“There are six days before the end of February. Guess how many new stores we have signed this month?” Wei Tongrong smiled and said, “115.” February and March are the peak season of investment attraction every spring. “Our better number in previous years is 100. The target in February this year is 200, which is double.”
Just after the Spring Festival in the Year of the Rabbit, the most important item on Wei Tongrong’s agenda was “finding people”. Sometimes, the interview is even arranged in the evening. She is eager to find a suitable professional manager to lead the war overseas.
As the helmsman of “fish together”, Wei Tongrong’s status is also a reflection of the whole enterprise——
At the beginning of February, the plan to set up the overseas business department of “fish together” was put on the agenda. The previous year, New York and Dubai had put up the banner of “fish together”, and Canadian overseas stores would also open in the near future. This year, she plans to open 12 stores overseas. The sense of urgency is always with her. “The overseas market must be the competitive place for catering chain brands this year”.
Before the opening of the epidemic, the entire catering industry was greatly weakened and suffered heavy losses. However, since January this year, with the continuous optimization of epidemic prevention and control policies in China, fireworks have gradually returned, and catering has become one of the first key industries to rebound.
As the rebound peak hit, “fish together” not only stabilized the performance, but also significantly accelerated the expansion of stores. According to the official “Fish Together”, by the end of February this year, the number of “Fish Together” stores in operation nationwide has exceeded 1610. Wei Tongrong set a goal, “In 2023, we planned to open 900 new stores. Now I hope that the goal will be changed to at least 1200.”
This is due to the business model of “fish together”.
In the catering track, compared with direct marketing, “fish together” chooses the chain franchise mode, which is more resilient to resist the epidemic risk. “Because the franchise model is to share the interests and risks of the company and franchisees,” said Wei Tongrong. In the past few years, the company has continuously optimized the store investment model, actively reduced the franchise fee, reduced the management fee, and granted preferential policies to franchise customers to seize the market changes brought by the epidemic.
Wei Tongrong believes that there is another important reason why “fish together” can break through against the tide: firm belief, bold organization and culture. Three years after the epidemic, “Fish Together” has established six branches across the country. Most of the original senior executives have sunk to the business front line
As a fast-food chain entity that pursues a large-scale route, “fish together” has not been overwhelmed during the epidemic, but has achieved expansion and profitability. In addition, fast food is just needed, and the recovery speed and level of “fish together” after the epidemic are also far higher than those of peers. Wei Tongrong revealed that since 2023, “the average performance of our stores has increased by 23% compared with the year 2022 when the epidemic was relatively serious”.
1、 Find the track and create categories
As a rare female entrepreneur in the catering industry, Wei Tongrong has a bold and straightforward personality, a very infectious smile, and a “big sister” temperament. The staff of “Fish with You” likes to call her “Sister Wei” in private. Qing Yong, founder of Tomato Capital, and Wei Tongrong have been friends for many years, and commented that she “speaks cleanly, never turns, sees problems accurately, and has a very sharp angle”.
Wei Tongrong’s enthusiasm for innovation and change is matched by her entrepreneurial path. After 18 years in the catering industry, she has become a “catering veteran”. She was the founder of the hot pot brand “Wei Lao Xiang Chicken Hot Pot” before she founded “Fish You Are Together” pickled Chinese cabbage Fish. In the eyes of the common people, Wei Tongrong has already achieved success in her career, but she still wants to change something.
“Why didn’t I make hot pot at that time? First, the investment in hot pot was large, which meant that you were making a big model, valuing assets and developing slowly in a traditional track. Another key was that we realized that the spring of fast food was coming, so we quickly transformed to make fast food at that time.” Wei Tongrong said, “Looking back now, we did catch the good track of pickled Chinese cabbage fish fast food.”
Pickled Chinese cabbage fish was originally a main dish in Sichuan cuisine, occupying a place on the table. In just a few years, this category emerged from dinner brands, and a listed enterprise was born. Pickled Chinese cabbage Fish can not only become a dinner chain brand like hotpot, but also a fast food brand like KFC and McDonald’s.
