From the source: Sam Prince, Zambrero

zambrero sam princeBIO: Dr Sam Prince is the founder of healthy Mexican restaurant franchise Zambrero and a philanthropist, entrepreneur and medical doctor. Prince started Zambrero at 21 while studying to become a doctor.

COMPANY PROFILE: Through its sale of Mexican food, Zambrero funds aid development projects in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australia. Zambrero has over 160 restaurants across Australia and is actively expanding throughout the country and internationally.

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Inside Retail Weekly: How has the last financial year been for Zambrero?

Sam Prince: It’s a good time to reflect at the end of the year. It’s been a year of innovation for us and that’s always a good thing in retailing, it’s not always that clear, sometimes you’re putting you’re doing the heavy lifting of a new market, if I had to put a title to the chapter of the book, I’d say it’s innovation.

One of our values at Zambrero is to be a heavyweight contender in anything we do and to give your XX for the customer. So I’ve looked back at our restaurant I’m always thinking, when we we were one restaurant, and now we’ve got 160-odd stores – how are we better than when we were just one?

Often restaurants get worse when they get bigger and our motto is really to just get better with scale, so it’s a series of things that we look at, from how we can engineer our music better, how we can better deliver our lighting, the look and feel of our stores, how we can make the lettuce fresher and healthier, how we put new products on our menus that resonate with our customers to make them feel more healthy and connected with our cause, Plate4Plate (for every burrito or bowl sold at Zambrero, a meal is donated to someone in need in a developing country).

This year, through Plate 4 Plate, we’ve hit 15 million meals. It’s extraordinary considering when we started, we had zero restaurant’s, zero plates and the largest number I could think of was to get to 10 million meals and 100 restaurants. O in about 10 years we’ve crossed hat. That’s the exciting point – it took 10 years to get to 10 million meals and we’ve already crossed 15 million. It’ll probably only take two years to get the 10 million, such is exponential growth.

IRW: What are you plans for Zambrero in the coming months?

SP: For the next six months we will open more restaurants and consolidate our growth in territories across Australia. We would have added 40 odd stores in the last financial year and we’ll do something similar in the following year.

But what we’re excited is how we delight our customer at every turn and so the next six months will see the beginning of a technology piece that we’ll be pushing out, so we can very simply add value to customers and bring them closer to our cause.

IRW: You also run a few other restaurants, Indu and Mejico in Sydney. What lessons have you learnt from that sector that you’ve been able to implement at Zambrero?

SP: I would say there are insights from QSR that reverberate in the more fine dining space and vice versa, so there’s a cross-pollination of ideas.

When you look at fine dining, you have to engineer all five senses deliberately. It’s really important to do that. When I started out, I thought it was about being product focused – if you nailed the product, everything was going to be fine. It’s naive, because you realise that more than half the reason people come back to a restaurant is often because how they feel – the experience, mood lighting, ambience, sound and feel.

I think those things really crystallised my view of retailing. It’s a beautiful craft and if you break it down to the most basic elements, you’re engineering an experience for people.

The truth is where retail is going now, people want to see a personality. It’s a bit like if you meet a dull person at a party and you go, ‘What are you interested in?’ and they reply ‘Nah, not much.’ ‘What do you do for  a living?’ ‘Oh, I’m a middle-manager at some company.’ You don’t tend to remember them the next day.

But if you’ve got a guy who’s in leather with tatts and wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt and he’s really passionate about life, I think that personality is harder to forget.

I think that’s what’s called upon us as retailers – we have to have a stronger personality, we have to be open enough to letting customers know what we’re into, not just the food that we want to sell, but also the music we listen to and the causes we believe in and how we spend our time outside of retail.

As a student of retail, I think this is the most sophisticated retailing I’ve seen around the world – when you can walk into a place and you can feel the personality of the person who engineered it. These are the things you learn and crystalise and you’re punished if you do a bad job, but celebrate if you’re different and you do a good job.

IRW: Corporate social responsibility is a hot topic now and on the top of a lot of retailers’ agendas. What kind of work are you doing in that space?

SP: For us, it is connecting our customer with our cause and our aim is to deliver a million meals by 2025. It wasn’t a bolt-on. Ultimately Zambrero continues to do work outside of Plate 4 Plate in Aboriginal health and other areas we’re passionate about. Before Plate 4 Plate, we built schools in the APAC region and integrated them in the national curriculum.

Instead of just putting a number on the wall, like 15 million, we want to allow people to experience what it’s like to be generous and give food to someone in need. So as we continue rolling out innovation, it will be trying to connect our customer with what it feels like to be an aid worker on the ground.

Then there are delightful experiences with the food and service. Customers feel like they’re being treated like a regular customer, even if they’re not and everyone will try hard to retain you as a regular in what we all a service symphony – that experience is fundamental to us. We just try to delight our customer to the point of mixing music that is familiar but is completely different, so people can go, “Wow that’s really cool”.

IRW: Tell me about the role that music you personally mix and play in Zambrero stores.

SP: I was in Japan a couple of weeks ago and what I found interesting is they’re amazing at their product, but there’s no music in really high-end places. For me, it feels like the restaurant doesn’t have furniture – it’s horrific for me to be in, it’s awkward, it feels cold, it feels terrible. I like music – my first memory on earth was a song, that’s how profound it is to me.

