How to Choose the Right Franchise Brand?

Malaysia's BFood CEO and Starbucks MD offers his successful strategy

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Sydney Lawrance Quays swears by the thought that the harder you work, the luckier you get. And his career graph is testimony to this belief. The CEO of Malaysia-based investment holding company Berjaya Food (BFood) Berhad and managing director of Starbucks Malaysia and Brunei joined the company almost two decades ago when its first outlet opened in 1998, as part of the coffee brand’s marketing team.

Since then, Quays has been instrumental in growing Starbucks to over 250 outlets, and leading BFood—which engages in the development and operation of restaurant and café chains and retail outlets in South-East Asian countries—to expand to brands such as Kenny Rogers Roasters and Jollibean in Malaysia, and now in India.

We spoke to Quays to understand his strategy for choosing a brand for franchising and what makes Asia a hotbed for foreign brands. Edited excerpts:

BFood and India’s World Iconic Brands Hospitality recently inked a memorandum of understanding to expand the Kenny Rogers Roasters and Jollibean brands in India. This is also the first overseas market for Jollibean after Singapore. Your hopes from this entry?

We hope to see an interest in the brands and the offerings that both Kenny Rogers Roasters and Jollibean provide. I understand that the people in India are veering towards healthier food options, and I think both brands best embody a health-focused direction. I am also looking forward to how World Iconic Brands will localize the menu to suit the food trends in India. It’s always interesting to see new and exciting food concepts that appeal to different people of different cultures.

How do you evaluate whether a potential franchise fits with your way of doing things?

We look at the core values of the company. And when looking at potential franchisees, we also look at their experience and success stories.

When it comes to choosing a brand for franchising, what’s your strategy?

First and foremost, the brand has to be profitable. You can’t franchise a brand if it’s not profitable. Secondly, the brand must have a number of store counts and different format stores, because when people look at a business which they think is doable, they need to be able to build on the format. We also look at a brand that has a broader universal appeal as this would be a stronger platform for the franchisee to be profitable.

You graduated with honors from Stamford University in Bangladesh. What did you learn about franchising there?

I majored in hospitality management and marketing. But I picked up most of my knowledge on franchising on the job. I think formal education is important in providing the foundation to start. However, simply doing provides the experience and expertise that has brought me to where I am now.

The influx of foreign food franchises in Asia is increasing steadily. What you think makes the region so hospitable for foreign brands?

I think the food and beverage industry is growing steadily. This can be seen from the evidence of the call for new and exciting food and beverage concepts that have been sprouting around the region in recent years. Also, people’s tastes are becoming more diversified and discerning as they open up themselves to discover new cultures outside.

You have been associated with Starbucks for almost two decades. What makes you love working at Starbucks?

The people. At Starbucks, we are not in the coffee business serving people, we are in the people business serving coffee. I believe that our partners (employees) are our biggest assets, and we take pride in taking care of them, making them an integral part of the company.

We do not call our people employee or staff, but we call ourselves “partners”.

Recently, Starbucks said it will close 150 underperforming US locations in fiscal year 2019. Is Starbucks Malaysia facing any such issue?

At Starbucks Malaysia, we are in fact opening 25-30 stores each year. There is a huge growth potential here as more and more Malaysians have taken interest in the brand in recent years, and we are producing more product innovations.

Drive-thru also plays a big part of our business here in Malaysia. We have developing towns all across the country and many people travelling from state to state each day, which makes drive-thru an integral part of the country’s ecosystem. This year we plan to open more than 10 drive-thrus.

We recently opened in Kelantan, which is predominantly a rural state that is relatively isolated in Peninsular Malaysia, with plans to open in untapped markets across the rest of Malaysia this year, such as Terengganu and Perlis.

Any tips for those planning to open a franchise in Asia?

Firstly, to be successful, you must be well-rounded. A person must need to strike a balance of being compassionate and driving results, and having a clear vision and direction while understanding the capabilities of their team.

Secondly, if you believe in the brand and you believe in its success, and you have a team that is as passionate as you and as hardworking as you; then everything will naturally fall into place.