  • When are customers on hold the most?
  • What departments receive the most calls?
  • What questions do customers most commonly ask?

Some creative options for reducing hold times include calling the customer back when they are at the front of the line instead of making them wait on the phone, or offering them an option to schedule a call back for a more convenient time.

Customers Prioritize Efficiency When Calling Businesses

People most often ranked an “efficient resolution to my issue” (79 percent) as the trait they value most when calling business.

To increase efficiency, businesses can consider balancing their telephone customer service with other AI-based solutions, such as chatbots.

Shep Hyken, a customer service and experience expert, speaker, and author, said that chatbots work well for questions such as “Where’s my package?” or “I want to check my bank balance.”

“You don’t need to talk to a human to answer those questions and often, it’s more efficient to do so with a digital format,” Hyken said.

Businesses Shouldn’t Abandon Their Phone Lines

Given all the new communication options available, some businesses may be tempted to give up on their phones, directing all customers to chatbots, social media, or contact forms.

Yet, phones remain a critical customer communication channel for complex or personalized inquiries. In the past six months, people most commonly called a business to fix an issue (24 percent), ask a question (23 percent), or make an appointment (19 percent).

“How many times will you contact a business and they’ll send you a link to their FAQ page, and you say, ‘I already checked that page, or otherwise, I wouldn’t be messaging you,’” said Nathan Strum, CEO of Abby Connect, a virtual receptionist and telephone answering service provider. “It’s frustrating when people don’t think [their issue] falls into a certain category, even if in the end, it might. They want to feel heard.”

Read the full report here.

Using AI for Consumer Insights

Consumer brands have long used old-fashioned focus groups, interviews and surveys to best gauge consumer wants, desires and needs as part of processes that range from product development, to marketing and sales. As machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) have emerged, there is an increasing interest in the ability to harness these solutions to save time and money, and to yield more reliable consumer insights.

Machine learning can help to analyze user-generated content (UGC), which involves the collection of data from online reviews, social media, and blogs, that provide insights on consumer needs, preferences and attitudes.

Despite the potential for better information, marketers have raised concerns over the value of UGC data because the sheer scale and quality of UGC makes it difficult to process.  While the data is accessible, identifying consumer insights requires human beings to analyze the data, which is hard to do at scale.

Two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) decided to tackle this problem through research designed to examine the challenge of how to most efficiently use UGC to identify customer needs in ways that are more cost-efficient and accurate.

The study to be published in the February edition of the INFORMS journal Marketing Science is titled “Identifying Customer Needs from User-Generated Content,” and is authored by researchers from MIT.

They find that machine learning can improve the process for identifying customer needs, while reducing research time substantially, helping consumer marketing brands avoid delays in bringing products to market.

“As more and more people turn to the digital marketplace to research products, share their opinions, and exchange product experiences, large amounts of UGC data is available quickly and at a low incremental cost to companies,” the authors said.  “In many brand categories, UGC is extensive. 

For example, there are more than 300,000 reviews on health and personal care products on Amazon alone.  If UGC can be mined for customer needs, it has the potential to identify customer needs better than direct customer interviews.”

Other advantages of UGC data are that it is updated continuously, which enables companies to stay current with their understandings of customer needs. And unlike customer interviews, UGC data is available for research to return to further explore new insights.

To conduct their research, the study authors constructed and analyzed a custom data set which compares the customer needs for the oral-care category identified from direct interviews to the customer needs from Amazon reviews. The data set was constructed in a partnership with a marketing consulting firm to ensure the industry-standard quality of the interviews and insights.

The authors developed and evaluated a machine-learning hybrid approach to identify customer needs from UGC.  First, they use machine learning to identify relevant content and remove redundancies. The processed data is then analyzed by human beings to formulate customer needs from selected content.

“In the end, we found that UGC does at least as well as traditional methods based on a representative set of customers,” the authors said.  “We were able to process large amounts of data and narrow it to manageable samples for manual review. The manual review remains an important final part of the process, since professional analysts are best able to judge the context-dependent nature of customer needs.”



