In Focus
FRANCHISING | Staff Reporter, Australia

"The pool of quality franchisees is shallow and slowly drying up" comments Burger Edge's Issam Soubjaki

But that hasn't stopped Burger Edge's revival and growth over the last 24 months. QSR Media sat down with Issam Soubjaki to find out what the group has been up to.

QSR Media: What's new at Burger Edge?

Issam:  Well, Burger Edge has gone through a planned growth spurt over the past 9 months, opening 5 stores in Victoria and WA. We have another 2 planned in WA before the year is out, and 1 more in Brisbane. So 2011 has been a busy year for us. I feel like its the end of the beginning, and we are about to launch into a new phase of our business.

QSR Media: WA seems to be going well for you, why are you focussing on growth there?

Issam: Strong demand and a very receptive audience. Our 3 stores regularly rate in the top 5 best stores national sales getting a lot of enquiries for new franchisees and are on the radar of many developers and shopping centres. I have personally visited Perth more than 12 times in the past year. With every visit, I am a little more buoyed by the sense of confidence and unabashed drive for growth – from both consumers and developers. The state is ready to do business. Deals happen easier, contractors are professional and retail is strong – for us anyway!.

QSR Media: How is the re-branding going?

Issam: Very well. It’s an ongoing process and is never really completed. We are treating it as a organic and evolving part of the business. I don’t think it should ever stay static. Our store designs reflect that. We get a little better with every new store opening.

QSR Media: You have added 12 stores since last time we spoke, are they franchised and how do you attract quality franchisees

Issam: We’ve franchised all but 2. We chose to keep two stores for now for the sole purpose of keeping our hand and heads in the front line. Whilst its extra work for HQ, it’s shows we believe in our system and will invest in ourselves. Eventually, we will franchise these company owned stores, but only when we are confident a quality candidate comes forward for it. Honestly speaking, and speaking with other franchisors, the pool of quality franchisees is shallow and slowly drying up. Franchisors need to look widely to find and keep good franchisees. We’ve been fortunate with the last few candidates. Some have exceeded our expectations.
I am a firm believer is growing slowly but steadily – especially in the early growth stages. Franchising is the easiest business to grow yourself broke in. For every 3 good franchisees, a poor performing or problematic one can offset the balance. It’s not worth rushing to put on the numbers only to find 30% of your franchisees are going to bring down the entire network. I’d rather grow in staged phases and be prepared to revaluate each stage before planning and executing the next round of recruitments. Sounds boring, but sensible business.

QSR Media: The gourmet burger market is getting more competitive with players such as Grill'd, Urban Burger etc and even the major QSR brands starting to launch their own range of gourmet burger, how do you differentiate yourself?

Issam: Well, believe it or not, its always been a congested market. We’ve been part of a movement that has evolutionized the burger market, not revolutionised it. Also I would throw the net of competition out wider to include gourmet pizza, noodle bars, sushi, Mexican foods...etc as helping to congest our space. After all, we are all competing for the same customer type, just sharing them on different days of the week. We focus on value for money and offer good honest food, served quickly. It’s not fine dining, and it’s not drive-through ‘hi cal’ trash. We are gaining a lot of return customers because of our quality ingredients, cooked in front of customers and sticking to what we know best. I honestly can’t see how the big multinationals can purport to offer a gourmet burger, when it is near impossible to deliver the ‘quality’ they purport to have, within the margins they must achieve, and in times frames they serve. For goodness sake, you can’t cook a premium grade beef patty in under 2 minutes. It’s just not possible. If its cooked in 2 minutes, its mostly fat and water cooking. Meat doesn’t cook that quickly..... Anyway, in short, I am not concerned because I know it is not a serious threat to our business. I think the main players in the Gourmet burger sector will continue to battle it out for a while yet.

QSR Media:  How do you market "Burger Edge"?

Issam: It’s mainly through Local Area Marketing. We are about to launch another 6 month radio campaign, and are looking at some online buying media. Essentially, we prefer to do little to no marketing, and focus on the in store customer experience. A positive customer experience is the best form of marketing. Let your customer spruik your business for you.

We enjoy a high rate of return patronage. We can confirm this through the growing loyalty system.

QSR Media :This time 12 months ago you had just taken over the master franchise, how has the business matured since then?

Issam: Yes, we bought back the Queensland Master franchise. I think that was a wise move to ensure the brand had room and momentum to grow. We are planning our next stage of growth in Queensland, starting with Brisbane and the inner suburbs. We are preparing ourselves for a 2 year growth plan that will see us balance out our representation in Queensland to match VIC and WA. I am very excited by the potential in Queensland. We are doing this during a retail slump up north, so what better time to forge ahead and make an impression on the market. 

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