Roll'd weathers the pandemic by working towards a delivery-driven future

In an interview with QSR Media, Bao Hoang reveals his approach to harmonise the delivery model and the restaurant model and their new dishes geared for faster transactions.

Whilst he did not know how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the industry then, Bao Hoang knew he had to prepare the Roll’d business and his staff to prepare for the inevitable restrictions that will impact the restaurant industry.

“We sort of went through the next four to six weeks reasonably normal; we made some preparations, got our staff ready, got them mentally ready for what may come,” the Vietnamese chain’s founder told QSR Media in an exclusive interview.

The VIC-headquartered business lost about 80% of sales at the onset of initial lockdowns, but Hoang said it experienced recovery months later - coming back to about 80% of their usual performance in June.

But the fatigue and mental health impact on his support staff are not lost on him.

“I went through a bit of a challenge a month ago,” he admitted. (The interview was conducted late August.) “We're hoping that obviously after this lockdown, then we can go back to reasonable normalness and I think that will slowly allow us to improve.”

For Hoang, his closeness to the situation better informs him in his new advisory role with the Australian government, having been appointed to sit on an expanded board of business people and entrepreneurs on a renewed COVID-19 commission.

According to him, some of the ideas being pitched to the government include different subsidies and taking care of the mental health of small business owners.

“There's a lot of advice to the government and I'm not privy, unfortunately, to explain all of it because it is confidential,” he said. “But I would love to just say that there's a lot of activity happening. And I think Australia is going to be in a great position post-crisis.”

Like many of his counterparts, Hoang also sees the pandemic as having accelerated the industry’s inevitable pivot to delivery and the bolstering of digital functions whilst providing value offerings amidst lower spending.

“We generally have a view to what's happening in the future, and what needs to be done in the future,” he said. And for him, the future is delivery-focused sites and unparalleled accessibility.

Roll’d has started to open stores consisting of delivery drivers, in the view that it will also provide drone-led services within five years. This is coupled with their Roll’d Runner food truck, launched during their first lockdown, aimed to reach customers far from shopping centres. Personnel will consist of some staff that were initially stood down when the crisis hit.

A bigger role for delivery was always in the works, Hoang said, with “real planning” having been done in the last two years.

“Being accessible is clearly where the future is going to be,” he said. “So drones or driverless cars or, or whatever might be - robotics in the future...is going to be something that will be in play.”

50-0 ratio between in-store, delivery sales seen
Delivery sales, Hoang revealed, is at 25% - a huge leap from the chain’s 2% prior to the March lockdowns. Ideally, he wants a 50-50 ratio between off-premise and in-store sales, arguing that the connection to their food remains a large component of coming into their stores.

“There's obviously a lot of talk and a lot of people are trying things like dark kitchens but I think the challenge with that is how do you do enough sales to actually be sustainable long term,” he explained. “I don't think the model has worked for anyone just yet. But I think if you have the delivery model along with the restaurant model, then there's a benefit both ways.”

Hoang also wants to build their own delivery platform, finding it challenging to control the quality of their offerings via third parties.

“That might take us three or four years to really build a strong one. But that's definitely the path we want to take,” he said.

With their multi-channel strategy comes a more local approach to marketing, Hoang added, stating he looks to reach segments of the local community partly via the Roll’d Runner.

“I think the pandemic I think has made that much more important now as well, because I think people, even people won't be able to travel for quite a while, as you know, but I think people are excited to want to be supporting more local business,” he said.

To better engage customers, Hoang hired their first head of customer insights, tasked to take a look at the purchasing data obtained by their platforms. Their whole technology platform is also subject to a review.

“We're not about a sales tactic or anything like that but we know what people like and we need to know better, and so we want to become much more targeted to them.”

Developing products tailor-made for faster transactions
In terms of new products, Hoang first revealed to QSR Media that they plan to release a rice dishes range and a selection of dumplings. A drinks range is also expected between December and January. The new items, Hoang said, all fall under their plans to drive faster transactions, especially during this ongoing period of physical distancing.

“People aren't going to want to line up much anymore. It's going to be pre-ordering...They are not going to wait 15 minutes for the meal. I think consumer patterns have changed forever,” he stressed. “We're actually trying to create a whole new daypart of sales in our business.”

Hoang also disclosed that only one restaurant of their premium Mama’s Buoi concept remains, run by his brother, deciding to convert the other stores into Roll’d restaurants as part of their strategy.

More closures anticipated, more eating at home
In the next months, Hoang anticipates more closures across the industry, with stronger businesses seeing opportunity in occupying some of those sites. Once the VIC restrictions are over, Hoang expects the economy to bounce back “very quickly.” In terms of consumption, he sees more families eating together at home.

“When you go through a challenge together, you generally have a connection. And I think that's what's gonna happen with a lot of society in Australia, that's the positive,” he said.

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