Name: Alberto Bof

Business: Classical Pianist and Music Producer, MKRS Publishing

Founded: 2011

Albert Bof fell in love with the piano at three years old. He performed his first concert, Chopin, at age eight. He entered the conservatory to study classical piano at eleven. A career in music was inevitable.

While Alberto honed his piano skills as a child, computer technology began its integration with the music industry. The mashup of classical piano and technology fascinated Bof as a teenager.

He explored a mix of classical and jazz piano with the rising tech-driven music scene. By age eighteen, he moved from his small hometown in Italy to London. Soon thereafter, Alberto Bof was producing gold and platinum records across Europe.

His unique talent across classical and computer-driven music made him a natural fit for commercial music production. His abilities led to music production for extreme sports industries (e.g. skateboarding, surfing) and the movie industry.

Alberto’s gift allows him to compose and produce at a swift pace. In 2011, he realized his potential to increase productivity and free up personal time so he started MKRS (pronounced “makers”). MKRS showered Alberto with artistic freedom and commercial success.

Automation tools

“Best decision of my life”

While Bof produced music for his early employers, he couldn’t choose his projects. Under the MKRS brand, Bof selects projects that he believes in and works with clients that inspire him.

This personally selective approach to building a business led him to more extreme sports partnerships and prompted his move to LA.

The opportunities in LA fostered a passion for motion picture scores and soundtracks. Recently, that led to his producing the entire soundtrack for the Oscar-nominated A Star is Born.

Not only did MKRS produce the soundtrack, Alberto acted in the film. Director, Bradley Cooper, avoided actors for the musician roles. Cooper asked Bof to play a part, which still surprises Bof to this day. Producing and acting alongside Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper on a film of this magnitude is mind-blowing.

“It all happened organically. It was like an avalanche. I’m still realizing what’s going on.”

Bof’s talent speaks for itself. But, he struggles with the business side of entrepreneurship. When asked about his ability to run the operations side, Bof claims: “I’m the worst. It’s the most unbelievable challenge ever.”

He’s hired accountants and lawyers to help him streamline the business side of MKRS, but Alberto looks for automated tools to make his operation more efficient. That remains a work in progress.

Automation tools will be key to Bof scaling his business because MKRS continues to attract more big clients. His next project includes the soundtrack for an upcoming Johnny Depp film, City of Lies.

When Bof looks five and ten years down the road, he envisions bold growth. He wants to produce more movie soundtracks and scores, but he really wants to put out a solo record as well.

His work with major brands and blockbuster movies should help attract directors and producers to his talents. When asked about a single aspect of the Bof and MKRS brand he wants potential clients to know, his answer is powerfully straightforward:

“I can deliver.”

His impressive portfolio confirms that statement.

Learn more about Alberto Bof’s career here

The world’s largest workforce works for themselves, we work for them. Learn more here

The post Alberto Bof’s dual talent in classical piano and computers attracts Hollywood and big brands alike appeared first on QuickBooks.


Private equity investment firm Thoma Bravo will acquire US-based lendtech Ellie Mae for $3.7 billion, reports Antony Peyton of Fintech Futures (Finovate’s sister publication).

Ellie Mae provides a cloud-based platform for the mortgage finance industry. The deal is an all-cash transaction.

Holden Spaht, a managing partner at Thoma Bravo, said: “Ellie Mae is leading the digital transformation of the residential mortgage industry and we look forward to building on the company’s successes and to our partnership through this next chapter of growth.”

Ellie Mae’s board of directors unanimously approved the definitive agreement and recommended that stockholders vote their shares in favor of the transaction.

Ellie Mae’s headquarters will remain in Pleasanton, California, with regional offices across the US.

Closing of the transaction is subject to approval by Ellie Mae stockholders and regulatory authorities and the satisfaction of customary closing conditions. The transaction is expected to close in the second or third quarter of 2019 and is not subject to a financial condition.

Some of Ellie Mae’s recent deals include an integration with Roostify, and a partnership with First Data.

Back in June 2018, Thoma Bravo acquired another mortgage software company, California-based MeridianLink.

