The post high-school overseas jaunt doesn’t often prove the basis of a future career, but for Dave Milne, a stint travelling with a record company gave him a simple idea which has grown into a successful business. In the Tivoli Gardens of Copenhagen, an impoverished traveller could get everything from curry to ice cream in cheap, simple noodle boxes. Milne loved the concept. Stopping in Singapore on the way home, the young marketer was mesmerised by open wok cooking and the idea for Noodle Box was born.
Milne was introduced to Josh James, who offered some expertise in the food industry and soon became an investment partner. The idea evolved from restaurant style, entertainment based cooking to an express food model. The pair were lucky enough to snap up an old sandwich shop in Melbourne’s South Yarra, a premier shopping district, and from that moment, built their own furniture, sourced second-hand equipment, plastered the walls and did all their own painting.
With 75 stores across Australia, the pair is no longer so hands on, but as joint managing directors, the young entrepreneurs have built a business that is going from strength to strength. James and Milne had never planned to franchise, but with eight stores under their belt in 2000, franchise companies began to approach them. Eventually, having sold out of some competing interests, Milne and James used the capital to set up a franchise model. Noodle Box now collectively stir-fries 1,000,000 kilograms of noodles annually.
For Milne, the franchise model doesn’t compromise brand integrity. “I think the franchise model enables us to do that a lot more than owning 70 corporate stores ourselves”. He places supreme importance on the initial process of recruiting franchisees. Continued investment in training, marketing and support for new and established franchisees are the best way of maintaining your brand, according to Milne. “The main focus for any franchise model is how much you’re prepared to put back into the business and keep building a solid foundation with your franchisees.”
Noodle Box is also investing in environmentally sound practices, both as a savings measure and an exercise in corporate responsibility. The company has spent the last eighteen months building their own supply networks, developing their own branded sauces and decreasing their reliance on outside suppliers. Today, their five-year plan involves building more corporate stores to bypass the stricter lending rules imposed by banks on would-be franchisees.
For other entrepreneurs, he advises starting with a strong, original idea. “I think simplicity from an operational point of view is really important, because running a brand and trying to build a brand is hard enough work without having a messy operation behind it”. Noodle Box serves 60,000 boxes of noodles to 40,000 hungry customers per week. It’s a long way from the gardens in Copenhagen, but with big things planned for the future, it wasn’t hard for Milne to leave the travel behind.