Fast Growing Zambrero's Offers Burritos With Heart

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dr Sam Prince, who can add business acumen to his medical skills, and had worked as a chef in a Mexican restaurant to put himself through college in Melbourne, spotted the Tex Mex eating revolution that was storming the US. With $13,000 of his savings Sam started his first Zambrero outlet in Canberra in January 2006. Eighteen months later he had sold his first franchise.

It was three years later before Stuart Cook, now chief executive, fell into the business. "I met Sam at the back of a bus on the way to the Taj Mahal in November 2008," he says. The two became friends and Stuart started working with Sam's Emagine Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation providing the infrastructure and opportunity for disadvantaged people to empower themselves through education.

"Six months later he asked me to come on board and be CEO. I was 23 with no retail or franchise experience." Despite this the franchise has grown, adding interstate outlets to its portfolio. There will be 14 stores open by February, says Stuart, including franchises at Bondi, the Gold Coast, two more in Canberra and a company owned store in Wollongong. By the end of 2011 there should be 21 more outlets opened, bringing the total to 35. The target is 100 outlets by July 2014.

What the pair have done in building the franchise business is learn from the collective experience of the franchise sector, and they have recently appointed the Business Development Company as consultants with ex-Red Rooster and Nutshack CEO Tracy Steinwand being the direct contact.

Tracy will sit on the advisory board being set up now, "asking the questions we don't know to ask," explains Stuart. "One of our mission statements is passion over experience," he adds. And one of the passions is fresh food. Says Stuart, "Our focus is on healthy eating, so we're using fresh chopped Cos lettuce and everything is made fresh on site." When it comes to food ingredients, produce local to the franchise is sourced by head office but spices and sauces are supplied through the franchisor. The core menu is, and will remain, the brand's strength with menu updates trialled before being introduced across the network.

"We're of the opinion that a strong core menu is what you do well, but you are known for your weakest item on the menu," says Stuart. "We are laid out like a Mexican Subway so for the franchisee there is little technical training. We've made it as simple as possible "" we have an 18-year-old running a $1 million company store." Zambrero's will continue to have company-owned outlets as well as franchised stores, says Stuart. "We want a good mix, and franchisees know that every decision we make affects us too." So far all this has been achieved without financial assistance. The debt-free company has reinvested in the business and consciously kept franchise costs low. "We take a small franchise fee - $35,000 includes training, start-up marketing and merchandise. The turnkey cost is between $200,000 and $250,000," Stuart says.

"We'd prefer our 100 stores to have 20 great personalities with five stores each, making money faster so new franchisees can come to us in a year and say "I'd love to have a second store". That's how Subway grew so quickly." With a heart And as the business grows, so to does the Emagine Foundation, which has built 15 IT centres in rural and remote regions of developing countries. The latest project is focused on feeding a hungry child a plate of food, whether that's in a disaster zone or an underdeveloped region.

For every burrito sold the company is donating a percentage of the marketing fund to the Foundation and customers will be able to keep up to date with progress by viewing a point of sale screen which tells them how many children have been fed.

"We want the in-store experience to be positive. People are quite numb to the number of charities and causes and it's good to celebrate the successes rather than focus on the negative situation," says Stuart.

Zambrero's is unashamedly socially responsible and can celebrate its own success not just by the 500 percent growth in 14 months but through the recognition of the franchising sector: the company received the Franchisor Social Responsibility Award for 2010.

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