SME Spotlight

Multiple business plan proves a winner

The Singapore food and beverage scene is a challenging one, with firms facing fierce competition and high labour costs. Some companies, however, have managed to thrive, and are even spreading their wings abroad to gain market share. This week, Jeremy Koh speaks to Mr Joseph Ong, the founder and managing director of One Rochester Group, on how the business has found success, and what its growth plans are.

One Rochester Group managing director Joseph Ong utilises F&B venues for multiple purposes to boost revenue streams. He also devised a remote management system to manage the business outside working hours.
One Rochester Group managing director Joseph Ong utilises F&B venues for multiple purposes to boost revenue streams. He also devised a remote management system to manage the business outside working hours.ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

Q How did you decide to start this company?

A The business was started over 10 years ago. It was my Master of Business Administration project when I was with Manchester Business School.

I chose the food and beverage (F&B) business as it was one of the most competitive environments, and I wanted to prove the theory that a person like me, who doesn't have any competitive advantage, can be successful at a business purely through strategy and planning.

In 2005, we invested $450,000 in the company upfront.

After I graduated from Manchester, I continued to run the business remotely while working for Symantec. The reason I was doing that was purely to prove the theory that you can actually run a business without having to sacrifice your job.

I left Symantec in September last year to write a book on my system of remote management.

Q What was your business strategy?

A I identified a gap in the F&B industry. Everybody was setting up either a restaurant, a bar, a club, or something along those lines. However, you can do business for only about seven hours a day if your venue serves only as a restaurant, a bar, a club or a wedding venue.

Nobody was really coming up with something in between. I was able to come up with that concept. As a result, our venues are utilised for longer hours, from Monday to Sunday.

We started out as a wine bar that served food at One Rochester Park in Buona Vista. It didn't take us long to expand into using the venue for multiple purposes.

We'd start off as a bar in the early evenings, then become a dining area, and then a "heavier" bar towards the end of the night, almost like a club. At the weekends, we would host weddings and events.

That model really helped us because we made use of the same property for multiple revenue streams.

Q How much have you expanded since your first restaurant?

A We actually got another venue called 1-TwentySix, which we sold two years ago, and then later, 1-Altitude. Now, within all the venues, we have multiple businesses.

1-Altitude consists of four floors in a building at 1 Raffles Place, comprising a roof top bar, a fine dining restaurant, an indoor club, and a cafe bar on the ground floor.

1-TwentySix was a beach bar, a place for dining, and a venue to hold weddings and events.

We started off with about $250,000 of sales in the first three months. Our revenue for this year is about $26 million. We have a compounded annual growth rate of over 30 per cent.

Q How did you manage that growth while having a full-time job?

A From the very beginning, Symantec was a very supportive employer. And honestly, I was one of the high-fliers there - I was the youngest vice-president based in the Asia-Pacific and Japan when I left Symantec, so I did not have issues with performance.

I used what I call a remote management system, and managed the business outside working hours.

I did not get involved in the daily operations of the business itself.

My role was to strategise, sign all the cheques, hire the leaders, attend management meetings, and have one-to-ones with all the leaders every two weeks, at least.

My managers were given the autonomy to make decisions, as they are on the ground and can come up with the best solutions.

Q Tell us about your remote management system.

A Reports on the business are generated on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

We will know the next morning what happened the night before - for instance, how many customers came in, how much money we made in each category of business, who was in charge, and if there was a complaint. As a result, my management team and I are very aligned on how the business did the night before by noon the next day.

On a weekly basis, the system gives an analysis on various trends.

Every week, we'll meet and go through the data that is collected.

Q What are your current growth plans in the F&B sector?

A We are looking to work with landlords overseas to see if they want F&B venues that can serve multiple purposes in their premises.

These businesses will have a remote management system similar to what we now have, and which I will oversee from Singapore.

In these businesses, we will not replicate our current brands or cook the same food or design the venues the same way. Every property we go to, we will reconceptualise it from the very beginning, based on what the customer, landlord and market want. We are also looking to build new F&B businesses in a couple of venues in Singapore

Q What are your other growth plans?

A We are also working on establishing a consultancy business that will help companies or entrepreneurs set up a remote management system for their businesses.

The scope will extend to areas beyond F&B businesses.

On the wedding front, we are hoping to help couples create more romantic solemnisation events.

People spend a lot of time, energy and money getting married.

To me, the most important part of getting married is actually the solemnisation. It should be romantic - it should be under the stars, under the trees, by the beach, or on a hill. It should not be a 15-minute process carried out after the couple takes a queue number.

So, we are trying to get multiple venues to work with us to hold such solemnisations. We are also expanding into holding weddings at beaches, parks and other areas.

Also, we are investing in purchasing props for use in weddings and solemnisations. We hope that these would make such occasions more romantic and affordable.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'Multiple business plan proves a winner'. Print Edition | Subscribe