Founded in 1997, Ellie Mae demonstrated its Encompass Consumer Connect and Encompass Developer Connect solutions at FinovateSpring 2017.

The post Thoma Bravo to Acquire Ellie Mae in $3.7 Billion Deal appeared first on Finovate.

cloud-based platform

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Eddie Lampert Steps Down As Sears Chairman

In the wake of gaining approval to purchase Sears in a $5.2 billion lifeline bid, Chairman Eddie Lampert has stepped down from its Board of Directors, according to a company securities filing. Lampert had already stepped down as CEO of Sears when the company filed for bankruptcy in October 2018, but remained as Chairman to keep the business afloat during the auction process.

Lampert placed the winning bid for the retailer through his hedge fund, ESL Investments, after numerous previous attempts were rejected, so he will still serve as the owner of Sears Holdings as a private company.

His resignation relates to the completion of the transaction and is not the result of any disagreement with Sears, according to the filing. Another board member, ESL Investments President Kunal Kamlani, also resigned from the Board.

There has been no indication of who will serve as the next Chairman, or how Sears will undergo the search and selection process. When Lampert resigned as CEO, the Sears Board created an Office of the CEO, which is responsible for managing the company’s day-to-day operations as they search for the next chief executive.

Lampert’s departure may also position Sears more positively in the eyes of critics — namely creditors — if it means that the Board includes more outside influence. Unsecured creditors sought permission to sue Lampert for deals made under his tenure as Sears Chairman and CEO, filing an objection to the $5.2 billion bid in January. 

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Finding financing and other business resources can be a challenge for any small business. Maybe you don’t know where to look, or maybe there are just too many options and you have no idea where to begin. If you’re a small business owner in Ohio that needs help finding the right resources for your business, you’re in the right place.

In this post, we’ll explore the different financing resources available to your small business. We’ll review our picks for online business lenders that make the loan process faster and easier than ever. We’ll take a look at local banks, credit unions, and nonprofit lenders that offer financing to Ohio businesses. We’ll even explore small business grants that can put free money into your business. Whether you’re just starting a business in Ohio or your established business is ready to grow, there’s an option out there for you. And after reading this post, you’ll know exactly where to find it!

Online Business Lenders For Ohio Businesses

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Small business owners are often strapped for time. From managing day-to-day operations to planning an expansion or gearing up for an upcoming busy season, it’s difficult to find enough hours to tackle your daily tasks, much less pile anything else on your plate. You need capital, but you just don’t have the time to sit on a phone with a lender or head into a bank to pitch your business.

Or maybe you have the time to get a loan, but you fall short in another area. Your credit score is low. Your time in business is too short. Your annual revenues aren’t where they need to be to qualify for a bank loan.

Whether it’s time, borrowing requirements, or some other issue that’s keeping you from applying for a small business loan, there’s an alternative: an online business loan.

You probably already use the internet to perform tasks for your business: bookkeeping, communicating with clients and suppliers, or ordering inventory, just to name a few. Why not leverage the internet to find the capital you need to start your business, grow your brand, or overcome a financial hurdle?

With online lenders, you can apply for your loan without ever stepping foot into a bank or office. You can shop your options, learn about requirements, and compare lenders from your computer or smartphone. Some lenders can even give immediate approvals and send over your funds in as little as one business day.

In addition to ease and speed, online lenders are opening up more opportunities than ever for small business owners. Bad credit? No business credit? Low revenues? Startup? No problem — there’s an option out there for you.

Ready to find an online lender? Instead of weeding through thousands of search engine results to find legitimate options, start your search with these lenders.


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Lendio makes shopping for the best financial product easier than ever. This loan aggregator has over 75 financial partners that you can reach through one simple application. You can compare multiple lender offers to find the most affordable option for your Ohio small business. From long-term, low-interest Small Business Administration loans to merchant cash advances, Lendio has it all.

