Traditional Taiwanese bubble tea chain Chatime first opened it the UK two years ago, and is now expanding quickly. The brand currently has six sites, the latest of which opened in Nottingham on the 5 August.
Chatime offers both cold and hot teas and has a menu of 63 different flavours on offer.
BigHospitality talked to its managing director, Peter Wong, about the importance of the chain’s branding and its upcoming expansion plans.
Chatime currently has three sites operating in London, with its fourth opening on Portobello Road on 19 August. A franchise is due to open in Oxford on the second week in September, and one will open in Birmingham by the end of that month. It has also just signed a site in Sheffield and another in London’s Liverpool Street, which should open by the end of the year. Wong explained that Chatime is also looking at Cardiff and hoping to open in Edinburgh by the end of the year.
“We’ve been trading in the UK for over two years now and in the first year our primary focus was to build the brand and make sure that our business was sustainable and the model was correct,” said Wong. “But we actually had a lot of franchise interest last year, and incidentally they’re all opening around the same time.
“All franchisees go through an application process and we consider footfall, local universities and local establishments before we allow anyone to open one. Even throughout the process of franchising we’re very hands on. Our consultants review the applications to make sure that they fit our model.
“We have ten sites confirmed by the end of the year and right now we’re trying to squeeze a few more in. We want a minimum of twenty stores in the whole of the UK, which seems realistic and achievable considering we’re hitting ten this year.”
Chatime brands itself as a traditional Taiwanese beverage and keeping that concept at its core is viewed as very important.
“We deliberately brand ourselves as a traditional Taiwanese beverage because we believe that is what gives the brand its body,” explained Wong. “When you just build a brand upon a sheer concept with no history, it’s hard for it to localise into the culture. What we’re trying to do is turn bubble tea into a normal day to day beverage for anyone in the UK.”
Chatime’s main demographic is 18 to 27 year olds, and Wong also stated that their key customers tend to be female. When the brand moves into a new area, it works to establish a relationship with the local universities, student unions and charities, involving itself in sponsorship and supplying drinks to events.
“It’s all about building the brand and making it sustainable,” said Wong. “But although we are expanding our key demographic to more local and western audiences, we still never forget our phase one primary audience as well.”