WITH chicken rice being almost a national meal in this country, The Chicken Rice Shop (TCRS) knew it was in for some tough competition when it opened its first outlet in 2000.
Nine years later, the chain is still around and growing, and enjoying the benefits of a brand that has become familiar with chicken rice-crazy Malaysians.
Gaik Wong, a 37-year veteran of the food industry and formerly chief operating officer and executive director of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Malaysia, founded the quick-service chicken rice chain in 2000 with her daughter Wong Kah Lin.
“I opted for early retirement after more than 25 years with KFC Holdings (M) Bhd and became a consultant for a chain of restaurants after a short break.
“After a few years, I decided to set up my own business based on the concept of a family restaurant with global potential,” she recalls.
Nothing was easy in the beginning as it was an unproven concept and the company found it difficult to recruit the right calibre of people in the early years.
But today, the restaurant chain is well established, having grown from the first outlet in Taipan USJ to 50 TCRS outlets in Malaysia and one in Singapore.
Wong, TCRS Restaurants Sdn Bhd managing director, says the company is still on the expansion trail even as the global economic crisis persists.
She believes that the restaurant business is recession-resilient, especially among food-loving Malaysians.
“We plan to set up eight more outlets this year, including two in Singapore,” she tells StarBizWeek in an interview.
“The investment is between RM400,000 and RM700,000 per outlet,” she says, adding that TCRS will open an outlet in Bangsar South next month.
The company will spend RM7mil to RM10mil to promote and expand its chain of TCRS and Sweet Chat Cafe outlets this year.
On overseas expansion, she says it has received enquiries from China, Thailand, Australia and the Middle East but is not in a hurry to expand into new markets abroad.
“We might introduce a franchise model overseas but we have to get the right partners,” she says.
Wong says TCRS wants to focus on its catering business and expects this segment to contribute 5% of total sales in two years.
“We started our catering business a few years ago and would place more advertisements to let the market know about this,” she says.
The company also offers delivery services in certain areas.
While many companies try to cut their advertising and promotion (A&P) budget during this downturn, TCRS plans to continue spending. It allocates 5% of total sales for A&P annually.
Its sales totalled RM55mil last year, 19.6% higher than in 2007.
On the strategy to improve its restaurant services, Wong says TCRS will continue to invest in information technology (IT) and upgrade its business systems.
“We invest about RM50,000 in IT per outlet,” she says, adding that the company has a centralised system to track its performance.
It has invested RM3.5mil in IT over the last 10 years.
Wong says TCRS has to remain competitive by continuing to deliver value-for-money meals to its customers, especially in times of rising inflation. “We want our customers to enjoy a good dining experience through our comfortable and cheerful environment,” she says.
As its tagline suggests – Chicken Rice ... and More – the restaurant’s menu features more than 25 other local favourites besides chicken rice, such as Hainanese curry chicken, spicy mixed vegetables, stuffed fish balls and Hong Kong beef stew.
“The key drivers for growth are to be innovative in product offerings, marketing activities and making sure we fulfill the needs of our entire customer segments,” she says.