Concept expansion in general can be stomach-clenching. It’s always scary to take a concept into which you’ve put your heart and soul and expand it to a new market.
Will your new location be as successful and well-received? Or will you risk spreading yourself too thin and harming the core of your brand? These questions and concerns cause plenty of headaches in a domestic expansion but recent trends show some well-established American concepts going one step further and expanding their brands to other countries around the world.
One headliner concept that has recently made the push into Asia is The City Bakery. The Asian markets of Hong Kong and Japan have become very attractive for concept owners and investors alike as these areas are filled with people who care about style and trends, the latest gadgets and, most importantly, decadent food. Since opening in Osaka, Japan, The City Bakery has been embraced by the local consumers and the move has brought them great success. As owner Maury Rubin told me, Japanese customers are more likely to adopt their concept than a more quintessentially American chain like Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme because of their love for French luxury goods. The cool and inviting aesthetic at The City Bakery helps too.
Perhaps similar factors have helped Magnolia Bakery as the Manhattan staple has successfully expanded throughout the Middle East. Magnolia locations can be found in Dubai Mall, Qatar, Lebanon, and Kuwait—all areas where customers have a high net worth and a good amount of disposable income to spend on luxury dessert items.
However, an international expansion isn’t always a slam dunk. Just look at Balthazar, a restaurant that has garnered international attention due to its highly-regarded chef, Keith McNally, and the throngs of tourists it attracts to its original Soho location. One could assume that the Balthazar concept would transition easily to the international marketplace but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The media frenzy that followed Balthazar to London, England has been replaced by a chorus of critics complaining that the eatery has not held up in the cross-Atlantic transfer. Whether this is an issue with the food, service, atmosphere, location or all of the above I am not sure, but the warm welcome the restaurant was expecting from Londoners has not come to be.
International expansion is an exciting opportunity to truly establish a brand, and build a reputation amongst an international audience, but American concepts must do their research before deciding to expand into areas where the local tastes, interests and aesthetics are so different from ours. It’s important to know your market and understand what it is that you can offer them, while also ensuring that the high standard of quality that earned your success in the first place remains intact.