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TIMELESS-NESS in the new world

In Concept & Design, Star Kitchen, Vol 18

The Food & Beverage industry is carved out of the many idealistic individuals, and whether these individuals hail from years of experience in said industry or of those looking to shake up the F&B ecosystem, these well-executed ideas and delivered brand promises are what makes Malaysia known to many locally and abroad as ‘the’ food haven. With that said, I began to look within my country for notable eateries that have gone through successful rebranding journeys. If you are on top of the current food trends and are on top of everything social media, you will come to find that some of these outlets under the tutelage of Rhombus Food Holdings have been known to break the norm in terms of marketing and jump out of the box with regular innovations on their menus.

timeless1Starting out with a career in auditing, Executive Director Kent Chua realised early on that maybe a nine to five routine, tagging in and out of a grey high-rise building just didn’t cut it for him. With a head full of ideas in dire need of materialising and an upheld belief that one’s life shouldn’t be governed by bills, he left his corporate role as an auditor transforming himself into a young entrepreneur. He wanted to make a difference and with that held closely to his chest, he ventured into the Food & Beverage industry.

It was a territory unknown to him as Kent expresses “To me, the F&B industry is vibrant and alive which reflects my personality. It is also an amazing networking platform. I star ted with The Beer FactoryTM and now, we have grown to become a significant F&B conglomerate, Rhombus Group with 19 brands strong, in a collective effort with my partners whom are formidable entrepreneurs in the industry as well.”We speak to the man himself on his views and insights as to how he sees branding in itself and how Rhombus have successfully remained relevant in the extremely fast paced world of today.

timeless2MEP: How did you come up with a brand that has stayed relevant today?
KC:A brand’s timelessness is achieved from the beginning, which means getting it right from the star t so target audiences do not get confused of what you are or what you have. A strong brand identity and message has to be put across internally and externally; it has to relate to your concept and subsequently, your offerings. Once the identity and messaging is set, the next step is to ensure that consistency is applied so that the brand registers in the mind of consumers and you are the first port of call when they think of the industry you’re in, or the type of products in the market. Communication has to be consistent although it evolves through time to stay relevant.

In Rhombus Group, our 19 brands range from two years since inception to over 20 years. How we keep the concept alive is by staying true to the brand’s identity. For example, one of our Thai fine dining restaurant, Rama V has been established for 20 years. The success of the restaurant is attributed to the brand image it has built, which is one of Kuala Lumpur’s most celebrated authentic Thai cuisine with top notch food, service and ambiance. While the brand is strongly built on the outside, internally, it is important for the staff to echo the brand’s message. Not only timelessness comes in the form of clientele, but it also cultivates loyalty and strong beliefs from the operations.

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MEP: What were the mistakes you’ve done or business owners have done that caused their brand to eventually become irrelevant?
KC:Not focusing on the basics is one of the major downfall of a brand and subsequently its business. When we say the basics, it refers to fundamental elements such as the taste of the food, the ambiance, pricing, services and quality. Intrinsically, brands should not diver t from their brand message and communications. The absence of brand messaging will result in mix messages and ineffective marketing strategies. In turn, marketing initiatives that derives from inaccurate strategies will not be in sync with daily operations. When the platform to reach out to customers is disrupted, it is detrimental to the business.

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MEP: How and when do you determine that an establishment has lost its relevancy?
KC:When a brand and its business does not evolve accordingly whilst retaining its original purpose, that is when the establishment has lost its relevancy. Not diver ting and progressively upgrading the business helps you stay in touch and constantly have the competitive edge. Observation of upcoming trends is a strong insight to constantly keep track of a brand’s direction. There is a need to have a strong acumen in identifying whether it is a fad or it is something that has altered the lifestyles altogether.

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Therefore, it is important for our business to have ample data on consumer behaviour. One very good manifestation of culture can be observed through our brand TBF. Being an avid traveler myself, I have noticed that Malaysians are somewhat influenced by the Melbourne culture of brunch and speakeasy, whether is it brought in through travel or Malaysians studying in Australia.

This inspired me to kick start TBF, where the brand features a chameleon concept, transforming its look and feel according to time. When the sun is high, it is the perfect place for Melbourne-inspired brunch and craft coffees brewed from freshly roasted beans. At sundown, people come to unwind for happy hour drinks and tapas amidst a hip casual bar setting. And when the sun sets and stars come out, the DJ kick star ts the party with the latest beats of electronic dance music and the space completes its transformation as a club.

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While understanding customers is an important aspect, it is also crucial to have knowledge on our friendly competitors. In Rhombus Group, where we look to create an F&B industry ecosystem, competitors are important as they are not only good mentors, but we also exchange our ideas and solutions to build a healthy industry together.

