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How did this Vietnamese fast food chain grow from one store to 15 in just over 12 months yet many food franchises have struggled?

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Bao Hoang and his wife had always discussed a need for an alternative to sushi.

After countless compliments over the rice paper rolls (amongst many other items) his mum Phien served at the many family functions, they found the answer right under their noses: their very own Vietnamese food!

And after presenting the idea to close childhood friend, Ray and his wife, and later to cousin, Tin, for his natural love of hospitality, the idea really took off.

So two years in the making, after countless brainstorming days, taste-testing sessions with family and friends and securing a site in a busy, yet forgotten end of the Melbourne CBD; Hoang, Ray and Tin opened the first store of their new business, Roll’d in mid 2012.

Surprisingly, on the opening day, they faced a queue of about two dozen eager consumers, and yet the only marketing they had done was a simple A3 poster of their menu pasted on the front window!

They had nailed it. They had hit a niche and expansion plans were soon set into motion.

Spreading wings all over Australia

Currently operating in three states; ACT, Queensland and Victoria, Roll’d is now looking to penetrate the New South Wales market. Having expanded from one small store to 15 in just over 12 months, Roll’d is now aiming for 100 stores over the next two years.

Hoang revealed to Anthill that these aggressive expansion plans have definitely posed some challenges, especially around keeping quality and consistency across the stores, not only with the food but customer service too.

To overcome these, he says they have taken a very systematic, McDonalds-like approach to their operations and created very detailed documentation and training programs, which are constantly updated with analysis from their operational managers and the franchisees too.

Why is Roll’d doing so well where other food franchises have struggled?

The past few years have been quite rough for fast food chains in Australia.

In 2009, Starbucks had to close more than three quarters of its Aussie coffee stores after suffering more than $200 million in losses since its 2000 launch and in 2010, Krispy Kreme and the Baskin-Robbins ice-cream chain both suffered financial trouble.

We asked Hoang to share with us how Roll’d has managed to perform this well in such turbulent times for the fast food market and this is what he had to share.

First of all, our offering is simply unique in our market. Currently in the fast-casual food arena, much of the offering has been around a while – sushi, Mexican, burgers, sandwiches/wraps with coffee etc so a number of players are already offering these.

People were clearly looking for an alternative, and with ours still being a fresh, fast and healthy option, we are very well received.

Secondly, we have had a solid vision from the beginning and a long term strategy that supports it.  We set some very clear goals before we opened and after that, we outlined a business model and expansion plan to support it.

We have the original scribe on a whiteboard in our meeting room, and constantly refer to it when any decisions are made – be it small or large, it all has to fit.

For example, one of our core aims is to have our food eaten nearly every day.

The cuisine itself is naturally quite healthy, but to eat it often means we need to keep our price point relatively low. Hence, we needed to gain greater efficiencies in our supply chain, which was a major factor to strategize for such an aggressive expansion.

In addition, we then chose a succinct menu with enough choice to allow our customers to enjoy variety, and not be bored with the same old bread, bun, wrap or rice with three fillings day in, day out.

Of course strategies need to be adapted slightly to the market, but it does require a certain degree of tunnel vision to keep the soul of the business intact.

Lastly, we have a defined brand story that is personable and relatable.

These days, I feel people are smarter and much more discerning about where they eat and how it reflects on their own personality. It’s not enough anymore just to stock display cabinets with amazing looking food – it all needs to be wrapped up in an experience.

It starts with the food then extends to everything else from the music, to the décor, to the uniforms, to the language expressed by staff, on brochures, menu panels and websites – people want to know what you stand for.

I believe we have done a passable job at expressing our full brand story to date, by introducing Vietnamese language and culture through our store experiences.

Menu selection too will always be guided by our Vietnamese heritage, and we are very mindful not to deviate to suffice the latest trend – such as dumplings or tacos.

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