Franchising | February 2013 | By Robert Thomas

Build Your Buzz Overseas

International Wetzel’s Pretzels franchisee shares his advice on establishing success in a foreign market.

Wetzel's Pretzels franchisee promotes business in Japanese markets.
Wetzel’s Pretzels franchisee Takafumi Kawasaki, far right, found success in Japan by heavily researching the local market. Wetzel’s Pretzels
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Takafumi Kawasaki opened his first Wetzel’s Pretzels unit in April 2012. Within two months, the fast-paced pretzel concept inside Tokyo’s Ario Kameari Mall became the brand’s No. 1 store. Now with four units in Tokyo, one in Hiroshima, and another in Kyoto, Kawasaki plans to open 100 Wetzel’s Pretzels units across Japan by the end of 2018.

Kawasaki is no stranger to running successful businesses; he runs three additional companies, including an eco-friendly business-maintenance organization and a successful chain of laundry franchises called Laundry Box.

By generating a constant buzz around the Wetzel’s Pretzels brand, Kawasaki maintains consistent growth that most franchisees can only hope for. He explains how he created a powerful brand in an international market, even before the doors opened.

1. Do your homework

Importing Wetzel’s proprietary mix was a challenge; fresh-baked pretzels are new to Japan. Based on my experience and what I’ve seen domestically and internationally, I thought Wetzel’s really elevated the concept and would be received well in Japan. I wanted to replicate that experience, because I loved how the brand was being operated in the United States.

Along with shipping regulations, introducing a new brand to a foreign market is always tricky. To counter this, we did our homework and focused on location and media to build a reputation for the brand before it even opened. I did an incredible amount of research regarding potential locations for the first store, including visiting 100 potential sites and visiting Wetzel’s in the United States. You have to find the correct location that supports what the business is designed to do and, for us, it was impulse purchasing.

You also need to decide whether or not success would be possible with the surrounding market. If the local market is not a good fit for the brand, you will not find success, regardless of the amount of resources you allocate. I wanted to establish a familiarity between Wetzel’s and the Japanese so that when we opened, our concept wasn’t coming out of nowhere. However, I can’t stress enough that location is crucial, especially when it comes time to promote the concept in a new market.

2. Spread the word

After you have identified a location that supports what the brand was designed to do, the next step is to promote your product. We did a huge media push, including television ads and newspaper articles. We did four television interviews the day we opened, along with a lot of newspaper stories. We had passed out a lot of literature before, and made some apparel for our team members to wear outside the unit.

Additionally, we put up a website before the store even opened. This way, local residents who were hearing about us through our other advertising efforts had a resource to turn to and find out more about the brand. All of these things generate excitement and can really get the local residents curious and wanting to try out your product.

Also, as a boss, don’t forget to be enthusiastic about your business. At every turn, I conveyed enthusiasm and excitement for Wetzel’s. Your employees and team members will feel and see your enthusiasm and do the same.

3. Make alterations, even if successful

Because of all the legwork we did before opening, our mistakes were minimal. We generated a lot of press that conveyed the brand effectively to the local market. But after the media blitz and being open for a while, we saw some changes that could be made to continually satisfy the local community and customer base.

Don’t be afraid to make alterations to keep people talking about you. We had such overwhelming success that our customers were ordering up to 20 pretzels at once; they were so intrigued by our brand that they wanted to try each one. So to expedite this process and move the line along, we created a sample pack that combines all of Wetzel’s most popular brands into one to-go pack. This way, consumers could conveniently get our products all at once and not slow down production.

In addition to our standard menu offerings, we also offer two seasonal pretzels each quarter that typically revolve around local tastes. For instance, our brown sugar and ginger pretzel ingredients come from a local vendor. This lets residents know that even though it is a new brand and a new concept in the area, there is a respect for local tastes and community. This continually creates something customers can talk about.

4. Engage in cross-platform marketing

Conveying the brand across different mediums is important. This way, you can target everyone through different strategies. We spent time highlighting the brand across every platform we could: grassroots marketing, handing out fliers, television interviews, newspaper interviews, and more. These were of critical importance to make sure Wetzel’s was a successful venture.

Because we tailored the brand to local tastes, we were able to keep the authenticity of Wetzel’s and focus on what makes it special. If your brand is new to the area, make sure you make an effort to modify the brand enough that it feels familiar without losing its authenticity and what made the brand successful in the first place.