Homegrown waffle chain gears up for global expansion
This homegrown waffle chain has come a long way. It all started with one kiosk, five employees and lot of grit.
Euclid Cezar, owner of Famous Belgian Waffles (FBW), describes the growth story of what was once a small venture as a process of continuous improvement.
Ten years later, the unchallenged brand in the waffle industry has almost 400 branches that employ over 800 people, its expansion accelerated by franchising. But the entrepreneurial journey was not easy for Euclid and wife Kate.
“We started in 2012 with a capital of almost P1 million; substantial portion of it was spent on lease deposit in SM, store design and construction and R&D (research and development). I was 35 and my wife Kate was 32 when we opened our first branch at SM North Edsa. We were both hands-on. Kate was in charge of the store operations and I was in charge of the franchising,” Euclid recounts.
“We chose waffles because it’s a popular go-to snack for a lot of people that can be consumed anytime of the day,” he says. Even without a professional baking experience, Euclid understands that in today’s fast-paced lifestyle, consumers tend to look for something that is readily available and easy to digest. “A waffle sandwich will always come in handy for people who are in a hurry,” he adds.
Their first kiosk delivered a daily average sales of P25,000. They thought that was not bad for a new brand with an unknown product, so they added two more branches within the first month.
Right from the start, they had the goal of turning FBW into a successful franchise business. The couple knew back then they did not yet have the proper track record. But they were determined to transform their small business project into a large-scale franchise system.
“We believe in our products and we thought the fastest way to expand nationwide is through franchising. The ‘aha moment’ is that there are so many Filipinos who would like to start a business but lack the skills and knowledge to start their enterprise even though they have the money,” Euclid adds.
Six months later, there were a total of 35 branches across the nation, all of which were performing beyond targets. And as the numbers grew, they started receiving inquiries from customers who were interested in acquiring a franchise.
Euclid, now 45, remembers that their first franchisee is the husband and wife team of Nap and Annie Domingo. Nap retired from Manila Electric Co. so he decided to invest some of his retirement funds to acquire a franchise. They chose to set up shop at SM Marikina.
They were anxious at first, not because FBW was a relatively unknown brand, but because this was their first business venture and they felt they lacked the right skills to open a business. Working with the Domingos taught Euclid an important lesson as a franchisor. He had to be their “big brother.” He and his team made sure that they were with Nap and Annie in every step of their franchise journey.
“We have to be there for them not only as their business leader but also as mentor even to the point that we coach them in having the right mindset of an entrepreneur,” he says in an email interview.
At present, the Domingos’ franchise is still operational. FBW now has 382 franchised stores nationwide, of which 19 percent are owned by franchisees with multiple units. Euclid says the mentoring process continues to this day. They have mentored more than 50 franchisees since 2020.
Its franchise packages range between P550,000 and P730,000 depending on store size. Each franchisee is advised to budget about P1.4 million for the business.
Their reputation as a reliable franchisor caught the attention of franchisees who brought FBW to international shores in 2016. The brand now has a branch in San Diego, California, and another in Johor Bahru in Malaysia.
“Our franchisees in California and Malaysia went to our office in Quezon City to signify their interest to franchise Famous. They both became patrons of the product first and realized the business potential of the brand in their location,” he says.
FBW has now grown roots in the international market through these two branches. Euclid thinks the time is right to “calibrate their franchise system in the international offering.”
“We receive intent from prospective partners in the United States, Middle East, Australia and Southeast Asia … This is where we are going to focus for the next five years because we believe we have the potential to become another Filipino brand going global,” he adds. Coping with lockdowns
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a curve ball for Euclid and his team. He recounts that he could not have gone through such an unprecedented crisis without the support and relentless “can-do” attitude of his team.
“The most important lesson during the pandemic is to keep going when the going gets tough and become an emphatic leader to your franchisees and employees. Walang iwanan (nobody gets left behind),” he shares.
Despite the disruption that the pandemic had brought to the business, FBW managed to bounce back as almost all of the existing stores are now back to prepandemic sales and activities.
“Some are even exceeding their prepandemic revenue. We even opened 50 stores at the height of the pandemic. We went as far as Davao, Cebu, Bohol, Zamboanga and Cotabato,” he adds.
Euclid says the business has taught him to be more goal-centric and not to be complacent. He puts every effort to make the right business decision because he knows it will make an impact on the lives of the people who depend on him.
“On a personal level, entrepreneurship gave me reasons to become more ambitious in life, but an ambition [that goes] beyond myself, looking further on how I can contribute to our Church, to the government and to society as a whole,” he adds.
Looking back, Euclid believes that it was the concept of kaizen—which means “continuous improvement” in Japanese—that helped him push through with his goal of turning Famous Belgian Waffles into a household brand.
“[Kaizen] is our constant guide in our decade-long journey. We continue to enjoy a substantial market in the grab and go snacks category [yet] we are still vulnerable to internal issues like human resource and operational challenges. But with the right attitude toward issues, resilience, team work and creativity, we were always able to solve our problems,” he adds.
Things are looking up for Euclid and Kate. They are teaming up once again to welcome their newest baby that is Famous Country Waffles, a full-service restaurant that promises a “unique” dining experience for families with a cozy ambiance and of course, great food.
His advice for budding entrepreneurs is that they should “start with the right mindset.” Ask not what the right product to sell is but how they can become an entrepreneur. “Entrepreneurship is a character-based skill and not a technical skill, hence develop the proper character first, such as [having] high adversity quotient, creativeness, resourcefulness and leadership.”
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