Here’s one rule to live by for international franchisors: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It’s a rule that Taco Bell have learned firsthand and thrived by.
In the early 1990s, Taco Bell tried to introduce the taco to Asia. A staple meal in Mexico, the taco doesn’t easily translate to the Asian menu and while Taco Bell boomed in America, it had to close down its first franchise forays in China and South Korea. But buoyed by the rapid growth of the economies in south-east Asia, Taco Bell has again opened units in South Korea. So far, so good.
In July, Taco Bell opened the first of three restaurants in Seoul. They realized they would struggle to attract customers based on their menu alone so they tried to bring customers in by building exciting stores. As the Washington Post reports: “The new store's menu appears on an LED board. Wall hangings display a succession of culinary mood words: sizzle, steam, smash.”
The three-story Taco Bell has forty-minute queues on the day of its opening. Taco Bell believe they are on to something here, and Shin Sang Yong, chief executive officer of M2G Ltd, which brought Taco Bell to South Korea, seriously believe that local eaters are finally ready for the taco.
They are smart to realize that social media outlets like blogs will play a huge role in depending the fate of Taco Bell in Korea. In the short term, the paper reports that people seem to be enjoying the experience:
“Several young women sat on the second floor of Seoul's Taco Bell one recent evening, devoted equally to consuming and photographing their food. Jung Ji Yoon, a 20-year-old college student, said that she had eaten at Taco Bell several times this summer, finding the taste to be "good - especially compared to the price."
As Taco Bell have proved, it’s not impossible to return to a foreign market where you have initially failed. But you need to be flexible enough to change your business approach entirely.