Friday, 16 December
03 Nov 2016
How do you grow a local business into a truly global brand?
A pioneer in the fast casual dining category, offering freshly prepared, high quality food, Ocean Basket’s success “is down to simple things”, says Grace Harding, chief executive of the global seafood restaurant brand.
Harding offered lessons to entrepreneurs at a recent GIBS forum on how to grow a local business into a truly global brand.
The brand has grown from just one store in 1995 into a successful franchise consisting of 204 stores in 16 countries, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Malta and Cyprus, with expansion plans in place for another 76 stores.
The group’s initial strategy was to democratise seafood, Harding explained, supplying it to more people and not just the few. Selecting a franchise business model meant “growth could be a little faster, and we also like the idea of creating opportunities,” she said.
The brand has indirectly created employment opportunities for over 7000 people worldwide, “which is both a cool and a terrifying feeling”.
Ocean Basket’s focus has been on building its brand, while enhancing income through wholesale operations. As a result, the company has become strong seafood procurement specialists.
On joining Ocean Basket in 2012, Harding said international expansion was almost completely halted as the business’ founders realised the company didn’t have the appropriate infrastructure and framework for successful global expansion.
“We decided things had to change. As a business that had been run by entrepreneurs, there were very little systems in existence. The business has a strong foundation, but we had to capture it, write it down and build a framework in order to prepare for growth.”
Harding explained that the brief from shareholders was not to gear up the business for a sale or in preparation for a listing, but to gear it up in order to have global brand recognition and longevity. Business owners must remain clear and focused on their brand at all times, Harding explained.
Harding explained Ocean Basket’s global expansion strategy focused on territories where it would be possible to open a significant number of stores, so as to be achieve brand recognition. Current emphasis is on increasing store numbers in the Middle East and Asia.
When deciding on whether or not to enter a new territory in the highly competitive global landscape, Harding said it was essential to ensure the brand would be relevant and that there would be a niche to step into.
It was also important to guard against ego – rather than taking Ocean Basket to New York or London, the group has instead decided to open in territories such as Kazakhstan and Doha, with plans to open soon in Beijing.
“The plan in China is to open and survive. Is very exciting,” Harding said.
She explained Chinese consumers in Beijing have a familiarity with seafood.
She said the menu would not change significantly to reflect the region: “We hope to find a great site in a high traffic area, and will remain brand purists. We serve delicious seafood and hope to introduce the taste profile. There is nothing we can teach the Chinese about eating seafood, it’s more about the experience.”
After unsuccessful forays into markets such as Sweden and Greece, Harding admitted that in business “there are certain lessons you just have to learn – there is no way to avoid it”.
“When things fail its always due to the same things: Improper preparation and insufficient curiosity.”
Success in countries such as Cyprus, where Ocean Basket is preparing to build its ninth store, could be attributed to “simple things”.
“In Cyprus we understood the environment, chose the right sites, the food is good, the service is good and the prices are good. We have been wise with our money and have remained true to the traditions and foundations of the brand.”
South Africa and expansion plans
Ocean Basket aimed to have 85 well-functioning restaurants outside of South Africa by 2021, with approximately 230 sites within the country.
“It is critical that the South African business is stable and strong. A lot of our innovation comes from South Africa, and it such a learning ground – here we have learnt to be agile, to be curious and to appreciate diversity.”
“The evolution of the Ocean Basket brand is happening at great speed, and there are huge opportunities. We are never going to stand still again,” she concluded.