Zambrero on growth spurt

By Sarah Stowe | 21 Apr 2017 View comments

Inside Franchise Business: Zambrero is on a growth spurtZambrero has just unveiled an outlet in Nowra, bringing its network of restaurants to 150 – and there are more opportunities to come.

The Mexican chain has grown by 30 to 40 stores annually for the past three years and CEO Karim Messih sees no reason to change this for at least the next two years.

But, he is keen to point out, it is not growth for its own sake – there are plenty of untapped territories around the country, Messih says.

“The strategy has been more regional and about working our way in, really planning, looking for the right demographics, where this will work well. Location is so key.

“You can be in the best street in a suburb but in the worst spot and it’s not good. If your site is out of the sweet spot it is really a struggle.”

Zambrero operates food court, strip location, kiosk and 16 drive-through models and takes a balanced approach to the spread of outlets around the country; the different models will suit diverse locations, says Messih.

He believes what’s important is to capitalise on the option to cater for both lunchtime and dinner trade.

Customers appreciate choice but Zambrero has deliberately kept its menu simple. “Sometimes less is more,” says Messih. “Often franchisees have young kids serving, and this also makes it simple for them. I’d rather have fewer meals [on the menu] but meals that were amazing.”

He compares this with what he has recently observed in the US where some chains have more than 100 items on the menu.

In his view the traditional QSR businesses are failing to innovate in their very cluttered space. It is the newer chains in the healthy eating sector who are invested in innovation.

Customer focus

Messih believes in the “theatre of food”, where displays are crucial to the customer experience.

“In the last two and half years we’ve moved away from bain maries. How we present food is very appealing to the customer, it’s really critical, one of the five senses.”

At the heart of Zambrero’s growth is a customer-centric focus.

“It starts with your products. We consider ourselves product people, we have an obsession about what we sell, and the quality of ingredients.”

A customer-centric approach is twofold. It’s reflected in the menu choices of vegan, vegetarian and now gluten-free options, along with the superfood range which keeps up with the times, Messih says.

Introducing a gluten-free burrito was a challenge: how to give similar taste sensations and how to create a burrito that wouldn’t crumble. The solution was black rice tortilla.

“It was launched late last year and sales have been amazing. We even have gluten-free franchisees who are now able to taste a burrito!”

The second customer-focused approach is in marketing – providing franchisees with the right systems, working in the digital space, accessing the technology to build customer loyalty.

Messih believes the brand can remain relevant to the customer right now through its loyalty programs, online ordering and home delivery. The home delivery service was launched about six months ago through Deliveroo and Uber Eats and has brought “good successes” he says. “For some of our metro markets home delivery is adding real value to the business.”

So what are the steps to success in fast food?

“Fast food is just about basics, customer service 101. It’s cliched but making a person feel important is so critical. It’s important for us too to deliver on speed and service. You can lose a customer quickly so it’s the sum of all it parts.”

There’s a danger in over-complicating things, he says.

“Have amazing products, great locations and fantastic service.”