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Inside Retail: How did Roll’d start?
Bao Hoang: The three of us are the founders of the business, the idea came from myself and my wife. We always wanted to share my mum’s food. All Asians think their mum’s food is the best. But we knew it because other Vietnamese mums would ask our mum to cook for them at parties.
It’s a family-based business, made up of a lot of our mum’s and aunties’ recipes as well, but really, we wanted to give office CBD workers an alternative to sushi. Ten years ago, sushi was the only fast healthy option in a CBD environment. We started in the Melbourne CBD, made a lot of mistakes over the last eight years and right now, we are in the best shape we’ve ever been.
IRW: Unlike Chinese and Thai food, I feel like Vietnamese hasn’t quite hit the mainstream yet in terms of food retail.
BH: There’s no competition, Vietnamese food is loved in a lot of countries around the world and one of those cuisines where it’s still in its infancy in a lot of areas. I liken LA to where Melbourne was 10 years ago. [Vietnamese food] is still in major pockets of the city but nowhere else. I think fresh, healthy and convenient [food options] will just get more important as society moves forward.
Vietnamese inherently is a healthy cuisine and we’ve built some great processes here. There aren’t many food franchise businesses here that have gone from zero to 100 stores in Australia like we have. You could count on one hand the Australian-led businesses that get to that point but we’ll get to 150 stores close to mid-2022. We’re growing pretty rapidly from there and we’ve built a base and a hunger to make it a success. I don’t think it’ll be easy, but without competition and being on-trend with what consumers want, we’d have to do a poor job to not make it a success.
We’ve picked up a lot of business through the lunch market as we offer a quick, light and healthy meal. We’ll expand our menu to rice, which will increase our dinner offering as well and we’re seeing a big trend there. Normally our stores are open five days a week for five lunches. Eighty per cent of our trade is there, but because of our shift to digital, a lot of our stores are trading consistently during lunch and dinner seven days a week, which allows a much bigger opportunity for us to grow the revenue. That shift is having a dramatic impact on our business.
IR: Is Roll’d just in shopping centres?
BH: We’re all over the place. We might be in an airport, shopping centre, on a high street doing deliveries, or office towers. We’ve been diverse and opportunistic. Moving forward, we know that the shopping centre landlords will go through a bit of pain. So until we see some clear direction in terms of what they’re trying to do, I’m hesitant to do too many large shopping centres. Local neighbourhood centres with a strong supermarket have done really well for us. That fresh product offering is synergistic with how we’re shifting our business to be a lot more suburban and local-based and driving the consumer that way.
IR: Roll’d has recently invested a lot into training and leadership for its staff, which I don’t think enough retailers do.
BH: If you look at Australian retailers, whether it’s hospitality or fashion, generally speaking, employees see [their job] as a means to an end, just to get the money. In our business, a large portion of our staff are international students who are studying a masters in accounting or design, but they’re doing retail because it’s an easy job they can get. We see it as a huge opportunity and responsibility to make sure we harness some of that talent. We haven’t done it that well to date, but in the last two or three years, we’ve been driving that effort.
Australia has a lack of different types of skillsets, like migration skills, but we see it as an opportunity for us to develop our people and create a good career pathway for them to transition into a more senior role and eventually become a franchisee. It’s gone well for us in the last three years. Out of our 40 head office staff, I’d say 15 were store-based staff who transferred into senior roles. That’s all the way from business development to area management through to accounts. We’ve found people within our teams who have different skillsets and we’ve been able to harness them. The beauty is they have an understanding of our culture. Generally speaking, they’re dedicated and passionate about our brand because they started in the business and we’ve given them opportunities to get into that level.
Historically, not many [retailers] see their frontline staff as an opportunity to grow into their leadership team. I’ve made it clear that we will hire internally first if we can find the right candidates, before we go externally.
IR: Tell me about Roll’d University.
BH: One component of it is about the individual progressing on a career pathway with us. It’s a lengthy pathway we’ve developed for junior staff right through to becoming a CEO, whether here or globally. I genuinely believe one of our staff will one day. I look at Maccas, Domino’s – those CEOs have come from the ground up and I see that happening with us.
[The university] is also an opportunity for them to develop personally as well. One of our key objectives is that all our franchisees and head office staff have to do one course that’s about personal development each quarterly. Like anything, if they improve their personal development, they’ll hopefully become better team members and employees.
Go1 has been around for two to three years with us and the resources on their platform are phenomenal, people can learn how to do yoga and how to read P&L. It’s powerful to have those resources at our fingertips.
There are hundreds of thousands of pieces of learning on the platform, all accessible through the website or app, so all our staff have access to it. We have maybe a couple thousand staff on the platform, who have access to our internal training modules [and Go1] platform modules as well. Generally speaking the majority are short, video-based modules. The shortest is maybe three or four minutes, they’re usually about 15-25 minutes.
IR: Is international expansion on the cards for Roll’d?
BH: We were supposed to be in the US last year. I had seven or eight trips to the US over the last 18 months planning for a launch into Utah or New York. With New York and the rest of the US being decimated by Covid, that’s stalled our decision, but I won’t be surprised if we do something late this year or the next. We’ll most likely open in New Zealand next year, but we’ve got an aggressive international agenda coming up. We’ll continue in Australia, but we have a lot of interest from different parties overseas and it’s about time that we capitalise on that.
IR: Looking back on 2020, what are some of the interesting things you learnt?
As a business owner, I’ve learnt not to pigeonhole opportunities very quickly. We’re testing different things that are having great results that we weren’t expecting. I’m of the mind to do a lot more trials before really saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to things. You’ll see us do a lot of different things this year, we might partner with Coles and we’ll be going into a lot more hospitals.
Not everything will be a great success, but it gives people energy and excitement, During Covid, you could see that if you do the same thing, you’ll probably fail, so we want to protect our business for the long-term.