MEP: (cont. previous question) What are the necessary actions one has to take once relevancy is lost? How do you even begin to think of rebranding? Or possibly even scrapping everything and turning it into something new?
KC:I think it is important for brand owners to first have realisation and accept the reality. It is a bitter pill to swallow, as no entrepreneur wants to be told that their brand has failed. But being an entrepreneur also means resilience, hence bouncing back with a bigger, better and relevant strategy is a good start. The first point to determine is whether the brand can still be salvaged. There is the extreme alternative to rebrand if much damage is done or simply for the purpose to refresh the outlook.

One of our case study would the TBF. The outlet rebranding exercise took place from The Beer FactoryTM to TBF at our very first outlet, Sunway Giza. As mentioned, being able to forecast the change in consumer behaviour and spot the trend of brunch culture, TBF is a spin off from the celebrated bar, The Beer FactoryTM. The brand offers more food options and trying to differentiate ourselves from other drinking joints in the market.

An important note is that rebranding is not only an external initiative. Internally, staffs need to be clear of the rebranding exercise and the direction the business takes with a new brand. If communicated well, it is a good motivation and fresh star t for operations.

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MEP: How important is the logo when it comes to your brand?
KC:A logo is very important. It is the one of the first things people recognise of your brand. It reflects the reputation, the significance of the business, the thought process of the people behind it and sometimes, an extension of the founders themselves.

Take The Beer FactoryTM’s iconic ‘b’. The ‘b’ stands for beer but at the same time, it is designed to look like a factor y’s chimney with smoke coming out of it. The yellow liquid is the beer brewing in the factor. The yellow portion is also designed with the significance of the ‘yin and yang’ concept, to remind people of the importance of a work-life balance. Hence, come have a great time at The Beer FactoryTM after a hectic day!

MEP: For an existing business, rebranding alters one’s message and its strategy alters the business. How does this affect your loyal customers? How does this attract new ones?
KC:You gain some and you lose some. Some might leave because they are not sure where is it headed and that it has affected their perception of your offerings. With consistent messaging, winning customers back is not the impossible, as a matter of fact, the brand’s image is further enhanced and strengthened. One positive result we have seen is that we were able to attract new customers, different target audience that see relevance in our brand and offerings.

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MEP: Is it possible to retain older customers while practically restructuring one’s business to welcome new faces?
KC:That is possible but there is only one role in the business that does that best, which is the frontline staffs. As they are the touchpoint between the brand and the customers, it is vital that the frontline staffs are clear of the brand message, ensuring that products and services are delivered to the in line, at par with the standards and according to customers’ satisfaction. As they have direct access to customers, we also heavily tap into their intelligence. At any of our Rhombus Group outlet, we truly believe that insights provided by our frontline staff helps us refine our business as customers are continuously engaged for opinions and preferences.

MEP: Could you share how one of your restaurants went through a rebrand journey?
KC:Rama V, which is a Thai fine dining cuisine under Rhombus Group have gone through a successful brand enhancement exercise. The brand has been around for 20 years and needed to be refreshed. The exercise took place under the wings of Andre Shum, who is now, our Brand CEO for Rhombus Food and Lifestyle, the restaurant and café division of Rhombus Group.

Apart from the brand itself, Rama V, all aspects were given a new breath including a more impactful brand story; a logo that resonates well with its new concept which is modern, authentic Thai; its new tagline, ‘Enthaicingly Thai’ and corporate colours.

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Rama V did not just change its exterior, as mentioned earlier, the external and internal needs to move in tandem when an establishment progresses. The restaurant under went a complete renovation, reflecting its gracious, elegant and indulgent ambience as well as menu. This included colours to reflect the concept and translated down to the most minute detail of upholstery. While it maintains the favourite dishes of discerning diners, the menu also incorporated new recipes.

As a result, not only familiar customers were retained, but the brand enhancement presented a new dimension that attracted younger yet sophisticated palates. Despite the slight surge in pricing, the brand enhancement successfully communicated to customers and kept them returning!

However, nothing comes without a concern, but Rama V has been facing what many say, a “good problem”. Expectations to deliver are higher, which makes the team understand that our brand stands for something great. The size of the restaurant has increased and being a modern brand now, keeping tab with trends and the ever changing customers’ preferences posts challenges which the team is ever up for!

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Needless to say, Rhombus Food Holdings is a leading regional F&B owner and operator in South East Asia steered by a team of young professionals with a strong technical know-how and an even stronger command of finance and business management that only seems to work to improve the SEA region. It is this deep sense of value and unconditional desire to deliver all its brands’ promises, empower local entrepreneurs and nurture growth in talent and businesses within the industry that works only to clear the path for Rhombus Food to claim their well deserved spot among the top names in today’s F&B industry.
www.rhombusfood.com

Eileen ChanTIMELESS-NESS in the new world