Some of the financial products offered to small businesses through Lendio’s network include:

  • SBA Loans: Up to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Term Loans: Up to $2 million with terms up to 5 years
  • Commercial Mortgages: Up to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Startup Loans: Up to $750,000 with terms up to 25 years
  • Lines Of Credit: Up to $150,000 with terms up to 2 years
  • Short-Term Loans: Up to $500,000 with terms up to 3 years
  • Equipment Financing: Up to $5 million with terms up to 5 years
  • Merchant Cash Advances: Up to $200,000 with terms up to 2 years
  • Accounts Receivable Financing: Up to 80% of receivables with terms up to 2 years
  • Business Acquisition Loans: Up to $5 million with terms up to 25 years
  • Business Credit Cards: Up to $500,000

Filling out the application is quick and easy, and there’s no impact to your credit until you accept an offer. Depending on the type of financing you select, you could have the capital you need in as little as 24 hours. Borrower requirements and required documentation vary based on the product selected. Rates and terms vary by lender.


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If you’ve been in business for some time, you’re probably at least aware of the Small Business Administration. If not, you’re missing out on a very important resource. The SBA is not just an advocate for small businesses but also provides competitive, long-term loan options.

The SBA is not a direct lender. Instead, this organization guarantees small business loans distributed through its programs. Nonprofit organizations, banks, credit unions, and other lenders can feel more secure in taking on the risk of small business lending. Meanwhile, this opens the door for low-cost loan options for small business owners in Ohio, just like you.

Navigating the SBA loan process can be tricky, but smart business owners lean on SmartBiz to do the heavy lifting. SmartBiz simplifies SBA loans, removing the stress of the application process while putting money in your bank account faster than ever.

SmartBiz offers two SBA loan options for you. If you need to refinance high-interest debt or need extra money for working capital, marketing campaigns, inventory, equipment purchases, or operating expenses, you can apply for $30,000 to $350,000. You’ll have up to 10 years to repay your loan, and you’ll receive competitive interest rates of 8.25% to 9.25%.

To qualify, you must meet the requirements below:

  • Time in business of at least 2 years
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Credit score of 640 or above
  • Sufficient cash flow
  • No bankruptcies or foreclosures within the last 3 years
  • No prior defaults on government-backed loans
  • No outstanding tax liens

If you need to purchase commercial real estate or refinance a commercial real estate loan, apply for the SBA 7(a) commercial real estate loan. You can receive between $500,000 to $5 million with repayment terms up to 25 years and interest rates of 7% to 8.25%.

The borrower requirements for SBA 7(a) commercial real estate loans are as follows:

  • Property must be at least 51% owner occupied
  • Purchase price must be more than $500,000
  • Time in business of at least 3 years
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Credit score of 675 or above
  • Sufficient cash flow
  • Funds can’t be used to purchase investment properties or fund construction
  • No bankruptcies or foreclosures within the last 3 years
  • No prior defaults on government-backed loans
  • No outstanding tax liens




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Credibly is an online lender that offers multiple financing options for small business owners. Credibly can preapprove you for up to $400,000 with final approvals in as little as 24 hours.

One of the financial products offered through Credibly is a working capital loan. You can qualify for up to $400,000 with repayment terms up to 18 months. These loans do not have traditional interest rates. Instead, Credibly’s working capital loans have factor rates that start at 1.15. Repayments on your loan are made daily or weekly.

To qualify for a working capital loan, you must have:

  • Time in business of at least 6 months
  • Personal credit score of 500 or above
  • At least $15,000 in monthly bank deposits

Need longer terms for your loan? Credibly’s business expansion loans have terms of up to 2 years. These loans are available in amounts up to $250,000 with interest rates starting at 9.99%. This loan is repaid through weekly payments.

To qualify for a business expansion loan, you must meet these requirements:

  • At least 3 years in business
  • Personal credit score of 600 or above
  • At least $3,000 in daily balances
  • At least $15,000 in monthly bank deposits

Another option to consider through Credibly is a merchant cash advance. With this financing, you’ll receive up to $400,000. The anticipated duration of Credibly’s MCAs are 3 to 18 months, and repayment is based upon your receivables. Factor rates for MCAs start at 1.15.

