SINGAPORE: Excitement was high for bubble tea chain Gong Cha’s return to Singapore after a hiatus of close to six months. Even before the official opening of its new flagship outlet at SingPost Centre, a line had already formed, with some people queuing overnight.
More than 200 people were in the queue ahead of the store’s opening on Friday (Dec 1), according to Gong Cha staff.
Junior college student Daryl Yoon was the first customer in line. Together with his friends, he had queued since 10pm on Thursday.
“We really like Gong Cha and we saw the store was opening when we passed by at around 5pm yesterday,” he said. “Then when I saw there was no-one in line at around 10pm, I decided to queue.”
Daryl and his friends spent time doing work and watching movies. And they got a surprise when the chain’s CEO, Mr Kang Puay Seng, showed up with supper for them.
“We were quite shocked when we found out who he was, and he chatted with us and said we were passionate about Gong Cha,” said Daryl.
For his effort, he got 99 cups of free drinks – and the chance to participate in the official launch ceremony by inserting a giant straw into a giant model of a cup of bubble tea.
Other people in line included colleagues Sharon Zheng, Chia Jia Yan and Elizabeth Mui, who held the queue numbers 186, 187 and 188, respectively. They had joined the queue at 11.30am, half an hour before the store opened to the public.
“I took a half-day off to queue,” said Elizabeth. “It’s the first day, so we wanted to get the goodies ... we got a diary, calendar and we’ll also get a free mug.”
“We were really excited when we first found out the store was reopening,” she added. “They have flavours the other bubble tea chains don’t have, like Alisan milk tea. That’s my favourite.”
Perks for those in line included discounted bubble tea and a free limited-edition Gong Cha mug.
BRINGING THE BRAND BACK – EVEN BETTER THAN BEFORE
Gong Cha left Singapore in June after its previous master franchisee RTG Holdings decided to cease operations here. All Gong Cha outlets were replaced with its own bubble tea brand, LiHO. However, Royal Tea Taiwan - the company behind the Gong Cha brand - announced in August that the chain would return to Singapore under a new master franchisee, Gong Cha (Singapore). It is now under the leadership of Mr Kang Puay Seng, who is a veteran in the food and beverage (F&B) sector and the co-founder and former managing director of Mr Bean food and beverage chain.
“I think a lot of people were very sad when Gong Cha left, and they expressed their disappointment on social media,” he said. “We read about it, and we could sympathise with them. And I think to bring back the brand and products that they left ... that’s an achievement to us.”
Mr Kang noted that many others had written in to apply for the franchise. “I had to sit down, work out a business plan and try to convince the management of my ability to grow the brand with them,” he said. “I did some detailed market surveys for the Singapore market, and took the opportunity to go to Taiwan and Korea to study why the brand is so attractive.”
“We even went around the region, to places like Myanmar, to compare the mature market and new markets,” he added.
He also plans to grow the brand: They hope to open 50 stores island-wide in the next five years, complete with a “mixture of offerings that are suited for customers in the vicinity”.
Mr Kang revealed that the next two Gong Cha stores will be opening this month at Ngee Ann City and Northpoint. Plans are also in the pipeline to open a cashless transaction kiosk at NUS University Town.
COMPETITION, OTHER PLAYERS DO NOT FAZE HIM
And the other players in the bubble tea market do not appear to faze Mr Kang. In fact, he stressed that he does not see other bubble tea chains like LiHO as competitors, noting that “we complement each other to make the market bigger.”
“In any open market, competition is bound to happen,” he said. “You just have to prepare for it.”
“I must say that LiHO is doing a good job and serving customers well with their product,” he added. “So we just have to differentiate ourselves.”
One way he is looking to do so is through a new café setting, where customers can sit down and enjoy their drinks. For the first time, the brand is also bringing in a snack menu featuring a “tea-infused biscuit creation.”
New drinks – like the purple sweet potato milk tea and matcha red bean – have also been added to the menu, apart from old favourites like earl grey milk tea.
“We work very closely with HQ, and all these drinks were proposed by them,” he said. “These are the top selling products in other markets like Taiwan and Korea.”
Mr Kang added that Gong Cha will also be offering scholarships in partnership with Singapore Polytechnic, in a bid to “give back to the industry.”
This is to encourage and empower like-minded youths to develop their potential to the fullest and keep the sector vibrant with their innovations.”