Wasabi Warriors expands to Dubai: Lack of local store locations pushes the brand overseas

Pacific Retail’s sushi brand, Wasabi Warriors, is expanding to Dubai in 2014, having struck a partnership with Dubai-based business United Holdings.

The company wants to expand the brand throughout Australia. But in the 18 months since Wasabi Warriors launched, Pacific Retail has struggled to find suitable store locations in Australia’s major capital cities.

It’s had no problem finding overseas partners keen to help it expand elsewhere though.

Pacific Retail chief executive Nicola Mills told SmartCompany United Holdings expressed interest in bringing the chain to Dubai, attracted to the “premium quality of the food”.

Making the partnership more attractive to Pacific Retail was the fact United Holdings already had experience in franchising, having already taken United States-based franchise Hollywood Burger to Dubai.

“They wanted to go into sushi and Wasabi Warriors stands about because of its five characters which adds personality to the brand,” Mills says.

“They were really attracted to it and in Dubai, the service and quality of food is really important, just as it is here, so when they approached us they flew out to Australia to meet us and experienced the stores first hand.”

The five characters Wasabi Warrior stores are based around are cartoon-style Japanese warriors named Ocean, Porky, Beefy, Chicken and Veggie.

Having opened its first store 18 months ago, Wasabi Warrior currently has two stores operating in Sydney, but plans are underway to open stores across Australia.

Mills said she’d hoped the expansion throughout Australia would occur more quickly, however difficulties securing appropriate store locations had slowed the process.

“While we’ve had a lot of inquiries from people and landlords, our biggest problem has been needing a bigger foot print for the stores.  We haven’t been able to get into the locations we’d like,” she says.

“We’ve ended up having to expand our other sushi brand Go Sushi instead because it’s a smaller store size. We’ve had to wait longer for sites appropriate for Wasabi Warriors which has slowed us down.”

Mills says the sped up growth of Go Sushi has been a benefit, but to combat the problem of finding store locations in Australia, Pacific Retail has bought on retail growth expert Warren Billett to focus on Wasabi Warriors.

Last week, Mills travelled back to Dubai to liaise with landlords and speak to local radio stations about building strategic partnerships and marketing opportunities.

“We were very impressed by United Holdings effort to come and see us and it’s ended up being a really good partnership. We get a lot of inquiries, but this one was a good fit,” Mills says.

“They were very like-minded to us, very strategic, professional and they had a proper board in place. They also had a good balance between their financial and marketing skills and Wasabi Warriors really is a marketer’s brand.”

Mills says Pacific Retail recognised the importance of partnering with a company with a strong marketing focus.

“If they didn’t have these skills, we’d have recommended they go with Go Sushi. The people that were going to take it on need to understand brand and marketing because it’s all about the ‘eat good, feel good’ message, and the brand is built around the personality of the five characters,” she says.

The brand Wasabi Warriors first came about as a result of customer research Pacific Retail conducted for its Go Sushi franchise.

“What we’d been looking to do was improve Go Sushi, but through the process of doing the customer research we realised there was a big gap in the market because there was no number one brand,” Mills says.

“People didn’t care what the name on the door was, they were just going to wherever was most convenient and not connecting with the brands. Go Sushi was just like all these brands, they just blended into one.”

From this point, Pacific Retail decided to develop a new brand “which had a heart-beat”.

“We wanted to build something people could connect with and have fun with,” Mills says.

Mills says it will be successful in Dubai because “Dubai is like Australia five years ago”.

“There are either none or just one sushi competitor in all the major shopping centres. They have very simple, small displays. Or else it’s high end Japanese,” she says.

“No one is doing beautiful displays with good value food, so it’s a great opportunity to be first to market and have an impact.”

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