Bryan Tiu was still in college when he first ventured into business. At the young age of 18 years old, he borrowed money from his father’s retirement fund to buy the franchise of Domino’s Pizza.
The business did well in the beginning, which prompted Tiu to expand with three more outlets in a few years. But soon the franchise started losing when the economy slowed down in 1998 during the Asian financial crisis. He eventually closed down the business right after he graduated from college.
Learning his lessons from the failure of his first venture, Tiu refused to give up on his dream to become an entrepreneur. He borrowed again and invested the last remaining balance of his father’s retirement money to invest this time in a Japanese restaurant he conceptualized and called Teriyaki Boy.
Teriyaki Boy became hugely successful that Tiu expanded the restaurant into 10 branches in five years. But in 2005, he sold 70 percent majority of Teriyaki Boy to Pancake House, Inc. He later reinvested a portion of the proceeds he received from the sale to put up another chicken restaurant called Peri-Peri Charcoal Chicken.
At that time, the word peri peri, a type of chili pepper that grows in African countries used by the Portuguese in their Indian territories from history, was virtually unheard of until Peri-Peri Charcoal Chicken was introduced in the market.
Today, the growth in demand for peri peri chicken in the market has created a new category in the chicken restaurant industry and Peri-Peri Charcoal Chicken is the largest chicken restaurant chain in this category.
How did Tiu build his food empire with a total of 30 outlets in different brands in such a short span of time? What were his early lessons in business and how did he use it to succeed?
Here are the five business lessons every aspiring entrepreneur can learn from Bryan Tiu, the founder of Peri-Peri Charcoal Chicken:
1. Know how to be flexible and respond to market changes to survive challenges
Every business needs to embrace flexibility to weather different challenges brought about by rising competition, changing market demands or increasing operating costs.
“After I failed my first venture, I realized that part of me created the failure too because when the business was doing well, I was just relying on the franchise system,” Tiu said. “Whatever the franchisors want, I just follow them so somehow I developed that comfort zone that made me relax and not to do anything when the business was slowing.”
2. Know how to identify gaps in the market and innovate products that will satisfy demand
Gaps in the market are unmet consumer needs that represent opportunities for companies to create new products and services that satisfy untapped demand.
“I had this problem with Domino’s when I was closing it down,” Tiu said. “I figured out that I can do better by creating my own brand rather than getting a franchise because I can understand the culture and the Filipino taste. Back then, I saw that there was a gap in the market and there was really no casual segment for Japanese food.
“During that time, the number one seller of all Japanese restaurants was tempura. Since the Philippines is a chicken country and I like to eat chicken a lot, I thought of coming up with a Japanese restaurant that focuses on teriyaki chicken as my flagship product. With the help of a friend, we came up with a catchy Japanese name and logo to reach the young consumer market.”
3. Know when to cash in and leverage other people’s expertise to grow
Every entrepreneur has different reasons for selling the business but there is no better opportunity to sell when the offer will not only help unlock the value of the business, but also provide pathways for growth.
“One reason I sold Teriyaki Boy was because the business was already growing to a level I could not handle anymore,” Tiu explained. “I realized that I have some weaknesses as an entrepreneur. I did not know how to bring the company to a corporate level where I need to put in some systems.
“I figured out that if I sold 70 percent majority of the company and simply become a minority shareholder, I could participate in the planning and probably understand how the corporate setting works. After the buyout, I sat in various meetings and learned many things, especially finance, which I thought was boring before.”
4. Know how to research and develop new products to strengthen competitive edge
The work of research and development (R&D) is more than doing innovation and creating new products and services. It is a creative process by which the business matches its strategies with opportunities to increase its profitability and market share.
“I think I am lucky that I have a strong R&D team who helps me understand the science of how things are being done in the kitchen,” Tiu said. “I try to understand the formula by working around a particular food concept and see if it works and become acceptable to the Filipino taste.
“I participate in the research and development process myself. For example, we make sure that there is a stable supply of chicken to control our costs. We try to make our supply chain as flexible as possible so that when we grow bigger, we can benefit from economies of scale.”
5. Know how to diversify products without losing focus
Product diversification is a strategy that provides opportunities for a business to grow by increasing sales to existing and new customers.
Tiu has diversified into several food brand concepts aside from Peri-Peri Charcoal Chicken. Among them are Tokyo Café, Ichiba Japanese Market, Wafu, LeTao, Kogi Bulgogi, Stackers Burger Café, Parmigiano Pizzeria Ristorante and Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory.
“I think that when you have grown to a certain size and you feel that you already know everything, sometimes your focus is your enemy,” Tiu said. “Although it is easy for us to create new food concepts because we have one commissary, I try to hold back and just push on two things: chicken and Japanese food.
“There is good and bad in having multiple concepts. We want to focus with some flagship brands so I tried to stop brands that are not growing anymore. The climate has changed in the mall. People suddenly want more global brands so we are constantly realigning and building my team to expand our core businesses.”
Henry Ong, RFP, is president of Business Sense Financial Advisors. Email Henry for business advice firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @henryong888