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Swensen's embarks on regional franchise expansion to Laos

Swensen's (Thai), operator of Swensen's ice-cream restaurants and a unit of Minor Food Group, recently signed agreements with master franchisees to expand the restaurants to Laos, India and Vietnam. 

Peter King, general manager of Swensen's (Thai), said that the overseas expansion is in line with the strategy set by the parent company to grow internationally and to be a global food company. He said the first franchised outlet of Swensen's would be opened in Bangalore in India in April. The first franchised store in Vietnam will be opened in Ho Chi Min City in May, and the first franchised store in Laos will open in Vientiane in March."We have set our five-year plan to open 80 Swensen's restaurants in India, 30 stores in Vietnam, and about three stores in Laos," said King."We plan to open franchised stores in at least two new markets every year by focusing on Southeast Asia first," he said. King said the company had 20 Swensen's restaurants in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Cambodia altogether.

He said the company had over 220 outlets in Thailand, of which about 100 are franchised.

"We have very strong sales growth last year despite the recession," said King, who joined Swensen's in July 2008. He previously worked for Starbucks for seven years based in London and Hong Kong. His latest position at Starbucks was operations director for Southeast Asia and Korea.

"We [Swensen's (Thai)] beat our sales target set for 2009. Our total growth was posted at between 6 per cent and 8 per cent last year, and 3.5 per cent for same-store growth," he said. He said that the company had an 85-per-cent market share in Thailand's international ice-cream restaurants, which have been classified as a light food product.

"We have been in Thailand for 24 years. We've also been the market leader for at least 10 years," said King.

He added that Swensen's served 34 million customers in 2009. "When you're number one, you need to keep evolving by launching new innovative products, rolling out new-design stores, and providing best services, which will keep customers interested in the brand," said King.

He added that the company's success was attributed to several factors, including its ability to provide the best products with good value for money. It also has the best staff, he said, who were known for offering the best service.

"Our mission is to provide the 'Ultimate Sundae Experience' to our customers, who come to Swensen's for not just eating ice cream," said King.

In Thailand, the company plans to open 10 restaurants this year, five of them company-owned stores and five franchised outlets.

"Our strategy is to slow down the local expansion and to concentrate on driving same-store growth," said the general manager.

The company will renovate 20 restaurants this year, most of them in Bangkok. The investment will range from Bt500,000 to Bt2 million per outlet, depending on size and age.

"We have set a target to achieve 5-per-cent same-store growth this year and between 8 and 9 per cent for total growth," he said.

King said Swensen's achieved same-store growth of 15 per cent in January alone compared to the same month last year.

He said the company had to work very hard to keep its customers satisfied, and that part of that was improving the ambience of its stores.

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