“Fifty stores in five years seems like a big number, but compared to our competitors in this casual space, it’s very achievable.”
Next stop Perth
There are six Huxtaburgers in Melbourne, with the most recent opening as a franchise in gentrified western suburb Footscray. Perth will be the first stop on the interstate expansion with plans for a CBD store at Hibernian Place to open next month. Two more eateries will open this year, one each in Fremantle and Leederville.
“The research we have done around the brand in Perth shows us it’s a little bit known there and usually Melbourne brands go to Perth and perform quite well, so we are very excited about the west coast,” Fickling says.
Redfern, another battler’s home ground undergoing gentrification, will be the site of Sydney’s first Huxtaburger.
“We think we can put a little bit of romance in Redfern and it’s sort of life stage as a suburb, it’s a little bit like Collingwood when we first started, but it’s a great location for us,” Fickling says.
Chef Daniel Wilson, along with co-owners Dante Ruaine and Jeff Wong, pushed the original store to a turnover of $1.64 million in its first year of trading. Wilson has since stepped away from the business, while co-owners Ruaine and Wong remain in operational roles.
As the company embarks on a rapid expansion, 2018-19 turnover is set to hit $20 million – up from $7.5 million in 2016-17.
Management hasn’t yet hatched plans to open stores internationally, but Fickling says it’s just a matter of finding the right partner.
“If we did get a partner to go international, it is something we would look at,” he says.
“We are very, very open to it, but it needs to be right for the business, it needs to be right for the brand.
“I think there would be lots of opportunities in Asia and also I think New Zealand would be a great opportunity.”
Huxtaburger is among a new breed of fast-food retailers moving into the territory long held by the likes of KFC and McDonald’s.
In 2015, when Huxtaburger opened at Melbourne’s Eastland Shopping Centre, a McDonald’s at the same centre shut up shop. But Fickling says this is more coincidence than anything else.
“Their brand promise is very, very different to ours,” he says.
“We believe we are more than just a food brand. In terms of nudging McDonald’s or a big player like that, that is really not our space.”
Competition in the gourmet fast-food sector is red hot. Vietnamese hawker-food outfit Roll’d has exploded to 66 stores across Australia since 2012, Greek eatery Jimmy Grants has opened 11 stores since 2013 and Mexican brand Fonda has eight stores since 2012, including one Sydney opening last year.
Scaling a business is a difficult, if exciting, stage, says Fonda co-owner Tim McDonald.
“What I have discovered in the last two years is that growing a business is probably a lot harder than starting a business,” he says.
“It’s tough because as you grow, you go through this process when you get tiers of sizes, and as you go between the different tiers, you really have to fundamentally grow and change the way you are running the business and it can be difficult to manage and forecast different systems and processes.”
Francis Loughran, managing director of food and hospitality consultants Future Food, says Huxtaburger’s expansion would add credibility to its brand. But there are critical steps every expanding brand must follow to make sure it works.
“Growth doesn’t always guarantee success,” he says.
“It’s based upon the key factors of maintaining the quality of the product, maintaining the quality of the service and evolving the quality of service.”
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