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From humble eatery to $40m franchise: Rolld’s CEO discusses his business’s rapid evolution

Beginning life as a small hawker-style eatery in Melbourne’s CBD, Rolld has rapidly evolved over the course of four and half years into a booming national franchise. While it’s growth rate (2122% since launch) may seem remarkable for what was initially a self-funded start-up, co-founder and CEO Bao Hoang isn’t surprised by Rolld’s success. He told Dynamic Business, “We envisioned this success, setting strategic targets early on to grow as quickly as we have grown”.

Together with his cousin, Tin Ly, and schoolmate, Ray Esquieres, Hoang launched Rolld in May 2012 with a view to sharing the fresh, healthy and authentic Vietnamese cuisine he and Ly were raised on – but in a format that was ‘wholly distinct’ from the eateries typical of Richmond, Victoria, Cabramatta, NSW and other suburbs with large Vietnamese communities.

Hoang explained, “We wanted to celebrate our heritage – especially our mothers’ fresh and healthy recipes, passed down from generation to generation – but interpret it in a way that made Vietnamese street eats accessible to the masses. We did this by focusing on speed and convenience; developing a vibrant, contemporary setting; and championing rice paper rolls (or Soldiers as we call them). We envisioned our Soldiers becoming a staple in people’s weekly diet, in much the same way as Japanese hand rolls had, and knew that having them on display, on mass, would be a real eye-catcher.”

“There were some sleepless nights”

Although Hoang was familiar with how to run a small business – he’s a multi-unit franchisee with Revita, a physiotherapy franchise group he co-founded in 2010 – he admitted that he, Ly and Esquieres had “close to no hospitality experience, unless you count feeding our own large families”.

“I have a keen interest in business and love both negotiation and number-crunching… but the food side definitely involved a learning curve,” he said.

“Tin, Ray and I had some sleepless nights ensuring we complied with food regulations. That meant downloading and understanding huge volumes of information – mountains of it. When we weren’t fixated with compliance, we’d spend a lot of time tweaking our own food and service model to ensure we had the quality and the speed we were after.”

“We’ve spent money at the right time”   

The maiden Rolld store on Goldsborough Lane cost Hoang, Ly and Esquieres $180,000 out of their own pockets to setup. Hoang said it opened to a queue of more than 30 people despite the fact that marketing was non-existent (“all we did was tape a takeaway menu to the window”).

When the queue continued to grow over subsequent days and weeks, the founding trio realised Rolld was a viable challenger to the sandwich bars and sushi stands, which were in abundance. They resolved to open a further four stores across the CBD and by May 2013, they were achieving sales of $500,000 per month and commanding more than 100 staff. To date, Rolld has opened 50 stores across five states, achieved sales in excess of $40 million and its workforce has ballooned to over 1000 people.

Hoang said he and his co-founders are very aware of the market and internal factors that have contributed to the company’s growth, namely:

  • Market responsiveness:“People are more discerning about the nutritional content of what they eat and a growing number of people have food allergies and intolerances, which has increased the demand for fresher, less-processed products. We’ve worked very hard to meet these growing needs, engaging with executive chefs and food nutritionists. At our stores, you’ll find vegetarian, low carb and gluten free options.”
  • A dynamic product offering:“For example, we’ve recently introduced the Baos (steamed buns) as a permanent menu items due to their popularity in our recent in-store charity campaign. And as a teaser, we’ll be doing some exciting things with our signature Soldier range, including a throwback flavour for all our early Rolld supporters.”
  • Continued growth in the quick service industry:“It’s showing no signs of slowing down in Australia, let alone globally, with year-on-year growth of 2.5% predicted for the next several years. The simple reason is that as the world moves faster and faster, people have less time to cook for themselves and they demand food sooner.”
  • A consistent experience across all stores: “We ensure the franchisees who join Rolld align with our values and are passionate about food, because it’s not the easiest of industries. We don’t always get it right, but we’re definitely getting better at it.  Once they’ve joined, it’s up to our operations team to ensure our processes deliver the high standards we expect across the stores.”
  • A strong financial strategy:“We’ve had to be very strict in terms of managing the cashflow to ensure money is spent at the right time and in areas that will add the most value. I’ve also worked very hard in bringing in capital investments at the right times, to ensure we’re able to continue our momentum.”
“If we fall asleep, we might get eaten”

According to Hoang, complacency isn’t an option for the co-founders moving forward (“if we fall asleep, the competition might eat us”); rather, to maintain their growth trajectory, they’ve set some “big hairy and audacious goals”, which include launching another 50 stores in the coming year – notably, the first international store in the Philippines, which open in early 2017. While this might sound like a mammoth undertaking, Hoang isn’t fazed: “I’m very much geared towards innovation and development, so pushing the envelope and doing things out of the box doesn’t make me uncomfortable, in fact it gets me excited and makes me work harder.”

Outside of Rolld, Hoang continues to be involved with Revita. He also heads up the humorously-named Mama’s Buoi, a Vietnamese home cooking and cocktail bar he launched in Sydney with cousin and two-time business partner Ly.

“Mama’s Buoi spun out of our experience with Rolld but it scratches the itch for more exotic Vietnamese food – the sort of meals you’d only in traditional homes at your typical Sunday lunch or family gathering,” he said.

“Running three businesses simultaneously is certainly a balancing act and it has required me to prioritise my time. As each operation has grown, there have been times when I’ve been pulled in many directions and got caught up in things, that in hindsight, could have probably been solved without me.  That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with the right people with the right skills that are engaged and passionate. My forte and passion is in business development and innovation – bigger picture stuff – so I need to find people that can execute the other things.  So as much as I want to know how to get those other things done, I’ve had to let go and trust that they will be done by our teams, and focus on what I need to do to continue to grow and develop all the businesses. Obviously, I still need to oversee it all, but more strategically, and periodically: through the correct channels.”

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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