Living the Life That Is Upright and Executing Day By Day to Scale Asia’s Wide-Moat Foodservice Company – Bamboo Innovator Monthly Riddle

“Bamboo Innovators bend, not break, even in the most terrifying storm that would snap the mighty resisting oak tree. It survives, therefore it conquers.”
BAMBOO LETTER UPDATE | October 7, 2015
Bamboo Innovator Insight (Issue 103)

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Dear Friends,

Living the Life That Is Upright and Executing Day By Day to Scale Asia’s Wide-Moat Foodservice Company 

Can You Guess This Asian Wide-Moat Company?

“Work hard. Deal with people honestly. Always look to improve yourself. Celebrate if we outdo ourselves, not when we outdo others. Enjoy what you are doing. This will help you to deliver the best products and services to your customers. It will also help you to strive to improve until you achieve excellence. Be ready to innovate. And never be afraid to dream big! The advice and motivation comes from one source – my mother. She is steadfast in counselling us, on how to live the life that is upright.”

This is the message that the inspiring Mr. C has for like-minded entrepreneurs and the next generation of leaders.

In the month of October, we investigate a listed Asian family business founded in 1975 by Mr. C and his wife that is now a leader in the foodservice industry with multiple brand format across several categories to capture a bigger chunk of the dining-out market where >12% of its local domestic population dine at one of their outlets every week, led by their flagship brand which dominates the market with a share of 57% which is 3x the value share of its next largest peer.

The under-penetrated domestic market, where foodservice spending per capita is one of the lowest in Asia, paves the way for acceleration and long-term structural growth in outlet expansion, especially in the provincial areas where margins are potentially higher, as urbanization rise. Such market dominance and brand equity in generating consistent cashflow is underappreciated and deserves valuation premium.

The company’s flagship brand, which contributed 52% of systemwide sales, has powerful store economics driven by high margin, low cash investment cost per outlet, resulting in cash-on-cash return of 43%, which is significantly higher than the 24% return for the average US peers. Its other domestic brands are leaders in their own categories with market share ranging from 35-91%.

Its international brands in China have broken even in 3Q14 after its initial entry more than 10 years ago; all along, the operations are profitable at the store level, but lack enough scale to cover the corporate and infrastructure overheads in which the management has committed to long-term investments in central kitchens to support the scaling up of the network expansion. In Jan 2015, management also inked a 60:40 JV and master franchise agreement with famous US snack chain in China and commented that they are exploring the opportunity to acquire a US brand with a $1bn market capitalization.

Being born into a poor family, Mr. C has demonstrated far-sightedness, discipline and values to build and scale the company into Asia’s leading foodservice company by “giving our fellow men more than they expect, whether they be customers, co-workers, suppliers, family and friends.” Below is an excerpt shedding more insights into the inspiring entrepreneurial story of Mr. C:


Q: “…Can you share with us the story of how the company started? What are the business and personal challenges that you face along the way? How did you overcome them and what are the lessons that you have learnt?”

Mr. C: “…That was the first lesson – and it is something that [Company’s name] espouses to this day. I believe that we should give our fellow men more than they expect, whether they be customers, co-workers, suppliers, family and friends. I think that comes from the view that we don’t have to be greedy in our daily lives or business. If we strike the right balance, we share the benefits with whomever we’re dealing…

Saving every dollar we could was our mindset during the early days of [Company’s name] when we had a lone store… We had to do everything by ourselves in the beginning.. My wife and I even cleaned the toilet. When there’s no cashier, you do the cashier.. if there’s no janitor, you clean the toilet. It’s like your neighborhood mom-and-pop store. We also served the customers as waiter and waitress, and then at night, we do the accounting by ourselves. As my wife said wisely, ‘There’s a Chinese saying that says it’s easier for you to save than to earn’. So if you have something and you can save it. Don’t waste it because to earn money, it takes a lot of hard work. We worked hands-on but as the business propels, we noticed they could not do it all so we started to set up an organization hired store managers, and trained people.

During those challenges I continued to have high hopes and optimism that anything is possible. I think I pick up this belief from my mom. Our role is to do what we can as best we can and don’t worry about the outcome. The outcome will take care of itself. This belief has allowed me to sleep well at night. It gives me new hope everyday.

The third lesson is that innovation starts in our minds. Our mindsets determine what we’re able to accomplish. The story of [Company’s name] is a story of finding opportunity amidst difficult times. The main thing is to dream, dream big and not be afraid of it. Dreams are free. Why limit what you are aspiring for? But dreaming is not enough. One must be willing to put in the needed action and hard work to make these dreams come true. If you dream big and put your dreams into action you will indefinitely make mistakes. But don’t be scared to make mistakes. Just be quick to recognize them and learn from them as fast as you can. Learn from each mistake and it will not be a waste of time. If we place no restrictions on ourselves, then we’re capable of doing anything. If we are not greedy, then more things will return to us. If we give more to our fellowmen and to our customers, more than what they expect, they’ll return over and over again…

…The food business is still very basic. It’s still about taste. It’s still about How did you serve me? Is your place nice? Am I treated well? Do I get value? If you think about it, if we’re going out to eat, these are the basic things we look out for, but the execution is the difficult part. It’s not like other businesses where it’s the concept or the knowledge that’s difficult. Here, there’s no secret; it’s very easy, but it’s the execution that’s hard. If you ask a lot of restaurant, they know all these things. Executing day by day is what’s hard.”