To qualify for this type of funding, you must:

  • Have a personal credit score of 500 or above
  • Be in business for at least 6 months
  • Have at least $15,000 in monthly bank deposits


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Wouldn’t it be a relief to have a source of funding available to you on-demand? If an emergency pops up, you’d have the funds to cover it. If you needed extra inventory or money to pay for operating expenses, you wouldn’t have to wait days (or weeks) for loan approval. If your Buckeye business would benefit from this type of funding, a line of credit from Fundbox may be just what you need.

Fundbox offers revolving lines of credit up to $100,000 for qualified businesses. You can make one or multiple draws on your line of credit up to your set limit. As you repay borrowed funds, they become available to draw again. You can select from 12- or 24-week terms, and fees start at just 4.66% of the draw amount. Weekly payments are automatically deducted from your business bank account.

Qualifying is simple, as Fundbox considers your business performance when approving lines of credit. To receive yours, you must have:

  • A business checking account
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • A U.S.-based business
  • At least 2 months of activity in accounting software OR at least 3 months of transactions in a business bank account




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If you’re a new business with no (or very low) revenue, how are you going to qualify for a small business loan? Unfortunately, there will be many small business financing options unavailable to you if your business is brand new or hasn’t yet opened its doors. If this sounds familiar, you may have to get a little creative with your financing. One of the best options? A personal loan for business.

With a personal loan for business, your personal credit score and income can help you qualify for the funding you need. This is a great way to pay for startup costs or to cover any business expense when you don’t qualify for small business financing.

One lender to consider for personal loans is Prosper. You may qualify for up to $40,000 with APRs of 6.95% to 35.99%. You can select from terms of 3 years or 5 years.

To qualify for a Prosper personal loan, you must meet the following minimum eligibility requirements:

  • Source of income
  • Debt-to-income ratio below 50%
  • No bankruptcies within the last 12 months
  • Less than 5 credit inquiries within the last 6 months
  • At least 3 open trade accounts on your credit report

Amex Merchant Financing

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If your business accepts American Express, you may qualify for Amex Merchant Financing. You can receive a loan of $5,000 up to $2 million for one fixed fee of 1.75% to 20%. A fixed amount is deducted daily, or you can opt to have a percentage of your daily receivables deducted.

Repayment terms are spread over 6, 12, or 24 months and automatic payments are deducted daily from your account. If you repay your loan early, you could get up to 25% of your fixed fee back, helping you save on the cost of your loan.

To qualify, you must:

  • Accept American Express cards
  • Have at least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Have at least $12,000 in annual debit and credit receivables
  • Have been in business for at least 2 years

Banks, Credit Unions, & Nonprofit Lenders In Ohio

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Online lenders are convenient, but maybe you prefer working with more traditional lenders. Banks, credit unions, and nonprofit lenders throughout Ohio provide loans and other financial products at competitive rates. You can also sign up for other business services, such as checking and savings accounts, payroll services, or employee benefits.

Huntington Bank

Huntington Bank has branches located in hundreds of cities in Ohio, including Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus. Small business owners can open a checking and savings account through this bank. If you need extra capital to start or grow your business, Huntington Bank offers multiple financial products tailored to small businesses including:

  • Term Loans
  • Commercial Real Estate Loans
  • Lines Of Credit
  • Business Credit Cards
  • SBA Loans

Huntington Bank is a particularly good choice for SBA loans, as it has been ranked the top SBA lender in the region for the last 10 years.

Rates, terms, and borrower requirements vary by product. If you’re interested in getting financing through Huntington Bank, call their toll-free number or visit a branch near you to learn more.

Wright-Patt Credit Union

If you prefer more personalized service when seeking your small business financing, consider joining a credit union. In Ohio, Wright-Patt Credit Union is one of the largest with over 30 locations throughout the state.

As a member of Wright-Patt Credit Union, you’ll be able to handle all of your finances in one place. In addition to traditional financial products including business checking, savings, and money market accounts, members can also apply to receive financing through:

  • Commercial Real Estate Loans: Terms up to 25 years
  • SBA Loans: 7(a), Express, and 504
  • Commercial Auto Loans: Terms up to 84 months
  • Term Loans: Terms up to 10 years
  • Business Credit Cards
  • Lines Of Credit

Rates, terms, and borrower requirements vary by financial product. Some financing options, including auto loans and business credit cards, have online applications available to Wright-Patt members.

