Technology has certainly changed the way we do business and it’s impacted one particular family run business in a very special way. George Page, Founder of Sea Breeze Farm, an organic restaurant on Vashon Island off the coast of Seattle, joins Brent Leary to discuss how he developed business apps that run on the iPad to help his employees become more productive and efficient.
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Small Business Trends: Can you talk a little bit about Sea Breeze Farm, what do you guys do?
George Page: Well, we started out just a small hobby family farm that grew rapidly into a suite of small integrated micro businesses as I like to call them.
In addition to the farm, which consists of primarily livestock, we have a small dairy, we milk a dozen cows, we raise pigs and chickens for meat, and chickens for eggs and we raise ducks. On top of that, we have added a small scale winery and a cheese making operation.
In addition, we have a small scale butcher shop where we make bacon, ham, pates and cured meats. We also have a small farm-to-table organic restaurant attached to that.
We operate at the local Seattle area farmers market, selling our product on a weekly basis year round.
Small Business Trends: How are you able to manage all of that?
George Page: My method for tracking business information and processing all of the different regulatory paperwork and issues has really evolved organically. Just like the business. So it has been a process of discovery.
From my perspective, running into a problem, I have to track this information. How do I do it? Well, let me get a piece of paper and make a list. Okay, that is kind of clunky. How about Excel? I remember that tool can do some cool stuff. So we started usng Excel and spreadsheets and that started to get clunky. It just seemed like there was something missing. Something that could really make integrated information more dynamic and more relational.
It was at that point that I discovered FileMaker. It is a simple to use a point and click, drag and drop interface and design your own database tool. That was revolutionary. That has taken me in a whole new direction.
Small Business Trends: So you went from using the spreadsheets to creating a new database? How has that impacted the way you do business?
George Page: It has provided a scenario where we can interrelate a lot of business information. The whole point of the database really is to eliminate data redundancy, and data entry redundancy.
If you put something into your system you don’t want to have to do it again, whether it is an employees’ name or contact information, or maybe information on the wine that you made this year like the varietal one, the vineyard, all of that sort of the stuff.
In addition, it provides a repository to keep all of your information in one interrelated location so you can find stuff. I would say that is probably the biggest part of it. Just having all of your information accessible at your fingertips.
I guess I would say the other piece is that it is able to import that to a really dynamic, slick, user interface environment like the iPad. That really is sexy and appealing to employees and customers alike.
Small Business Trends: Talk a little bit about the iPad. How are you using it from a retailing perspective?
George Page: It has been driven by the restaurant environment where it started out by just creating a simple invoicing system for the iPad. There are a lot of simple startup solutions FileMaker provides for you when you get up and running within a few hours and have your invoicing system in place.
My natural inclination was wanting to take that to another level and apply it to our restaurant, which is an environment where a typical invoicing system is a little clunky and awkward. Because you are running tickets for a line. You need a touch screen so you can find stuff really quick and you have dynamic menu items that are changing on a daily basis for a farm-to-table seasonal restaurant.
I took it to the next level and took an invoicing backend solution from FileMaker and tweaked it into a touch screen interface that you can use on an iPad. My employees can take orders on the iPad with a touch screen system.
In addition, my chef can update dynamically all of the menu items and it is reflected instantly in the point of sale system. So price changes and item descriptions are instantly available to my service staff.
Small Business Trends: As the employees do their jobs, it updates the information and you can see it on your device?
George Page: Absolutely. A really cool feature of that is that I can be sitting here in my office on the farm, having FileMaker open, and watch sales tick away at the restaurant.
Small Business Trends: You believe handing over an iPad might be an incentive for employees?
George Page: Yes, I think the employees love it. They love the sleek sexiness of the interface.
My chef is classic. He doesn’t want to spend time on the computer. He wants to go and cook. He gets frustrated in trying to format the menu in Adobe Illustrator, trying to cut and paste fonts and items. It just drives him crazy.
Whereas, with this nice slick user interface, you have really cool things like a historic record of all of the menus. So he can easily do a quick find and say, “Where is my menu from August 15 of last year?” Because he had a recipe on the menu that year that he wants to replicate this year with fresh tomatoes.
Again, I had to just take away a lot of the clumsiness that technology sometimes puts in the way.
Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more about your business and how to get a meal?
George Page: Go to Sea Breeze Farm. There is a tab to make reservations right online. We are a very charming little 15 minute ferry ride from Seattle, floating across the gorgeous Puget Sound. It is a pretty special little place.
This interview is part of our One on One interview series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication.