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Asia fresh


Wokinabox is a company with an inspiration: bringing the aromas and tastes of Asia to Australia. Alan Pan, Managing Director of Wokinabox, runs the business with his brother Jonathon. Their parents were first generation migrants, and the pair was raised in a typical Chinese household with strict traditions. Now, as owners of a successful franchise with 33 stores nationally, they are spreading those traditions to the rest of Australia in the form of cuisine.

Like many Asian families in Australia, the Pans owned and operated a family restaurant business for several years, the brothers growing up in the industry. “This gave us the knowledge and determination to start up our own business at a young age, in an industry that was close to our hearts,” says Alan. “This upbringing has been the corner stone to help shape where we are today.” Before Wokinabox, Alan and Jonathon initially started their own independent brand of noodle bars in Western Australia. At its peak, that business boasted 14 stores. In early 2010, the brothers were approached by the owner of Wokinabox to take over the franchise. “We saw this as an ideal opportunity to capitalise on the skills we had previously learnt,” Alan continues. “By continuing to work with some great partners in Wokinabox, and establishing new industry contacts, we were able to quickly increase turnover in the group within the first 12 months.” This was a particularly impressive feat, given the declining trend in the retail industry in the wake of the global financial crisis.

“What we have brought to this company is our tertiary education, as well as proven practical experiences in running and managing our 14 independently-owned businesses,” Alan explains. He and his brother also have degrees in Business Management, Communications, and Information Technology. Between the two of them, they have over 30 years of experience in the food and hospitality industry – experience they are eager to leverage. “Both Jon and I offer a unique approach to our business by being front line directors,” Alan says. “We’re available to all our franchisees on a regular basis to offer support store by store, and to ensure a rewarding experience both financially and independently.”

The concept behind Wokinabox is to cook convenient but restaurant-quality Asian cuisine, fresh to order, for takeaway or casual dining-in. According to Alan, a lot of passion goes in to making the brand successful – passion for both fresh and healthy food, and fast, friendly service. “Whenever we sell a Wokinabox meal, we are also selling a bit of ourselves,” says Alan. “We endeavour to instil this passion for quality and service through to our franchise group and into each meal. The customer must leave Wokinabox happy for having chosen Wokinabox over another food outlet. Their experience must surpass any expectations they might have when they enter our stores.” It is a high bar to set, but it is that passion for quality and customer service that has accounted for Wokinabox’s tremendous success.

A committed company

An important part of Wokinabox’s business is its commitment to its workers. Because of this, Wokinabox has several principles in place to ensure that they are always fostering a solid employee-company relationship, and that their workplace is somewhere employees can be inspired to be the best they can be. These initiatives include working as a team, being accountable for their actions and inactions, maintaining clear communication between manager, franchisor and franchisee and above all, creating a corporate culture which ensures the continuous improvement of their franchise system.

An even more important facet of the Wokinabox brand is its promise to be “Asian fresh”. The hospitality industry is a crowded marketplace, and that brand awareness is a key driver for their business. “We’re ‘fresh’ because we use real ingredients like vegetables and meats, and cook for each customer right in front of them,” says Alan, explaining the term. “We’re ‘Asian’ because we offer a variety of authentic but exciting meals from five Asian food cultures – Thai, Malay, Indonesian, Chinese and Japanese.” While the Wokinabox core menu remains the same, Alan says their strategy is to introduce quarterly promotions like seafood selections and winter soup warmers. “We like to encourage our customers to delve into the many tastes of Asia,” he says, and through that engender brand loyalty.

Being “Asian fresh” is not the only way Wokinabox stands out from the steep competition. “There are a range of significant characteristics by which we live and breathe,” says Alan. These characteristics include being focused on their food, encouraging customers to experience Asian food cultures, and by making sure all of their food is safe and hygienically prepared.

As time goes, Alan says customers are becoming more and more conscious about what they are eating, so as Wokinabox moves forward they will have to take that societal shift into account. “Part of our goal for the business is to better understand the contents of each menu item in terms of nutrition,” he says. “With diseases such as celiac, diabetes and obesity becoming more prominent, we believe it is our responsibility as chefs in the fast food industry to cater to the needs of an ever-changing society. We are currently working with a nutritionist who is analysing every aspect of our menu.” Once that process is complete, Alan promises an up-to-date nutritional guide will be available for customers both in stores and online. “Armed with this information, our employees will be able to help customers make better decisions about what they can and cannot eat, which in turn will lead to greater customer satisfaction, increased loyalty and subsequently, increased brand awareness.” Wokinabox has also recently introduced their Japanese Bento range of menu items, which offers a complete health-conscious meal to customers.

Another Wokinabox commitment: forming partnerships with suppliers who care about the environment. “By working with these companies, we aim to promote better sustainability of our resources and responsible waste management.” To that end, Wokinabox has a number of initiatives in place. They buy local and sell fresh, they use water saving appliances, a disposal waste management system, and consistently utilise recyclable bags, boxes, chopsticks and napkins.

Finally, Wokinabox is also strongly committed to charity, and in that vein proudly sponsors the Starlight Children’s Foundation. “The Starlight Children’s Foundation’s aim is to brighten the lives of seriously ill and hospitalised children and their families across Australia,” Alan says. 30 cents of every kids meal sold is donated to the Foundation, and so far this year Wokinabox has managed to raise nearly 10,000 dollars for the Foundation.

A vision for the future

Wokinabox was one of many victims of the downturn in the economy, but its hardships were only temporary ones. “It seems now that we are on the rise from the depressed economic times, as consumers are able to spend money more freely,” he says. Particularly in the health food areas, costs can often be higher than consumers are able to pay for a healthy meal. Often this results in poorer diets for consumers in the lower income brackets. “At Wokinabox we aim to provide our customers with a fast, fresh, healthy meal at a reasonable price,” Alan says and continues, “One of our goals over the next 12 months is to develop strong brand awareness with our customers and ensure that Wokinabox is top of mind and the ‘first choice’ when they are looking for a healthy meal, as well as a top tier Asian cuisine.”

The present and – by what appears to be evident – continued success of Wokinabox will surely place a company growth strategy on the agenda. Wokinbox is already prepared for this sharp increase in revenue with an equally sharp improvement strategy. “We have an aggressive growth plan in place to continue growing the number of stores before the first quarter of 2012. We also recently signed and sold master franchise rights to the UAE with its first store scheduled to open in Dubai at the end of the 2012,” Alan says. With this level of business awareness and forward thinking on behalf of Wokinabox’s leaders it is doubtless that they will achieve their intended growth targets as well as maintain their high-level of consumer satisfaction for years to come.