To become a member, you must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Live, work, attend school, or worship in one of the Ohio counties serviced by the credit union
  • Be a military or civilian employee of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
  • Live in the Fairborn area with no access to other credit unions
  • Be a student, faculty member, staff member, or alumnus of Wright State University
  • Have a family member that is a Wright-Patt member
  • Be in a group affiliated with Wright-Patt Credit Union

Finance Fund Capital Corporation

Finance Fund Capital Corporation (FCAP) is a nonprofit community development financial institution. Through FCAP, eligible Ohioans can apply for funding through the Small Business Loan Fund. Loans are available in amounts from $100,000 to $1 million. Funds can be used for the following business purposes:

  • Working Capital
  • Real Estate Acquisitions
  • Construction
  • Leasehold Improvements
  • Equipment

Loans come with terms up to 7 years. However, there are longer options for commercial real estate and fixed asset purchases. Rates are based on the creditworthiness of the borrower and the risk of the project being funded.

To qualify, a business must:

  • Be a for-profit sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation
  • Provide vital services to the area
  • Operate in an underserved market
  • Have a viable business idea

Loans are also given through the SBA Community Advantage program. To learn more and to apply for the Small Business Loan Fund, call or email Finance Fund Capital Corporation.

Small Business Grants In Ohio

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If your business needs capital, turning to a lender isn’t your only financing option. Your business may qualify for a small business grant. The best thing about small business grants is that funds don’t have to be repaid, so there’s no worrying about monthly payments, high interest rates, or fees.

On the flip side, scoring a small business grant isn’t just as simple as filling out an application, having a credit check performed, and getting the funds you requested. Small business grants are extremely competitive. You must also meet very specific requirements — such as operating in a certain industry, having a veteran-owned business, or being a woman business owner — for most grants.

In the state of Ohio, there are several grant programs to consider. Start with these options.


JobsOhio is a nonprofit corporation that aims to create jobs and promote economic development in Ohio by attracting, retaining, and expanding businesses. Through JobsOhio, small business owners have access to grant and loan programs including:

  • Economic Development Grant: Focuses on fixed asset and infrastructure investment of companies, including site development, machinery and equipment, land, and buildings.
  • Revitalization Program: Provides funds for businesses, nonprofits, and governments for costs related to redevelopment projects, including demolition, building renovation, and site preparation.
  • Workforce Grant: Provides funding for company training costs including information technology, leadership skills, technical training, and on-the-job training.
  • Growth Loan Fund: While not a grant, the Growth Loan Fund provides low-cost loans for established businesses that have limited access to traditional funding sources. Loan funds can be used to purchase fixed assets including land, buildings, machinery, and equipment.

Ohio Development Services Agency

The Ohio Development Services Agency has multiple programs that are designed to help Ohio businesses grow and create jobs. These programs include small business grants, low-cost loans, tax credits, and bonds.

Programs available through the Ohio Development Services Agency include:

  • Alternative Fuel Transportation Program: Provides financial assistance to businesses that purchase and install alternative fuel facilities and terminals.
  • Energy Loan Fund: Provides low-cost financing to businesses and manufacturers for improvements that reduce fossil fuel emissions and energy usage.
  • Ohio Minority Business Direct Loan Program: Provides low-interest loans to minority-owned businesses

City Of Cleveland Green Technology Business Grant Program

New green technology businesses located or relocating to Cleveland, Ohio, may qualify for the Green Technology Business Grant Program. To qualify, a business must create at least five new jobs within its first year.

The grant provides up to 1% of new payroll for up to 3 years. An additional $5,000 is also available as a Moving Assistance Grant. Interested small business owners can apply online through the City of Cleveland Economic Development.

Loans & Resources For Startups In Ohio


Startup businesses may find it a challenge to get the capital and resources they need to grow. Fortunately, the state of Ohio offers multiple resources to help new businesses and startups succeed.

