Why Roll’d kept a foot on the pedal during the pandemic, and how it’s paid off

By Sarah Stowe | 21 Oct 2020 View comments

New stores this year, a fresh take on delivery innovation and a boost in the Net Promoter Score…just some of the highlights from 2020 so far for Vietnamese fast-food chain Roll’d. So what has been the Roll’d pandemic strategy?

In this Q&A Roll’d founder and CEO Bao Hoang shares lessons learned through the pandemic and reveals what’s next for the fast-growing brand.

What’s the big lesson from the Covid-crisis?

A regular traveller, Hoang had big plans for international growth in 2020. But he saw the troubling signs of Covid-19 and took early action.

“We saw what was happening in Hunan early on, and protected the business in February. As the disaster unfolded, we positioned our business to hunker down but be creative.”

Hoang says innovation for its own sake isn’t enough.

“We learned the right way to innovate is in the way we wanted to create [new ideas] anyway. We were 95 per cent store sales and 5 per cent delivery. Now we are 70 per cent store and 30 per cent delivery which we always had planned. We just sped it up. Convenience is always our biggest play long term,” he says.

And as a leader, he discovered in the pandemic the power of a simple, consistent message.

“I’ve learned that simple messaging is important. I made it clear to the business our objective to stay open as long as possible, to keep the team employed.”

What about CBD and airport stores?

“Some have stayed open. Perth and Brisbane stores are at 60 per cent, Sydney at 40 to 50 per cent, Melbourne just five to 10 per cent of where we should be.

“Most Sydney CBD outlets are closed – that whole demographic will shift forever. So we’re working with franchisees to look at what opportunities there are, how they might be more creative about revenue.

“We have a dozen corporate stores, just a couple are open.”

Despite the retail challenges, Hoang has boosted head office staff numbers.

“We’ve employed more people across various departments – marketing, development, operations – making sure we can manage the business.

“Early in the year we only achieved 20 per cent of last year’s figures, now we are up to 80 per cent of last year. We’ve spent more marketing dollars than ever in this pandemic. Everything has been directed at a sale, providing extra opportunities to our customers,” he says.

The innovations have helped stimulate the business and attract new franchise recruits, he says. So far this year five new Roll’d stores have opened and there are another eight to come.

“People see us innovate and drive the business, and they want to join us.”

Roll’d has also seen its Net Promoter Score take off through the pandemic.

“For the head office team and franchisees NPS has skyrocketed through pandemic. We’ve worked very hard. Franchisees went from +20 to +60, we’ve now dropped back to +30 in the last month.

“What we’ve also learned is, why would we ever take the foot off the pedal? It’s given us results.

What’s been your main method of franchisee support over the past six months?

“We’ve given royalty and cashflow relief, and we’ve supported franchisees’ staff directly – Roll’d employs about 800 international students on visas.

“We ran a give-back system on behalf of franchisees, for staff who are in distress to pay their rents, for instance.  It’s very little for us to give. 

“During this period we’ve all lost money,” he says. “The royalty relief wasn’t an enormous amount but it takes pressure off franchisees who have so many people screaming for money. Everyone has to have pain – the landlord, franchisee, supplier, customer. If everyone bands together, we’ll all come out of it.”

Tell us about innovation

“The Roll’dRunner is a food truck, we launched it in Brighton. Customers in a registered suburb order two hours in advance. We get eight orders, prepare and package them up in the truck, drive out to customers at an agreed time and cook the meal in the truck.

 

The Roll'd Runner | Inside Franchise Business Executive

The Roll’d Runner | Inside Franchise Business Executive

“For us it’s how food should be. Because the truck comes from a local store, efficiencies are already there, you don’t increase the staff – it’s another angle of opportunity.”

Other innovations in the business included a meal box, but as “everyone is trying to do a meal box,” that has been put on the back burner.

Long term Hoang has his eyes set on implementing drone delivery.

“We’re investing a fair bit of money further into our tech, our app, because I do keep saying, in about five years drone delivery will be major part of this. Decongesting roads, making delivery more efficient and easier for the consumer. It will be something in our business in five years time. We would love to be leaders of that around the world.

“Alphabet (Google’s parent company) has done a lot of testing, Amazon has been given airspace for trials.” 

How will Roll’d grow into 2021?

“Traditionally Roll’d has been very food court, shopping centres based and we have to take a bit more control of customers coming to our business. Now we’re looking at leasing high street locations that can provide a 50/50 in-store/delivery service.”

Roll’d has a focus on growing in regional Australia, the new predicted hot-spots for population growth as city dwellers seek a more relaxed future.

The chain has already this year added regional outlets in Elanora in Queensland, Royal Adelaide hospital in South Australia, Fremantle in Western Australia and Fyshwick in the ACT.

“Our new model is more conducive to regional, and we’ve traditionally done very well there, we’re seen as a healthy premium option. I’ve made it clear we will look further at the opportunities, and the convenience play of deliveries,” Hoang says.