Historical precedents in Chipotle and Yum Brands show that EBITDA/store growth drives valuation multiple expansion; EBITDA/store and EV/store is not just a linear combination but an exponential one. Thus, companies that successfully increase store profitability in a sustainable manner will see valuation increase by an even greater degree. Market has rewarded the company in the past for productivity improvements but has punished the company lately for the weaker-than-expected FY2014 and 1H15 results. Enterprise Value/store for is now back to 2013 valuation multiple despite expanding store count by 8.6% and sales/store growth increasing 1.5% in the trailing 12 months. If EBITDA/store improves 5% back to 2013 level and the company is able to sustain the improvement as it expands the store count to the target level in the next 3 years, EV/store could rebound and EV could jump, indicating a 36-56% upside potential.

The company’s store economics and return metrics is more like “fast casual” that include Chipotle, Starbucks, Shake Shack, which have higher returns and tend to trade at higher valuation multiples. In terms of EV/EBITDA to the fast casual companies, the company trades at a 37% discount. The Price/Sales ratio of fast casual companies is >5x, as compared to the company’s 2.16x, indicating room for profitability improvement, especially with its China business breaking even in 3Q14, and therefore providing the foundation for further valuation gains. Thus, the company’s business model which is more fast-casual in its superior store economics, is underappreciated and undervalued by 37% to >100%.

We believe that the outstanding leadership provided by the inspiring visionary Mr. C, and his management esprit de corps team which has out-trumped the foreign and local rivals to dominate its domestic market, deserves a valuation premium. Most would have been contented to rest on their laurels but Mr. C has international ambitions, the “Maker’s” mentality to create value, by taking calculated risks to expand smartly with its own brands in selected countries and to acquire already-popular brands and work to improve their strength. The management has also fostered a powerful performance-based empowerment corporate culture and positive work environment where everyone has a sense of pride and emotional commitment in sustainably growing the company, which we believe is rare for an Asian company and is the underappreciated source of its wide-moat it enjoys in executing the scaling of the multi-brands, the product innovation, the support for franchise partners and identifying and integrating synergistic M&A targets. In essence, the company provides resilient growth with visible long run-way and upside surprise from outstanding execution track record in M&As.

Can you guess who is Mr. C and his wide-moat family business?

PS: We also like to share with you an article “Scouring Accounting Footnotes to Prevent Tunneling” which we penned for our local newspaper Business Times Singapore that was published on 19 Aug 2015: PDF article link on SMU website. We are honoured to be able to have the opportunity to present to the top management of the regulatory authorities in Singapore about implementing the fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework in a world’s first for Singapore.

Warm regards,


The Moat Report Asia

A new monthly issue of The Moat Report Asia is now available!

Access the in-depth idea presentation:

In the month of September, we investigate a listed Asian family business that has persevered for over fifty years since 1962 in this high-electricity-rates emerging country to sell something that seems risky – air-conditioners and refrigerators to consumers and commercial clients. Led by the capable, down-to-earth third generation leader Mr. C who believe in making available to his countrymen products and services that used to be affordable by only the rich as his family and personal SWFF, [Company’s name] is now the #1 market leader in air-conditioner (36.7% market share) and refrigeration (25.6% market share) which are under-penetrated appliances in the country, with household penetration rates at 6% and 35% respectively, amongst the lowest in Asia where its neighbours have at least twice the penetration rate, representing significant untapped market potential.

Amongst the white good appliances that are disrupted by ecommerce, the sale of aircon and refrigerator remain resilient because they require installation and aftermarket service support. [Company’s name] provides unmatched end-to-end solutions from production to distribution to aftersales services network that spreads across the logistically-challenged country. [Company’s name] has over 90% appliance store coverage nationwide and its unrivalled aftersales service business is supported by over 170 accredited installer companies; over 130 accredited service centers; over 2,000 technicians; rapid sales facilitation and service turnaround from over 1,000 merchandisers deployed at the point of sale; and 8 dedicated parts stores; and a centralized in-house call center, distribution, parts availability/support as well as regional field personnel. Its robust logistics network ensure speedy delivery and fast service response.

In terms of business nature, margins and profitability, [Company’s name] is comparable to India’s Voltas (NSI: VOLTAS), India’s #1 aircon company who is an affiliate of the Tata Group with a 20% market share. [Company’s name] has a much higher and more stable market share than Voltas and generates higher ROE at 23.1% as compared to Voltas’ 18.1%. Yet, [Company’s name] trades at a 140% valuation discount in terms of EV/EBIT and EV/EBITDA at 9x as compared with 21x for Voltas. We think [Company’s name] deserves to command a higher valuation premium for its market leadership in an under-penetrated domestic market, its strong portfolio of synergistic businesses, and its visible long run way to reinvest its profits back into the core business to extend its market leadership and widen the moat. The company has a healthy balance sheet with net cash comprising 26% of book equity due to its integrated business model that has enabled the generation of steady, resilient and growing margins, profits and cashflow and the efficient employment of capital with a 23.1% ROE.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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