Indeed, when it came to restaurants, it was important for two things – to delight customers with music choice and second, to connect people with our personality even if the music is a bit out there, but nonetheless, it’s our personality, it’s what we listen to here. We’re up to about album 14, so I think we do a new mix every quarter.

Interestingly, when we opened the other restaurants, they started with music. For instance, when we opened Indu, the first thing I did was mix Massive Attack’s Teardrops with Across the Universe by The Beatles and that was done before the menu. We played it in the background when we wrote the menu. Everything had to coherently come from this idea.

[Through the music], we want to make people feel hopeful and feel how we do. This place feels like Manhattan sometimes – two million overachieving out-of-towners trying to change the world. That’s what this culture is like.

In the same way Zambrero is trying to move to music that feels like revolution, a lot of the people who appear on our mixes are people like Bob Marley, you’ll hear speeches by Martin Luther King, as you’ll hear about renegades who speak about revolution. That is effectively what a billion meals by 2020 will have to look like. We want people to feel that in some small way when they come into our restaurants.

IRW: Corporate social responsibility is a hot topic right now and it’s on a lot of retailers’ agendas. What are your thoughts on that?

SP: Sometimes I feel as Zambrero gets invited to be part of books and seminars around CSR and I always say the same thing: “I don’t think we belong in your book, this is not a CSR strategy or campaign.”

I’m not sure I can talk about CSR but I can talk to you about how our Zambrero story and my story and family’s story are inextricably linked and can’t be uncoupled.

My parents came from the developing world, they were part of a country that was unique in the 50s where they had free education. There were three other pockets in the world that had that at the time.

Despite being villagers who worked in paddy fields and lived in poverty, they were able to get free education, because someone in the 30s and 40s defended that basic human right. So they grabbed that opportunity with two hands, pulled themselves out of their positions and went to the UK to study.

My mum ended up with five degrees and a PHD in economics. The money that she made as a student in the UK paid for living expenses and the rest went to build wells in their village to connect their home to an electricity grid.

It was because of this free education that I was born in the UK, then we came to Australia and Mum continued to do more work. On my first birthday, rather than celebrate it, she gave that money away to a charity, because she thought that would spread merit to myself and family but it was also something that was fair.

This is my parents’ story, it’s their truth. They came to Australia as migrants and were welcomed with open arms by this country in 1986. Think about it, we were four people in this country and all we were going to do was cost money in terms of health and education, but there was compassion.

Really, I see myself as having a baton of kindness that was passed on from some dude in the 40s who fought for the human right for education that was passed through my mum to me.

So what am I going to do when I hold this baton in my hand? I don’t think this is about being a good person. It’s about at least upholding the same human rights that were defended for me a long time – education and healthcare.

I have no idea about the CSR strategies people put together after bank consultants tell them about CSR and how they need to do work with indigenous affairs. That’s not what we’re about. We work in Aboriginal health because we don’t believe people should end up in the same place. We want to defend the place where people start in life and work in those two basic rights that were defended for me – healthcare and education.

Zambrero continues to underwrite an Aboriginal organisation and we don’t connect that with our customers, because it’s too complicated. But the reason Plate 4 Plate is front and centre is because it’s our personality. The people in this organisation spend half their time working in the business and half their time doing aid.

IRW: What kind of advice would you give other leaders looking to bring more socially conscious values to their companies?

SP: I was very lucky to have met the CEO of Proctor and Gamble and when you look into the story of P&G, there were many things that it did for a long time that helped the world. So authenticity doesn’t mean authenticity for an individual, it’s also authenticity behind an organisation. If you’re a CEO stepping into that role, be authentic in your organisation, look back into how it has helped and continue it. Look for kindnesses that were afforded to your organisation and propagate that kindness or continue it while you’re holding the baton.

What would you say are some of the challenges for QSR industry?

Australia is the hardest place for the hospitality sector to run in the world – we’ve got the highest staff wages, rent isn’t lower than anywhere else in the world, we’ve got a small population of around 20 million.

But I think the challenges are things what will make us great. Some people start organisations and some are burnt by this fire and some are forged in this fire. The fact that we have so many issues are the reason why QSR companies are really good. When I look at other QSRs in the world, I genuinely don’t think they’d make it here – I genuinely don’t think they’d last a year in these harsh environments. You need to know your market like a laser, you need to operate really well and efficiently and strike the right deals in having a point of difference.

I think franchise systems are under a level of scrutiny that’s much higher than the mum and dad operator. If the charge level of the franchising world is they’re not living by these standards…believe me, I don’t endorse it at all, but I think if you look at mum and dad operators all around this country, I don’t think they’re all paying GST or taxes around wages.

I’m not trying to point the finger, but to put it into perspective, we and other franchisors are given a level of scrutiny in terms of kilojoule counts on our menu to the dollars and cents we pay our staff wages. And there is no excuse for us to slip up, because we have a greater responsibility now.

We have full time people in HR to note the changes in specific areas and specific states and jurisdictions to apply changes. I personally don’t know how you’d keep up with all these changes if you didn’t have a full time HR team, so I wonder how anyone else does. That highlights the importance of being part of a franchise system, where you can benefit from a full HR operation. It’s a difficult job.



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