Caffeine Fueled Success

On the surface Tommy Boy’s founder looks relaxed, like he doesn’t have a care in the world, but behind it all there is an intensely keen eye for detail

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Wearing distressed jeans, thick rimmed spectacles, and a precisely trimmed goatee, Andy Fan does not look like the founder of a large international coffee franchise that is about to have an Initial Public Offering. But that is what he is. Somehow he seems too casual, too relaxed. His offices in Houjie look pretty casual too, and are probably the nearest thing Dongguan has to a Google style office. A small dog that look like a cross between a pitbull and a pot bellied pig, leisurely strolls around the office and takes up most of the attention of staff and visitors. The office is sufficiently big that it has its own coffee bar-the bar, of course, is one of his own brand stores: Tommy Boy.

Your average Taiwanese man is often obsessed with tea, and though he drinks a good brew, it is coffee that has really seen Andy fly. Andy is not one of those guys that does anything by mistake either; his coffee chain was meticulously planned. He opened his first store, named after his son Tommy, in 2007. By the end of the year there were 14 stores. Today they there are 160, mostly in Dongguan but they are as far flung as Shandong, Fujian, Hunan, Hubei and Taiwan. There is even one in Malaysia. It is a chain that has expanded fast.

Impressed by Andy’s success, and how he seems so unaffected by it, we are eager to get a piece of the action and ask him directly, “What can we do to get a Tommy franchise?” As it happens, it is very straight forward, “It is basically a flat fee of 420,000 RMB, and for that you get pretty much everything: a location evaluation, staff training, decoration, and everything arranged from preparation to opening,” he says. Adding “And after the shop opens, we will send a store manager to the shop to lead the staff and run the shop for 15 days to one month. It means the investor will only need to prepare the location and staff. Anything else we can help with.”

“The biggest challenge is always getting our heads around the franchisee’s perceptions and attitudes. They all want different things. Why do they want to franchise? You need to know what they want, and what we can give them. Communication is absolutely is the key.”

Running a franchise has its own particular set of challenges, and Andy is adamant that the key thing to making the business a success is effective communication with the franchisees, “The biggest challenge is always getting our heads around the franchisee’s perceptions and attitudes. They all want different things. Why do they want to franchise? You need to know what they want, and what we can give them. Communication is absolutely is the key,” he says.
On being pushed about how many of the franchises go on and succeed, he is direct “Twenty five percent fail. And the biggest reason is a problem with the investor’s perception and attitude. They might not like to manage the shop, or think that because it is a successful brand then they will automatically be successful,” he says. Adding, “Bit it doesn’t work like that. If they don’t get actively involved in the managing of the store and they are never around to run the store it soon spirals out of control.”

For those that think once you have signed the papers the franchise is yours to do what you like with, things are not so simple. Andy runs a very tight ship in terms of what his franchisees can and can’t do, “If it’s too relaxed, it won’t succeed. We have a lot of written restrictions. Secondly, we need to nurture tacit understanding in working together,” he says. Adding, “Our rules are our rules. If they have difficulties and need help from us, they can apply for it. For example, if they have bad business, and they want to have events and promotions, they can ask and we will make it happen.”

Andy has clearly done well for himself and believes in what he is doing. It looks as if he will go from strength to strength. If Tommy Boy does have an Initial Public Offering, we can’t help but wonder what big business plans Andy has lined up for the future. As ever, his answer is relaxed and casual, “I will probably take it easy and enjoy myself, maybe do some travelling,” he says.