How can a brand expand?
Phillip Chang has wrestled with this question many times — like in 2004, when his bubble tea franchise, Boba Loca, hit a wall. “I couldn’t solve the problem by just adding another drink,” he says. “I wanted something more, something bigger.” So he created Yogurtland, a self-serve frozen yogurt brand that sparked an international craze (and many copycats).
Seventeen years later, Yogurtland is still going strong — no small feat in the ever-changing food world. And Chang is ready to expand again. Over the past two years, he’s introduced two new concepts within the Yogurtland brand: Holsom by Yogurtland — a fast-casual, healthy meal joint — and Egg N Bird, which specializes in a Korean chicken sandwich (and doesn’t use the Yogurtland branding). Here, Chang discusses the art of innovation, diversification, and gaining a competitive edge.
You approach expansion very carefully. Tell me about that.
I do not like expansion for no reason. My philosophy is: Why am I doing this business and what’s the end goal? That has to be very formed. Without that, everybody is just chasing money. If you don’t have your own philosophy or a good foundation of who you are, it’s nothing. Identity is so critical. You have to start from there.
So where did the Holsom and Egg N Bird concepts come from?
Before we expanded, I wanted to build strong roots with Yogurtland. Doing that gave us lots of great ideas. I thought, How can we make it better?
We started with quality. That’s how I came up with Holsom. It’s very light and nutritional food. But with Holsom, there is still a connection to yogurt. I wanted to go beyond that — explore a real meal. So for Egg N Bird we did lots of research to ask, What is the demand out there?
The beef market is huge, but I thought people maybe missed the chicken opportunity, and chicken is a healthier option. I’m Korean, and there are lots of chicken restaurants in Korea. I knew how they served the chicken, and so with our amazing team, we put together the demand for our market and came up with this amazing chicken sandwich.
How do you think innovation and continual diversification have contributed to the success of your brands?
In the restaurant industry, we think of trends in terms of cycles. There’s challenging times, but one thing that never changes is that a top brand can win in any kind of cycle.
With Yogurtland, frozen yogurt consumption is constantly going up and down, but we have such great quality that we continue to thrive. We are taking over a big portion of the ice cream market.
The same thing is true with Holsom and Egg N Bird. When we have top quality and provide worth to our customers, we can dominate the market.
What advice do you have for business owners going through a not-so-great sales cycle? How do you stay motivated in times when it’s not the best?
All entrepreneurs should have their own philosophy and beliefs — an identity, and a clear idea of who you are. What do you want to achieve out of this?
Always try to look at the whole picture. When a leader is so into little operations, they miss big trends. You have to understand if a market is turning from a typical beef hamburger to a chicken sandwich — there are lots of signs. If they read them ahead of time, then they can plan. Take a step back. And always make time for meditation — about your life, your family, your goals, the people around you, and what you’re trying to achieve.