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Wee Nam Kee: franchising a foreign brand

How did two Filipinos manage to bring in the brand?
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Wee Nam Kee has been has been a family business since it was put up in 1989 by Wee Toon Oout, or simply Mr. Wee. It was initially a chicken rice specialty shop and eventually evolved into a restaurant serving a broad range of Nanyang-inspired dishes to complement famous signature Hainanese dishes. These include curry fish head, cereal prawns, crispy roast pork, deep-fried tofu and stir-fried baby kai lan.

Since it was a family business, Linfred Yap, managing director of Wee Nam Kee Philippines, says that it took some time for him to convince Mr. Wee’s family to bring the franchise to the Philippines.

According to Weiser Co, operations head of Wee Nam Kee Philippines, Wee Nam Kee was a one-outlet affair, but enjoyed a constant and loyal clientele. The business is now being run by Wee Liang Lian, Mr. Wee’s son, as the older Wee had retired.

“In 2008, I worked for Procter & Gamble in Singapore, and almost every day I would have lunch and eat Hainanese chicken at Wee Nam Kee in Singapore,” Yap says. “I really fell in love with the dish and when I met the owner, I told him that if we opened in the Philippines, the people would love the food.”

The young Wee’s answer, however, was not so enthusiastic. He politely told Yap that his family was content with the business, and they were not interested in bringing the concept abroad.

Yap then went around Singapore, looking for another franchise to bring home. However, he could not find any that he liked. There were concepts that had potential, but they did not excite him. “[Wee Nam Kee] was something that I really wanted to bring home to Manila, something that is well loved in Singapore and I thought the Filipinos would feel the same way about it,” he says.

In 2009, Yap would have that dream fulfilled. “In 2009, I got a text message from Mr. Wee and he asked me if I was still interested in bringing the franchise to the Philippines,” Yap says. “He had apparently enrolled in courses about franchising and how to expand the business abroad.”

Negotiations started in September that year, and everything was finalized around April 2010. By June 2010, Yap and Co were selling the concept to the top executives of the country’s mall chains like Ayala Malls and SM. They eventually ended up at the Ayala Triangle in Makati City.

“I remembered the day when we got the call for this place because it just so happened that Mr. Wee was in town and we were showing him the other potential sites and trying all the chicken rice places,” Yap said. “We immediately brought him to Ayala Triangle and he said this was the place for us. We opened there on November 15, 2010.”

Under their franchise agreement, Yap and Co can sub-franchise the brand after opening three branches. “For now, we want to take care of this first branch and make sure that things are running smoothly. There are also plans to open a commissary because we do not have that much space here to store our food stocks.”

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This article was published on April 2011 issue of Entrepreneur Philippines

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