In 2017, the pickled Chinese cabbage and fish brand of “fish with you” was born, and there were more than 500 stores in the same year. By the end of February this year, “Fish Together” has opened more than 1600 stores, and its business has spread to more than 300 cities across the country. “Of course, there have been closed stores due to location and epidemic, but today, this data is ahead of the catering chain industry.”
In November 2021, “fish together” got the strategic investment of tomato capital and Wandian profit. Qing Yong believes that there are very few companies worthy of investment in the whole pickled Chinese cabbage fish race track. “You fish together”, “not only enjoy the bonus of non-fish products, but also compete with strong brands”, is an important reason for his preference and investment.
Through the pickled Chinese cabbage fish race track in the era of horse racing enclosure, a bipolar camp has been formed, with Taier pickled Chinese cabbage fish as the representative of dinner and “fish you are together” as the representative of fast food. In the view of Wei Tongrong, “fish together” adopts the business model of “small store, Dalian lock, and full supply chain”, that is, the store area and investment are small, and 85% of the ingredients are uniformly distributed by the headquarters supply chain.
“We follow the chain franchise model, and the management costs and human costs of franchisees can be minimized,” said Wei Tongrong. In recent years, the whole track has been in a period of rapid development. “So I don’t lack franchisees, and franchisees have to be audited before they can join.” According to his introduction, in recent years, the epidemic has helped franchisees to be empowered in store management through localization through the sinking form of branch offices and headquarters organizations.
“When you find a dish, create a new business model, and subdivide a market track, this thing is successful,” said Wei Tongrong. In the past three years, “Fish Together” has not lost blood due to the epidemic, but has maintained abundant cash flow and revenue, and achieved adverse expansion and performance growth.
2、 Open up online and aim overseas
The anxiety of catering peers can be directly reflected in the number of closed stores – according to the statistics of Lianshang. com, in the past 2022, at least 7400 offline stores closed, and more than 1800 restaurants were involved.
In the most difficult year of 2022, the development speed of “fish together” is also hindered to some extent. “If there is no epidemic, I plan to open 3000 stores,” said Wei Tongrong. In the three years of the epidemic, she was under pressure to imagine what would happen if the epidemic continued, and forced the team to make offline business online, but more importantly, she was down-to-earth and determined.
“When God closes a window and opens another door, it is to open up online channels.” Wei Tongrong said that in the first year of the epidemic, the company established a takeout strategy team. In 2022, the takeout flow has accounted for 40% of the store flow, effectively helping the store resist the risks brought by the epidemic. In addition, the membership business launched in the early years also began to play an important role in deep customer locking.
Wei Tongrong described the company’s survival status under the epidemic situation by “training soldiers in leisure time and fighting in busy time”. “During the epidemic, our headquarters team can only communicate online. But in order to help the stores, our front-line team has not returned to the company for almost a year. At the risk of the epidemic, we operate and supervise in stores across the country.”
Faced with the problem of shop inspection and empowerment caused by the epidemic, she quickly realized that “at this time, we must speed up the informatization process.” She was proud that in the three years of the epidemic, the company has established a professional informatization team, and the cooperation and problem solving process with franchisees is also faster and more convenient.
“We now have independently developed APP and small programs, and franchisees can order, pay, distribute, settle and repair online with one click. In the second quarter of this year, we will also launch a set of operating cockpit system, so that stores can clearly understand their own business situation, and also let our regional managers have more accurate online management and enabling tools.” Wei Tongrong said.
Speaking of the reasons for “breaking out against the trend” during the epidemic, Qing Yong believed that “the fast food category is just needed for the race track.” Secondly, the location of the store has advantages, “it can be done in shopping centers and community streets; and it has sinking ability, and has good development in first-tier cities and low-tier markets”. Third, Wei Tongrong is surrounded by many talents, supported by external shareholders, and has good internal team and organizational ability.
In recent years, the tea-drinking track has developed rapidly, and the overseas expansion trend has been rapid, which has deeply inspired Wei Tongrong.
