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Superdog with a Good Nose for Quality

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this one involves venture capitalist funding... interesting.... ---------------------------------------- Thu, Dec 25, 2008 The Business Times BY TEH SHI NING IT'S ...

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Old 01-01-2009, 07:17 PM   #1
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Post Superdog with a Good Nose for Quality

this one involves venture capitalist funding... interesting....


Thu, Dec 25, 2008
The Business Times

IT'S NEVER easy to start your own business, Superdog's founder and managing director Edmund Koh says: 'You have to be prepared to live and breathe it.'

Living and breathing German bratwursts and chilli cheese fries, Mr Koh aims to make Superdog a recognised brand, which brings to mind not a caped canine, but quality hot dogs and burgers.

The homegrown fast food restaurant chain serves hand-grilled hot dogs and burgers, and was first launched in late 2006 with an outlet in VivoCity's basement. It opened its second branch at Downtown East in April this year, and plans for three others next year, including one at 313@Somerset, which will open by end 2009. The VivoCity outlet can seat 120, while the Downtown East outlet seats 80.

Superdog markets itself as a fast food restaurant chain, but minus Super Size Me negativity. 'Our main philosophy is freshness, using the freshest ingredients to produce the best tasting food,' said Mr Koh.

His fast-food chain prides itself on burger patties and sausages which are never frozen. Only chuck beef flown in from Australia and free of additives and preservatives is used in the patties, sausages are made locally, and all vegetables used are freshly cut in each restaurant's kitchen daily, not ordered from pre-cut suppliers.

Meat is grilled using reputedly healthier canola oil, not deep fried, and bread is toasted using a conveyor toaster rather than merely browned. This means toasting takes 1.5 minutes as opposed to 10 seconds, but, Mr Koh says, that is part of Superdog's commitment to quality over speed, despite being in the fast-food industry.

These are but some of the business details which occupy Mr Koh's waking moments, leading him to say that he 'lives and breathes' his food business.

Still, it was not so long ago that these ideas were just ideas. Inspiration first struck when Mr Koh, on a business trip to the States while still a project analyst with Apple Computers, sampled the chilli-dog there.

'It occurred to me that there was a huge void in the Singapore market for something like this, for a hassle-free setting serving great American food. I decided to fill that gap,' he said.

Mr Koh relates how having secured the VivoCity outlet in August 2006, he had only three months to get renovation work, menu, branding, packaging, and suppliers all sorted before the launch in November.

Amid the mad rush then, Mr Koh says he made the right decision to hire a French consultant chef to concoct a recipe for Superdog's American chilli sauce, which is still made in-house in each outlet's kitchen.

That chilli sauce has been one of Superdog's popular selling points, according to informal feedback and comments on online food review portals, said Mr Koh, who frequently types 'Superdog' into search engines to keep tabs on what customers are saying.

'We actually have quite a loyal following, even though we've only done some flyer promotions, and most of our marketing is by word-of-mouth,' he said.

So far, that marketing has worked, with the VivoCity outlet alone now bringing in close to $2 million in revenue a year. But there have been challenges too.

Superdog's insistence on a philosophy of freshness comes at a higher cost than the average fast-food joint's burger, and the resulting price differential has been a gripe of customers, said Mr Koh. However, he still believes that increasingly health-conscious Singaporeans will pay for a healthy quick meal.

To expand their customer base, Superdog has now launched a discounted student menu, which Mr Koh says has drawn a student crowd in the afternoons.

He has big plans for Superdog. Though the present strategy is to open more corporate outlets here and establish Superdog as a brand on the local fast-food scene, Mr Koh is also looking into the possibility of franchising or joint ventures in markets such as Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and China.

The 'ultimate dream achievement' for him, Mr Koh says, is to open a Superdog restaurant in the US. 'The fast-food industry is created by America. To be able to open an outlet there and survive would be a statement of the strength of the brand we have created.'

Superdog's potential to be a global brand and Mr Koh's passion and commitment to his business idea, were elements which impressed Eugene Wong, managing director of Sirius Venture Consulting, a venture capital firm focused on SMEs. The firm took a 45 per cent stake in Superdog in July, investing about $1 million in the business.

'We liked the fact that they were not afraid to take on the Goliaths of the fast-food industry. Of course, we liked the food too - tasty and convenient, but with its variety of burgers, more than just a hot dog stand,' Mr Wong said.

Which is important, Mr Wong added, because as a venture capital firm Sirius is committed to help Superdog's concept succeed in the long haul too.

Mr Koh said he opted for venture capitalist funding because Superdog would receive more than the capital needed for expansion. 'We have benefited from their business network and contacts, and strategic advice as well,' he said.

In these trying economic times, Mr Koh is not expecting business to be hit too badly. 'I can't say for sure; I have friends in the restaurant business who have seen revenue fall 20 per cent, but we've not really been hit. I guess people still need to eat when they're out, and fast-food is relatively cheaper and more convenient,' he said.

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