Minority Business Assistance Centers

The Ohio Development Services Agency offers assistance to minority-owned businesses through its Minority Business Assistance Centers. Through these centers, minority-owned and disadvantaged small businesses can receive services including accounting assistance, business management counseling, marketing plan development, and help identifying local resources.


SCORE is one of the nation’s best resources for startup and small business owners. Through SCORE, you can receive free business counseling with an expert mentor. You can meet face-to-face with your mentor or you can receive counseling online.

SCORE also offers free and low-cost business training, workshops, and other resources such as business templates and guides.

SCORE chapters are located throughout the state of Ohio in cities including Mansfield, Columbus, Toledo, and Newark.

Ohio Small Business Development Centers

Whether you’re launching your business or taking your existing business to the next level, the Ohio Small Business Development Centers have resources for you. You can work with a Certified Business Advisor to get your business on the right track.

Services available through SBDC include business planning, one-on-one counseling, finding sources of capital, workshops, and training programs.

Offices are located throughout Ohio in cities including Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus.

What To Consider When Choosing A Lender

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Now that you know just a few of the options available to you, narrowing down your choices to just one lender can be tricky. However, there are a few factors to keep in mind to help you choose the right lender for your business.

Type Of Financing

What type of financing are you seeking? If you want a flexible line of credit, you can cross off any lenders that offer long-term loan options. Interested in SBA loans? Then don’t give short-term lenders a second glance. Determine what type of financing works best for your business, then select a lender that provides this type of funding.

Borrowing Amount

If you need $500,000 to purchase commercial real estate, a $10,000 loan isn’t going to get you very far. Consider the borrowing limits of each lender, then choose the lender that is able to provide the capital your business needs.


When you receiving financing, you have to consider the overall cost of borrowing. Calculate the fees, interest, and other costs associated with each lender you’re considering. Working with one lender may be faster and easier, but the costs may be much higher … and could be too much of a burden for your business. Consider your options, don’t feel obligated to take the first offer, and know how much your business can afford. Remember, you want to grow your business, not slide into a cycle of debt.

Borrower Requirements

Do you meet all of the requirements of the lender? Lenders consider factors such as personal credit score, business credit score, past credit history, time in business, and annual revenue. If you don’t meet these requirements, you won’t get approved, so why waste your time? Grab your free credit score, read up on borrower requirements, and submit your application only when you know you meet all requirements. Also, please remember that meeting the minimum requirements of a lender is not a guarantee of approval.

Final Thoughts

Starting and operating a business is tough for even the most experienced entrepreneur. Luckily, you don’t have to go it alone. As a business owner in Ohio, there are multiple lending options and other resources available to you to keep your business on the path to success.

The post The Best Business Loan And Financing Resources For Ohio Small Businesses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

Eddie Lampert Steps Down As Sears Chairman

In the wake of gaining approval to purchase Sears in a $5.2 billion lifeline bid, Chairman Eddie Lampert has stepped down from its Board of Directors, according to a company securities filing. Lampert had already stepped down as CEO of Sears when the company filed for bankruptcy in October 2018, but remained as Chairman to keep the business afloat during the auction process.

Lampert placed the winning bid for the retailer through his hedge fund, ESL Investments, after numerous previous attempts were rejected, so he will still serve as the owner of Sears Holdings as a private company.

His resignation relates to the completion of the transaction and is not the result of any disagreement with Sears, according to the filing. Another board member, ESL Investments President Kunal Kamlani, also resigned from the Board.

There has been no indication of who will serve as the next Chairman, or how Sears will undergo the search and selection process. When Lampert resigned as CEO, the Sears Board created an Office of the CEO, which is responsible for managing the company’s day-to-day operations as they search for the next chief executive.

Lampert’s departure may also position Sears more positively in the eyes of critics — namely creditors — if it means that the Board includes more outside influence. Unsecured creditors sought permission to sue Lampert for deals made under his tenure as Sears Chairman and CEO, filing an objection to the $5.2 billion bid in January.