To attract and retain the increasingly sophisticated customers, a company must continuously examine its image, come up with innovative menus, and equip staff with new skills and knowledge.
In 2003, local fast food chain Fairwood overhauled its brand to create a new and contemporary image while accentuating its commitment to and reputation for providing great food and top quality service for a reasonable price.
CK Ng, executive director of Fairwood Holdings Limited, says the changes were part of a thorough revamp of the company's corporate image, in line with changes in society.
Fairwood's primary target group is people aged 24 to 35 who seek a quality dining experience, defined as a combination of satisfying food and exemplary customer service. "We aimed to project a young and energetic image to customers," Mr Ng explains. "It is a big leap away from our old self."
The most prominent changes at Fairwood were visual. The company adopted a bright orange logo that doubles as both the Chinese character for "big" and a person leaping. The shop interiors were designed to create a modern, chic and upbeat feel. Even the utensils underwent design changes in an effort to appeal to younger customers.
In order to stay in a leading position, Fairwood differentiates itself by adhering to its commitment to developing innovative and sophisticated products as well as providing comfortable dining environments to customers.
The company's core "discerning taste" products — curry and tomato dishes, were also updated with new spices and fresh ingredients to meet customers' desires for diversity and healthy ingredients in fast food products.
Other strategies included promotional advertisements and the opening of a flagship restaurant in Causeway Bay. The new restaurant aims to take the lead in redefining and presenting the company's modern dining concept to customers.
If the numbers are anything to go by, Fairwood's re-branding was a huge success. "After the changes, sales per restaurant have increased 50 per cent," Mr Ng says. Though what Mr Ng enjoys more is hearing what the customers think, and it seems that the news is all good. "Our customers have given us a lot of positive feedback," he remarks.
Mr Ng believes the success of the company's re-branding has also complemented its continuous efforts to upgrade its "QSC" (quality, service and cleanliness) maxim. Although the re-branding was effective, good customer service is still the most significant factor in winning customers' hearts. "People are the major ingredients to business growth," he says.
To motivate staff the company has developed an incentive system to reward employees who go the extra mile. "We want them to feel like they are growing their own business by providing cash incentives in line with store performance," he says. "We do this because we believe that if their own business is a success, our company will be too."
By cultivating this "ownership" culture, Fairwood is also able to identify employees who show promise and promote them to supervisory and management positions. "We offer training opportunities to sharpen their supervisory, management and crisis management skills," Mr Ng says.
In the past three years — which Mr Ng refers to as the first three-year plan — Fairwood has opened 28 new restaurants and hired 1,000 new employees. The company will open an additional 10 restaurants in Hong Kong and recruit 400 more staff this year.
Mr Ng says the company looks for people with great interest in and passion for developing their careers in the catering industry. It also wants recruits who are willing to learn and to commit to personal development.
"We are now looking for new blood to support the company's growth and development," he says. "We will train them to be our next generation of supervisory staff, taking charge of our restaurants' operations." To achieve this the company has in place a systematic career development plan in which employees can clearly see the path to move ahead.
Mr Ng admits that it's a hard time for the F&B industry to recruit high quality people given the current economic upbeat, but he believes the obvious career prospects and harmonious work environment will help Fairwood reach its goals.
Meanwhile, the market for fast food restaurants on the mainland is maturing and Fairwood now has 11 restaurants there, with plans for more in the Southern China region as part of its ongoing business strategies, opening 30 by the year 2010.