March 2006 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Shane Grutsch: Oil's Well That Ends Well

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If your next order of french fries, chicken nuggets, or onion rings is cooked to a golden crisp, you might have Shane Grutsch of Restaurant Technologies Inc. (RTI), Minneapolis, to thank. More than 10,000 U.S. foodservice establishments use RTI's patented system to manage their cooking oil.

RTI provides and maintains equipment that automatically feeds oil into deep fryers and returns used oil to a waste tank. The company also delivers fresh oil and removes the waste product to be sold for agricultural and industrial use.

As vice president of supply chain and information technology, Grutsch is responsible for purchasing equipment for the restaurants and RTI depots, buying delivery vehicles, and moving used oil to purchasers.

In 2000, the year Grutsch joined RTI, the company recorded $8 million in revenue; this year, it will bring in about $110 million. The biggest challenge for Grutsch and his team is staying ahead of that rapid expansion with accurate forecasts. But the rate of growth isn't the hard part of forecasting; it's the geography.

Grutsch and his team can accurately estimate how many new installations they will perform in one year. "But predicting where those installations will be is more complex," he says.

"If we sign an agreement with In-N-Out Burger, for example, we'll do their installations on the West Coast. If we sign A&P grocery stores, the installations will be on the East Coast," he explains.

Wherever RTI's new sales come from, it needs to deploy equipment and oil in a rush: installations take place just two weeks after a contract is signed.

To keep the business agile, Grutsch carefully nurtures relationships with suppliers. "I constantly tell suppliers what a great company RTI is, and how this growth will help them," he says. "We try not to shift our supply side business too often, because it's such a relationship sell for us."

To make sure customers always have enough oil, RTI installs sensors in each restaurant's oil tank. At night, the system reports inventory levels, and software runs the information through a series of algorithms to develop the next day's delivery routes.

"We have the same system on our storage tanks at each depot," Grutsch explains. "This lets us order all the oil for the company without any input from local management. We look to see what's available in the tanks and schedule accordingly."

Another technology RTI plans to deploy is a wireless handheld device for delivery trucks. Drivers will report where they are on their routes and how much product they have left. They also will print invoices at the point of sale.

"These devices will allow drivers to know if a last-minute credit issue needs to be taken care of, or if we need to add stops to the route," Grutsch says.

If he could re-do any part of his earlier career, Grutsch says he would spend more time at high-growth, aggressive companies such as RTI. While a more mature firm might set a different goal each year, growth is always RTI's annual goal, according to Grutsch.

"It's refreshing," he says. "I don't have to worry about what I will do the next day. I know what I will do."

The Big Questions

Ideal dinner companion?

Albert Einstein.

What's in your laptop bag?

My laptop, a picture of myself deep-sea fishing, paperwork, and the book, Unleashing Excellence: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service, by Dennis Snow and Teri Yanovitch.

First web site you look at in the morning?

The Chicago Board of Trade, to check the futures and options pricing for soybean oil.

What do you do when you're not at work?

I have played soccer since I was five years old, and still play Sunday nights. I play golf in the summer; I'm horrible, but I play anyway. I come from a family of seven kids and my youngest sister just turned eight, so I go to activities with them that most people my age do with their own kids. I also spend a lot of time with high school friends. And I like to read.

If you didn't work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

Teaching high school chemistry.

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