In Focus
FAST CASUAL | Staff Reporter, UK

EXCLUSIVE: HOP Vietnamese on expansion opportunities in a tough market

The Vietnamese chain plans to open around five more stores in 2019.

HOP Vietnamese boasts of being the only QSR with a Vietnamese grab-and-go concept taking on LEON and Itsu with their ability to serve up their food within 30 to 40 seconds.

And now that 2018 has come to an end, they are keen on not only expanding but also on making the team stronger.

“The last 6 months have been a huge change. Moving from 3 stores, we’ve had to staff up our head office dramatically, so the next 6 months will be about bedding in the new team and getting our reporting right,” Paul Hopper, founder of HOP Vietnamese said.

As for the second half of 2019, Hopper wants to open around 5 more stores, allowing them to have 8 or 9 outlets by the end of the year. But he also expects that some of the upcoming stores will move outside the City of London.

“There’s no reason our 2019 plans can’t be planned for the city, but I’d love to also do the West End, Canary Wharf, Victoria etc. The brand is national in potential, but outside the City, the concept would need to be tweaked, and operations would need to be changed,” Hopper explained.

Lessons learned since launching in 2013
“Whenever you’re opening a new unit, do nothing else but open that unit- it is all consuming- just focus on the new store. I can’t exaggerate how all consuming opening a new outlet is,” Hopper said.

Hopper stressed that having supply chain contingencies is also crucial. Looking back, he cited a time when a supplier who delivers 30% of their ingredients caught fire. A second supplier in waiting must be there in case of emergencies.

“[Another] lesson I’ve learned is that if you have a bad feeling about any stakeholder, follow your gut and don’t deal with them. Gut instinct is very important. I only work with people I have a connection with.”

All of their funding comes from a core group of friends and customers. Upon reaching their tenth site, Hopper said that he might consider accepting either venture capital or private equity money. He also thought of crowdfunding, but he finds its shareholder structure more complicated.

“I’d like to see the crowdfunding market settle a bit before looking at that but overall our shareholders are extremely supportive, which is great,” he said.

Hop’s founder also mentioned a major change where they started off with a goal of being the “Vietnamese Pret”.

“[O]n the first site, within a few weeks our sales mix was 90% till sales, 10% fridge sales vs our business model which I thought would be 80% fridge, 20% till.”

This has led to creating a new store format, kitchens and adjusting the operations to make a process that is perfect for the hot food-to-go scene from the cold grab-and-go concept.

“It’s all about speed,” Hopper said. “We do 600-700 lunchtime covers vs 150 at competitors. We get approached all the time to show our processes and we won’t because it’s our secret.”

Aside from the food offerings, the fitout and customer service, according to Hopper, needs to be perfect for the FTG market.

Hopper mentioned of being in Vietnam when he got the inspiration of launching a Vietnamese concept in London. He keeps going back to Vietnam to learn more about their cuisines. Their new head of food will also help the chain have seasonal menus.

“Anyone who’s offer is tired, or not exciting will find it tough going. The next 2 years will see a shake up.”

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