A pair of entrepreneurial brothers says there’s still plenty of appetite in Queensland for another burger player, revealing plans to open as many as 50 sites of US burger chain Carl’s Jr across the state.
Gaurav and Vishal Bansal head up the Bansal Group, operator of 19 IGA supermarkets across the state. They have plenty to keep them busy across their grocery store network, but over the past two years they’ve also been learning the ins and outs of the burger business.
The Carl’s Jnr brand has long looked to Australia as a destination to expand to, with reports from as early as 2010 suggesting the US chain was keen to launch Down Under. Back in 2013, the brand’s owner CKE Restaurants announced its intention to open 300 Australian stores in the space of 10 to 15 years.
Gaurav Bansal tells SmartCompany he first became aware of the “food paradise” that was Carl’s Jr. four years ago, and immediately he saw a space for the cult-favourite all American burger chain in Queensland.
“It was more than a brand, it was a culture. They don’t call people ‘customers’, they call them ‘guests’. In Australia, you’re missing that from a service point of view — and there’s still a market for a quality burger in Queensland,” he says.
He got his chance to pursue the opportunity two years ago, after seeing Carl’s Jr. secure a franchisee to operate stores in New South Wales. Customers were lining up around the block to eat at the brand’s first outlet at Bateau Bay.
The Bansal Group jumped to make their pitch to the parent company for a licence to franchise the brand in Queensland.
“We have a massive IGA business, we are a huge retailer in the market. So we flew to America for two days, to tell them how we were going to roll out the brand,” Bansal says.
“They didn’t just want someone with money — they wanted someone who was passionate about the brand.”
Carl’s Jr. granted the Bansal Group the right to franchise, and now the company is embarking on an ambitious expansion strategy after the initial success of its first Queensland site at Redbank Plains.
“We’ll end up opening 50 stores,” Bansal tells SmartCompany.
Ten sites are being scoped out for new store openings over the coming months, with a commitment to open seven new stores by the end of 2018.
And while it’s been a big few years for new competitors in the burger wars, Bansal believes the concept still has legs at the top of the nation.
“Fifty percent of Queenslanders already knew about the brand,” he says, when discussing the launch of their first Carl’s Jnr site.
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“We are still going very strong — serving around 800 people a day on a weekday and on weekends, 1200 people a day.”
A new fast food alternative
Bansal says there are two key elements that will mean Queenslanders remain hungry enough for Carl’s Jr. to allow a significant expansion of the store network.
“What we’ve seen is that people love dining in, and this can be a hangout place for everyone,” he says.
From family gatherings to the after school and uni crowd, Bansal says there’s still place for a straightforward, clean, good quality restaurant.
“You don’t have to dress up to enjoy it, but it’s not a “kids” place,” he says.
Then there’s the distinct quality of the offer, which is tightly controlled by Carl’s Jr. in the US.
“Finding quality supply chain has been the hardest part [of the rollout], because Carls Jr. won’t compromise on the quality,” he says.
The group went through four hamburger bun suppliers before they were able to find one that fit with the specific quality demands of head office.
Bansal says this commitment to the taste and style of food from the US chain will also pique the interest of customers.
“A lot of people are following the brand and want to taste it … You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when they have done it so well in America.”