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From a seed of an idea to an international franchise, Ron Simpson, co-founder of The Avocado Show, details how his niche brand has grown beyond its humble Dutch roots.
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Interview by Kieran McLoone, deputy editor for Global Franchise
Much like the nutritious fruit on which it’s based, The Avocado Show started as nothing more than a promising seed of an idea; watered by the enthusiasm and drive of its two entrepreneurial founders.
When Julien Zaal and Ron Simpson first considered the prospect of an avocado-themed restaurant back in late 2016, its eventual boom in popularity wasn’t even a consideration – they just wanted to do something fun.
“We decided to start a little restaurant together because it sounded like a fun thing to do,” says Ron Simpson, co-founder of the brand. “Because we’re both creatives, we figured we couldn’t just open another pizza place or another hamburger restaurant. It needed to be original.”
Fast forward a handful of months, and The Avocado Show was born: a grand opening in Amsterdam in March 2017 was met with expansive lines down the road, exponential social media interest, and – perhaps most exciting – endless calls from investors looking to franchise the pair’s brand-new F&B concept.
“We got in touch with Shawn Harris, who founded Nature’s Pride, our avocado supplier, and is also a well-known figure on the Dutch Dragon’s Den. All of a sudden, we were learning about scaling, what franchising means, and the endless possibilities that come with that,” says Simpson. “In May of 2017, we decided to switch to a franchise model to turn the brand into something special. We later partnered up with a franchisee in Brussels, and that saw the opening of our first franchise location in the fall of 2018.”
A handful of locations later, and international growth suddenly wasn’t some far-off dream; it was the natural next step for an evolving brand, carving its own niche in a densely populated industry. This step came in the form of 19 new franchise locations dotted around Europe, with The Avocado Show now scheduled to open in cities like Madrid, London, and Paris.
“When going to some exciting cities around Europe, we soon learned that we weren’t looking for an individual restaurant to be opened, because we could have a ton of those,” says Simpson. “We were looking for really great partners that have the know-how to roll out The Avocado Show in the best possible way in their area, city, or country.”
Opting primarily for area development agreements, The Avocado Show isn’t just going to show up in any city that will have it; Zaal and Simpson have come to appreciate the quality control that comes with patience and measured recruitment. That being said, consistent growth is still a key tenet of the brand’s future plans: “We’re mainly looking to open a new location every six to 12 months, especially in a city like London where the market is so big that you can target multiple different areas.”
Social media success
But how did The Avocado Show manage to break from the stream of countless new F&B concepts, and emerge as a truly unique offering garnering growing investment interest?
Part of this was down to the brand’s cohesive harnessing of its digital presence. A steady flow of high-quality social media content, showcasing The Avocado Show’s millennial-appealing plush pink interiors and floral walls, drew in consumers. Meanwhile, forward-thinking marketing materials, including a documentary on the brand’s relationship with its avocado supplier, Nature’s Pride, delivered the one-two punch needed to secure philanthropic franchisees.
“One of our key insights we always rely on is that whether you’re handling B2C or B2B marketing, it’s always dealing with people,” says Simpson. “Businesses working with each other eventually boil down to two people just talking. Sure, the way that we market and use social media is mainly aimed at consumers and lovers of our food, but if you’re an expert in restaurant marketing and hospitality, you keep an eye on all consumer-facing content.”
Beyond looking good online, The Avocado Show is held up by engrained pillars of sustainability and responsibly sourced ingredients; social issues that are at the forefront of switched-on consumers’ minds.
“We decided to start a little restaurant together because it sounded like a fun thing to do”
Before even opening a restaurant, for example, Zaal and Simpson did copious research into avocado farming, rainfall, and drip irrigation. Those aware of the popularity of avocados will no doubt also be familiar with the downsides like deforestation and cartel influence – areas the brand was keen to circumvent from the get-go.
“People will always be eating and restaurants will always be open, but we can control how we do things like reducing waste, having better production, and using a sustainable supply chain,” says Simpson. “Sustainability and responsibility need to be a part of every future conversation; not just for us, but for everyone in the industry.”
And then there’s the food itself. The Avocado Show’s menu was created with the goal to provide customers with “works of edible art”, which the founders refer to as ‘Pretty Healthy Food’. That is, menu items that are both aesthetically pleasing, generally good for you, but also craveable and enjoyable to eat.
“I just don’t believe, as a marketer, that we should just be explaining that our food is delicious,” says Simpson. “Your food tastes good? It should. If it doesn’t, don’t make a restaurant. We’re called The Avocado Show because the show is on the plate. People love getting excited about things that they’ve never seen before, that you can show and tell other people about.”
Worldwide, one avocado at a time
Once the brand’s current 19 scheduled locations are all open, which have conservatively been penned across the next five years, what’s next for The Avocado Show? U.S. expansion is certainly on the cards, according to Simpson, and the Middle East is also being eyed as a possible next step. The key ingredient in future plans is what differentiated The Avocado Show in the first place: making sure that the creative seed is nurtured, so it can grow around the world.
“I think we’ll always opt for a minimum 80/20 rule, where 80 per cent of the concept is set in stone and 20 per cent can be adapted to suit any given market. You need to be able to adapt a little bit to make sure the brand works in certain locations, and who knows – you might find out you’ve made an improvement that we can bring back to Europe. We are always looking for what the best version of The Avocado Show is.”
IMAGE: Co-founders Ron Simpson (left), The Avocado Show
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