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Charlley Zhao
Charlley Zhao
Smart50 rank: 7
Revenue: $843,0941
Growth: 132.35%
Founders: Charlley Zhao, 33
Head Office: New South Wales
Employees: 100
Industry: Accommodation, cafes and restaurants

While the plummeting price of milk may have kept some farmers on their toes, for Chatime chief executive Charlley Zhao, it has had the opposite effect – he couldn’t be happier.

Zhao’s bubble tea franchise has rocketed to 41 franchises in just three years, with the company attempting to make a name for itself by focusing on fresh ingredients and drinks made in front of the customer.

That means using milk instead of creamer – and that means Zhao is enjoying cheaper prices.

“We are the only chain really using fresh dairy farmers’ products, instead of creamer. There is a demand for that fresh product, and we love giving it to our customers.”

The business was actually started in 2009 when Zhao brought over the Taiwanese brand to begin a master franchise. This strategy better suited his sensibilities, he says, rather than simply starting up a business from nothing.

“I’m in a finance background, I thought opening a franchise would be an easier way to start and expand the business. I thought it would be something I would be able to handle, and handle very well.”

And handle it very well he has – the company has $8.4 million in revenue with 44 stores, and a short-term target of 50. Part of that is due to an empty market. There was only one other major player with 60 stores, and there was plenty of room for individuality.

The company prioritises using fresh ingredients, and makes the drink in front of customers similar to a cocktail bar. The result is a customer-focused franchise that brands itself as a “premium” offer, while still at a cheap price.

“We’re also quite focused on branding, so we spent a lot of money on the design. We’ve worked on a big marketing campaign as well.”

“Customers can taste the fresh tea leaves, the fresh ingredients, and it really gives us quite an advantage.”

From here, Zhao is focusing on expanding the brand to the mainstream customer base outside its traditional Asian communities. That means more locations, and more franchisors.

“Positioning our business as the fresh tea experts and delivering a product that appeals to a more sophisticated and mature market is our strategy.”

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