Goh Chee Cheng has worked in the telecommunications industry for 15 years.
Throughout his long tenure, he had helped set up telecommunications infrastructure for mobile devices and Internet networks; as well as managed projects for various firms such as Keppel T&T and Ericsson.
Despite his extensive time there, 48-year-old Chee Cheng lamented that he didn’t like the fact that his job didn’t allow for much social connection.
Day in and day out, all he did was to tinker with various devices in hopes of achieving faster bandwidth and speed.
It quickly became mundane for him; but it was also this very job which granted him the opportunity to take on a new career path.
His First Foray Into F&B
Whilst working on a particular telecommunications project, he got acquainted with Rodney Tang, who used to run the Taiwanese bubble tea chain Gong Cha franchise in Singapore.
Then in June 2010, he was offered the opportunity to join the company as the operations director.
Despite not having a vast knowledge (he could only differentiate between green and black tea) or prior experience in the bubble tea business, he deep-dived into it anyway.
He held on to the role for a good five years, before he decided to leave as the “business had become quite established”. The chain had expanded to 84 outlets within 8 years.
Elaborating on his role, Chee Cheng said that running Gong Cha was mostly “trial and error” in the early days.
We only have the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) from Taiwan, and the rest of the operational ideas were based on how I managed telecom projects previously in the region.
After his departure from Gong Cha, he stayed on in the F&B industry and moved on to be the general manager of French patisserie-restaurant, Antoinette, for another 1.5 years.
Establishing A Homegrown Bubble Tea Brand
In September 2016, Chee Cheng decided to establish his own bubble tea brand.
Called Yuan Cha, it serves bubble tea and a premium range of high-mountain oolong tea from a 200-year-old plantation, Sheng Sheng Tea in Nantou, Taiwan.
According to him, he has been toying with the idea of starting one up since April 2016.
“The initial thoughts revolved around a cafe or a small restaurant, and I finally decided to start up Yuan Cha with the mission of being different from all existing players in the market.”
But why another bubble tea chain when there are already existing strong players such as Koi and Gong Cha in the market?
When I look at the bubble tea market, most were franchised and they have not made any significant change in the last 10 years. Their customer base is between 18 and 40 years old, and mostly working adults.
On the flipside, Yuan Cha’s offerings cover a wider age group from young children to grandparents, explained Chee Cheng.
He added that “good quality premium tea is [also] lacking in the Singapore market.”
Yuan Cha serves a menu of about 40 drinks made from six different types of tea. The teas are sourced from a supplier in Taiwan, which customises blends for the shop.
Other than the regular green tea, black tea, tieguanyin, pu’er and oolong, Yuan Cha also offers exclusive tea leaves such as lishan, chai shao oolong, red oolong and ziya shan.
Their menu also features a fruit vinegar series that combines tea and vinegar flavoured with lime, plum, or apple.
Surviving As A New Brand
Expectedly, starting out as a new brand wasn’t a smooth-sailing journey.
“In the beginning, it was difficult to secure an outlet for Yuan Cha because many malls do not believe that another bubble tea brand can be successful since there are already so many established players.”
“The first day when we launched in Bukit Panjang Plaza, the whole team was so nervous and worried. But when the first few customers gave us the thumbs up and complimented our tea, it was all worth it.”
Chee Cheng said that they received 5-star reviews on their Facebook page, which serves as an affirmation that they were “on the right track”.
As a new brand, you need to make sure that your product is good so that customers will like [and trust] your brand.
He trusts that as long as the food’s good, one will definitely be able to survive and thrive in the competitive F&B landscape.
“As long as we maintain the high standard in term of quality and customer service, we will be here to stay,” he added.
Expanded To 4 Outlets In 1.5 Years
“Being a Singaporean brand, we are already different [from the competitors]. We are not a franchised brand and we are able to put in more retail merchandise as we expand our business.”
To date, Yuan Cha has four outlets in Singapore – no mean feat considering that it only entered the market 1.5 years ago.
Its first two outlets are in Bukit Panjang Plaza and Far East Plaza, and Chee Cheng recently opened another two outlets in Jurong Point and Nex shopping centres.
We are constantly looking for good locations to open our brand.
‘When we were given the opportunity to open in big malls like Jurong Point and NEX, we just grabbed it. We are constantly looking for good locations to open our brand.”
When asked about revenue growth, Chee Cheng refused to disclose any figures and simply said that they are “doing just fine”.
In terms of business expansion plans, he shared that they are looking at growing their footprint overseas to Vietnam and Malaysia this year.
“At the moment, we set to have about 8 to 10 outlets in Singapore and will be planning for overseas franchise in the near future.”
“There is no target date to achieve all these. But when the time comes, my team and I will take on the challenge.”
Featured Image Credit: Goh Chee Cheng / Yuan Cha Singapore