Fast casual case study: Soul Origin
By capitalising on time-poor consumers and their growing interest in fresh, healthy food, Soul Origin has experienced significant growth since launching in 2011.
With a vision to deliver wholesome and healthy food fast, Soul Origin is a franchise that has experienced exponential growth since launching five years ago. Extensive experience in franchising and foodservice coupled with a determination to capitalise on the consumer’s growing interest in healthy eating drove general manager, Chris Mavris and his business partners to bring the brand to life.
“We tried a couple of different concepts: a QSR version and a table service version which comprised a full blown caf model with meals made to order,” Mavris said. “We tested them for a good six to eight months before deciding that the quick service version was the one that could best be duplicated. From there, we closed down the table service model and started focusing on developing QSR.”
Mavris said there were a number of factors that led to this decision, namely the increased cost of labour and rent that are associated with table service.
Since finalising the concept in 2011, Soul Origin has grown significantly, with 43 stores currently in operation across NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
“Our first store opened in late 2011 and the second opened in April 2013. Even though the models were tested, we did a lot of fine tuning over that period. We wanted to get the products 100 percent right and prove that the model was economically viable so franchisees would invest their faith in us,” said Mavris.
“From there, our growth has been very fast. At the end of 2013 we had seven stores. Then at the end of 2014 we had 19 stores and at the end of 2015 we had 42 stores.”
And there’s no sign of slowing down. The franchise will be expanding into Victoria this year and according to Mavris, there is a “99 percent chance” of the business setting up shop in Western Australia too. With such rapid growth, is the company concerned about how quality and consistency will be maintained throughout the franchise’s portfolio?
In order to address this, the business has area managers on the road who provide ongoing training for franchisees, in all aspects of the business’ operation including finance, marketing and customer service.
“We run five or six franchise meetings a year where we bring specialists in to discuss a certain area (of the business). We’re always bringing in external experts to share their knowledge,” Mavris said.
Soul Origin also has a central kitchen in Sydney to ensure each store’s food offering – which predominately comprises salads and bread-based products – is consistent and of a high quality.
While the company is committed to offering a healthy, tasty and enjoyable eating experience for its customers, last year it endured a food safety scare and as a result had to part ways with one of its suppliers.
In February 2015, four people reported symptoms of scombroid, or histamine poisoning soon after consuming a takeaway tuna salad from Soul Origin. The salad contained John Bull’s Tuna Chunky Style in Sunflower Oil.
As soon as the business was informed of the issue by NSW Health, Mavris said Soul Origin withdrew the product from the menu and maintained open and transparent communication with its franchisees and customers.
“We actually withdrew the product before it hit the media,” said Mavris. “We became aware of an issue on the Monday and it wasn’t until the Wednesday that it hit the press. By that time the product had been withdrawn from all of the outlets.
“We actually kept tuna off our menu for a good two months after that.”
With the food poisoning scare behind it, Mavris said Soul Origin is looking forward to a bright future – one that involves a considerable number of new store openings.
“I’d like to think that we open around 35 new stores this year,” he said. “We’re a retail franchise run by retailers. Everyone at the senior level has worked in shops all their lives, so we understand how the decisions we make affect our franchisees, and we appreciate what franchisees experience on a day-to-day basis. Everyone in the senior management team could walk into any one of our stores and run it. Whether it be running the coffee machine, kitchen or front of house, we all have the skills to run a Soul Origin outlet.”
At a glance:
- When was the business established? late 2011
- Number of locations? 43 stores across NSW, ACT and QLD
- Number of staff members? 23 in head office and 430 staff in stores
- Most valuable asset in the business? Our people. Each franchisee has extensive experience in managing their own businesses, while head office employees have extensive experience in retail.
- Plans for 2016? A view to open a possible 35 outlets which will include expanding into Victoria and WA