24 August 2017   

10 min read
In 2012, Bao Hoang and two friends transformed an Italian café in Melbourne into a small hawker-style Vietnamese eatery serving Vietnamese inspired food using his Mum’s traditional recipes. They ran out of rice paper rolls in 60 minutes. Since then Australian’s hunger for Rolld’s fresh and flavoursome food hasn’t slowed down. In just over five years, Rolld is now a $60 million franchise business with 61 stores across the country and a signed international master franchisee. Co-founder and CEO Bao Hoang shares the story of Rolld’s remarkable success.
Rolld has been a trailblazer in bringing Vietnamese food to the mass market. What have been the key drivers to your success?

We didn’t know exactly how the market would receive Rolld, but I was quietly confident it would do well and so I always planned for a fast expansion. With little capital, my experience as a multi-site franchisee was very advantageous, and made it easier to choose the franchising path. People have also been key. Choosing like-minded, experienced and dedicated individuals was crucial to expansion, and with an exciting new business model supported by daily queues, interested parties weren't too hard to come by. We've been fortunate to have been heavily supported by family and friends as our first franchisees, so loyalty was never in question. Also, creating a support office that is equally dedicated to our purpose and our franchise partners has also been challenging but rewarding. Ultimately though, being a trailblazer means there's no one to pave the safe path, so one of our main strengths is an unwavering focus on our purpose, values and the strategies we set around our goals, as well as a strong faith (not blind) in our 'gut' instincts. I personally have a pretty high risk tolerance, which makes it easier but I'm also willing to adapt and take responsibility for the leaps that I take.


Rolld has grown very quickly. With 61 stores and counting, what’s behind that phenomenal growth?

Growing at such a rapid rate does have its challenges particularly when there’s no real business equivalent in the market, and we’re refining the model in parallel to the expansion. The short answer is to keep a very keen eye on the cash flow and ensuring every dollar is used with extreme efficiency. Over the years, we’ve also had to dilute our share to take on investors, who have been an immense help, not only from a financial perspective but also experience in business, from which we’ve definitely benefited. Creating very strict processes, check and balances, and accurate data collection and reporting is also hugely important to allow more meticulous decision making on the fly. One of my key strengths is prioritising, and this has been critical in overseeing such rapid growth. So much time can be wasted on unnecessary meetings or discussions on petty office politics, so it’s really a matter of ensuring everyone is in the right places, and doing things that make a positive impact on the business, not ticking boxes for the sake of occupying their eight hours. There’s a big difference between business and busyness.


In an increasingly diverse fast-casual dining scene with new entrants and competition, what will be critical to Rolld’s long-term success?

As with any business it's all about adapting and innovating to stay relevant. In saying that, the changes we make need to stay true to our brand purpose and be filtered through our core values. I've seen brands 'sell out' for the next fad and their brand message becomes more and more diluted to the point that people no longer listen or show interest. I've found that more and more people respect and follow brands that feel authentic. Our success is also highly dependent on attracting and retaining the best people that are aligned with our purpose and core values. If our network of people are loyal, motivated and dedicated to playing their part in our common goal, all the bigger stuff will just fall into place. And of course, maintaining consistent high quality of the total customer experience. In Australia, particularly Melbourne, we're so spoilt for choice that consumers can be fickle, so we never get complacent. We constantly seek opportunities to innovate so we can keep 'wowing' our guests.


What do you think makes the Rolld model so appealing to customers?

Vietnamese food in general is appealing because of the freshness and abundance of 'the good stuff', without compromising on flavour. I'd say what sets Rolld apart is our business model, creating solid business processes for traditional foods that allows us to be quick and convenient, while keeping consistency, freshness and quality. We've tried to remove the stigma and potential 'risk' of the traditional 'mom and pop' restaurants, and focused on the complete customer experience. So, while food quality is high on the agenda, we don't discount the importance of customer service and presenting clean and comfortable places to enjoy our food. Also, I think our story is one that seems to attract attention, as we've been told we're one of few genuine family businesses, also layered with quite an inspirational refugee/immigration story.


How is Rolld innovating and adapting to the market to keep relevant?

It's no secret the world is moving faster, people are wanting more and more in less time, and on top of that, we don't wish to compromise on quality. I'd say most of it is due to the opportunities and possibilities that have come from technology, so for us, it's about finding the relevant technologies that will help take our business to the next level. We take inspiration from the big companies like Uber and Airbnb, and constantly seek opportunities to use technology to reach more people, reach the right people, provide them with product, faster and easier. For example, we're looking into moving into drive-through and delivery, and whilst these aren't new concepts, we're looking at how technology can help create a new and faster level of experience, as well as creating internal business efficiencies. The concept of loyalty programs is also classic, however technology allows us to speak to our customers beyond the bricks and mortar, so we can occupy their mind space more often and 'spoil' them at the right times to really 'wow' and gain their advocacy. There is also much to be gained operationally. Innovation through machinery can provide opportunities such as speeding up prep times or better preserving the quality of our raw produce. I believe there is a big future in automation, so I keep a pulse check on that space, and see how our business could benefit.


What does the future hold for the retail food industry in Australia?

Australia is definitely becoming a food capital to the world, and with so many quality options that are convenient and well-priced, it will become harder to stand out in the crowd. The growth in the food industry has seen more real estate allocated to 'food precincts' that opens the gateway for aspiring food retail owners. The danger in this is that while the barriers to entry become less, the barriers to success becomes much harder. So, business owners need to be smarter and more vigilant in the location they choose, in the product they sell, how and to whom it is targeted at, and then how it can be replicated over multiple sites and/or brands. I do believe landlords too, have a responsibility to control the number of food outlets realistic to the traffic flow, as well as creating a tenancy mix that is balanced and allows businesses to thrive. There is a definite shift towards convenience and the outsourcing of meals for the home and office, and with the diversity in culture and natural sense of travel and adventure that we have in Australia, it really makes for an exciting environment to really explore, experiment and innovate within the food industry.


Top five tips for success in the retail food industry:
  • A consistent and quality product
  • Memorable customer service
  • Speed of service
  • Maintaining brand integrity
  • Choosing the right location

These are probably the usual suspects for all businesses, but the difference will come through one's ability to take risks, foresee opportunities, and simply how hard you work to just get things done.