A Filipino entrepreneurial couple tells HNM how they convinced a family-run Singaporean brand to grant them the first franchising deal outside of the city-state.
Boon Tong Kee (BTK), a Singaporean chain, had never let any franchising opportunity touch the business since the day it opened in 1983. Joy Rodriguez with her husband, Michael, learned this the hard way in 2011, when she had them rethink over their doubts.
Like in many franchising negotiations, BTK’s utmost concern was quality. Its growth in Singapore was slow but certain, opening only seven outlets in the duration of three decades. All throughout, it was solely managed by the Thian family, who began the business with a stall in 1979 serving Cantonese chicken rice. The family’s focus on resiliency and food quality, rather than on expansion, attracted a large following and propelled BTK among the foodie destinations in the city-state. In 2010, a CNN Travel article endorsed its chicken rice as one of the “40 Singapore foods we can’t live without.”
It took a series of Singapore-Manila trips by the Thians and the couple before any answer was in sight. Joy Rodriguez recounted how BTK owners tried select Chinese restaurants in the metropolis for competition and took notes of trends and Filipino dining preferences. Another set of visit focused on supplier competence, looking for the best supplier of chicken, meat, tofu, and vegetables to match BTK’s requirements and even flying some to Singapore for tests.
Studying a menu today at one of the two existing BTK in the Philippines at the Mall of Asia and Powerplant Mall, most probably say little about supplier management. It would interest them to know that the franchisees transport condiments and seasonings every week from Singapore—one of the key agreements made. The weekly duration makes them sure that the essential ingredients are fresh.
Fortunately, the others can be locally sourced out, although still under the guidance of the Singapore office. Supplies are only a portion of the entire process to ensure, for instance, that the Crispy Beancurd achieves that “crispy on the outside, soft in the inside” feel or the Hainanese and Crispy Roast Chicken meet expectations. The rest come from the crew, 12 of which spent six months training in Singapore.
Rodriguez did her fair share of training. In a span of three months, she stayed at the city-state and learned front-of-the-house, kitchen, and commissary operations. Franchising BTK became a highly entrepreneurial task for the couple when it seemed that the Thians put a greater concern on passing a 30-year old tradition than on the bottom line reaped from expanding overseas.
Many have been longing for the franchising deal with BTK, including a fast food giant, said Rodriguez. Incredibly, the Rodriguez couple managed to convince Singapore that they would be the better ones trusted.
Asked on what their edge could have been, Rodriguez said that it might be her convincing that she can run the business in the same manner as the Thian’s did: manage it “personally”. While her husband has been adept with restaurant franchising – having a number of chains under his hand – BTK is the first that the couple will handle together.
The restaurant hopes to stand out among the small pool of Singapore restaurants in Metro Manila. Already, BTK is poised to open its third branch in early July and a fourth in September.