For F&B chains that want to scale up, renting their storefronts makes sense. There’s no need to commit a big investment to buy each location, and more importantly, they still retain the flexibility to close underperforming outlets. Hand-in-hand with growing the number of outlets they have, F&B businesses also have to expand their “back of the house”.
This is something I Love Taimei (我愛台妹), a Taiwanese street food chain, had to grapple with as its operations expanded. Originally from Taiwan, co-founders and sisters, Phoebe Wang and Ariel Wang, went to high school in Singapore and attended university in the US. Given their Taiwanese roots and observing the lack of an authentic Taiwanese restaurant in Singapore, they wanted to serve the most outstanding and innovative street food. This led to 6 months research and sourcing process before they even started up.
Since opening their first outlet in Bugis in October 2009, the pair have gone on to establish 10 retail outlets, 2 cloud kitchens and ramped up its online storefront via Lazada and Shopee. They have also ventured into the franchise business with locations in Jakarta, Indonesia and China, as well as started importing popular Taiwanese packaged snacks for regional and domestic markets.
An ambassador for Taiwanese Street Food
As “Taimeis” – a term that translates into Taiwanese Girls – themselves, building a reputation as an ambassador for Taiwanese street food was important for both Phoebe and Ariel.
They employ several strategies to achieve this. First and foremost, they have an extensive menu of both Taiwanese comfort food, such as seasoned fried chicken cutlet and tofu fries, as well as bubble teas – exactly what anyone would expect when thinking about Taiwanese street food. Beyond this, I Love Taimei also incorporated a trading company to distribute best-selling Taiwanese snacks regionally.
Arguably, quality matters even more. The duo source for original flavours from the highest quality ingredients in Taiwan and other overseas locations. This is one area they do not compromise, saying that “we only want to serve the best quality and taste to our customers”.
In line with growing their store count, they also had to ramp up their store operations and back-end support functions to keep pace. Today, their stores are already “in the process of incorporating a 4th-generation design upgrade to ensure customers have a quick and enjoyable experience at our stores”.
How investing in their own space solidified their expansion strategy
While they didn’t need to own their outlets in order to conduct their business, investing in a more permanent back of house was an important ingredient in their recipe for expansion. Phoebe explains that “procuring certain seasonal ingredients was challenging, as was storing our products in a central location before distributing to our outlets across the island or delivering directly to customers.”
Their R&D team has been tasked with conceptualising substitutes that can replace these ingredients without affecting the great taste of their products all year around. Another solution around this challenge was to procure a facility to store their ingredients.
Working with OCBC’s F&B Specialists, I Love Taimei secured their first Green Commercial Property Loan for this purpose. This gave them the assurance to invest in customised outfitting works and storage equipment at their property, without the uncertainty of being forced to move after a few years.
At the same time, I Love Taimei was able to house a portion of their 100-men strong team within the finance, HR, marketing, procurement and logistics departments. As they expanded, the business became responsible for the livelihoods of more people and would continue to employ even more in their expansion phase. Underpinned by its S$2 million investment in their new HQ, I Love Taimei also took the opportunity to revamp its HR policies to better-than-industry standards.
Leaning on OCBC’s Building Energy Efficiency Assessment (BEEA) tool secure a Green Loan
Securing a Green Commercial Property Loan does not have to be daunting for even the smallest and most inexperienced SMEs. This is the reason OCBC has partnered with the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore (BCA) to create the Building Energy Efficiency Assessment (BEEA) tool.
Being in the F&B business for more than 12 years, Phoebe shares that “we have seen all kinds of wastage” that can be reduced or even eliminated. I Love Taimei wanted to be part of the solution, championing Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives. Phoebe strongly believes in investing in energy efficient materials, reflecting her business’ commitment to contribute to a more sustainable future.
The BEEA tool provided I Love Taimei with recommendations to improve their property’s energy efficiency, enabling them to make sense of the data obtained from the tool and quantify their total energy savings. The OCBC F&B Specialists have in-depth knowledge of Green Mark certification and the BEEA tool, in addition to their specialisation in the F&B industry, enabling I Love Taimei to address all the obstacles in a logical manner to secure their Green Commercial Property Loan.