“It is said that some tea brands have opened more than 2000 stores overseas, which took them four years. Therefore, we are also expanding the overseas market layout.” Wei Tongrong said that the overseas epidemic in the past few years has delayed the pace of “fish together” to attack the overseas market. “Now that the control of the epidemic has been released, everyone is fighting for territory.”
Wei Tongrong believes that the first step of the layout is that core talents must be in place. “I believe that the professional team is definitely different.” At the headquarters of the “Fish Together” company in Beijing, the names of more than ten conference rooms are all the names of overseas countries or cities that the company plans to layout, “such as Seoul, Singapore, Vancouver, Canada, etc.”.
3、 Go to the front line and win the battle
To Wei Tongrong’s gratitude, even at the most difficult time of the epidemic, the team of “fish together” did not hesitate to swing or wait in place. During the epidemic, the company needs to find business breakthroughs, and the layout of sinking the market becomes a sharp sword.
Wei Tongrong remembered that a large group of vice presidents and directors around her were working in the headquarters. When the epidemic comes, the company needs to sink all over the country. “At this time, I gave a command, and basically all the vice presidents took the lead and went to the front line to be the general manager of the branch company.” Many of these senior executives were the core personnel who followed Wei Tongrong in his early years to start a business and started from the grass roots.
“Our former head of operation is now in Central China. I said you go to the front line, and I will bring the new team.” In Wei Tongrong’s creed, “the old man must go out to fight, which is the embodiment of the team’s combat effectiveness and cohesion.”
Wei Tongrong believes that these old people are also willing to give their backs to them. “You have been practicing here for 10 or 15 years, and we have mutual respect. You can’t run away from the old people, and I trust you enough. So we need to look far ahead and imagine that the ancient princess faraway married is the same. The people we love most, the people we trust most, go there.”
In the three years since the epidemic, “Fish Together” has set up six branches according to the needs of market development and localization.
Wei Tongrong believed that the premise for the establishment of the branch must be the sinking of people and organizations, which depends on the base of team culture. “Our team has two advantages, the first is the courage to fight and the second is the strong execution. This team is the same as I am, and is very aggressive. We are all undestructible Xiaoqiang. We hit a wall in front, bounce back, and then continue to jump.”
At present, in the talent composition of the company’s core executives, the proportion of new and old teams is 1:1. Wei Tongrong is willing to “recruit talents with high salary” and use more competitive salary to find the talents needed by the organization. “In the face of talents who are truly suitable for the development of enterprises, I will not bargain, but I will give them a raise. I have taken his value into consideration, and believe that a high salary will surely have a better return.”
During the epidemic, some newly opened branches performed well in scale. “In Shanghai, for example, in the past three years of the epidemic, we have grown from 12 to 87, and from 14 to 56 in Hangzhou, at a very fast pace. We think that the best development momentum is in East China, so the organizational strength of this team is very strong.”
The three years of epidemic situation further verified the sustainability of Wei Tongrong’s business ideas.
In Qing Yong’s view, the goal of “fish together” has a certain foundation for realization. “This is the goal of many large catering brands. The key lies in whether the brand has the Wandian gene and whether the team has the ability to carry this goal. The business model of” fish you together “, Wandian gene is very prominent. At the same time, talent matching is also based on the Wandian goal, and talent investment is ahead of the industry.”
According to the ten-year plan of “fish together”, the number of global stores will reach 30000 by 2030. In the view of Wei Tongrong, KFC has more than 9000 stores in China at present. In comparison, the market capacity of “fish with you” will be two to three times that of KFC, “because our store density can be higher”.
At the end of last year, “Fish Together” set its business goal for 2023: 1100 new stores signed and 900 opened. According to the market feedback in 2023, Wei Tongrong decided to update the target: 2000 new stores should be signed and 1200 stores should be opened. “In January, I saw a marked improvement in the overall market environment and the upsurge of entrepreneurship, so I was ready to increase their size and tighten the screws.”