As Director of Global Real Estate & Business Development at Pinkberry, Ryan Patel took the popular frozen yogurt chain to countries around the globe, expanding from 95 stores to over 260 worldwide in just 3 years. Later, after becoming Pinkberry’s Vice President of Global Development, Patel oversaw global business operations for stores in 23 countries, dealing with the sticky intricacies that came with dealing with supply chains, franchisees, and local governments in Latin America, Japan, and the Philippines before the company was acquired by Kahala Brands in late 2015.
Mr. Patel continues to share his global business expertise by coaching young entrepreneurs, serving on the boards of a variety of companies, and through frequent engagements as an on-air contributor on CNN’s International Newsroom Live. We’re delighted to have him as one of our experts at GetGlobal 2017 this October in Los Angeles.
We spoke with him by phone about his experiences at Pinkberry. Here’s what he told us about his successes there.
GetGlobal: Can you can you talk to us a little bit about about the countries that you chose to grow Pinkberry in and why you chose them?
Ryan Patel: It starts off with whatever the strategy is in trying to find out what “ideal” looks like. I think when you look at countries as a whole – with a holistic view – you see them in a way (that asks) “where can you make the most impact?” in the amount of store growth. How do you leverage supply chain and other things? Especially when you start: you don’t want to have one country with just a few stores before you go to a whole different region. I figured out that it makes the most sense to only go after a region where you can leverage a high density of stores. Once we had that mindset – and, obviously, the geographical piece – the Middle East popped up, then we went to South America thinking that there would be similar attributes down there. The second piece is finding the right partners on top of that. So you have a strategy where you would want to go internationally but also wanting to make sure you got the right partners to make that vision happen. That was equally as important and sometimes changed the piece.
“I think when you look at countries as a whole – with a holistic view – you see them in a way (that asks) ‘where can you make the most impact?'”
GetGlobal: What did Pinkberry’s international presence look like before you went out to these new countries? I know you went from 95 to more than 250 stores.
Ryan Patel: They were in the U.S., and just gotten to Canada, just gotten to Kuwait. They were on the way to Peru but it wasn’t there yet. They had just gotten there.
GetGlobal: So what was the first market you decided to to penetrate and why?
Ryan Patel: We continued to penetrate the Middle East: UAE, Dubai. We saw that Dubai was definitely the next market. Obviously Peru… with the success we had: we ended up with 20 stores! I don’t think anyone had the mindset that it was going to be 20, but when I saw the success of the first few, I kind of looked at it and said, “you know, this is a different ball game.” There were so many different places, we adapted flavors from lucuma and passion fruit… so I saw what Pinkberry was trying to do, but it wasn’t really scalable at the time. We were growing internationally, but it was kind of repeating the U.S. (strategy): “here are the same things we’re doing (in the U.S.), let’s copy and paste” – I’m saying that in a general sense – and you can’t do that. Maybe we need to have a smaller footprint. Maybe we need to change the flooring. I think the biggest thing was finding and sourcing things locally: trying to find the best quality product locally.
“Mind you, this makes sense now, but when things are going great, you just want to copy and paste… and it doesn’t work that way.”
GetGlobal: Besides the things you just mentioned, what kind of changes did you have to to make to adapt to these local markets?
Ryan Patel: Definitely flavors: palate tastes and toppings. Finding out what was kind of trending there with menus. Location too: developing strategies about where people hang out. It’s really about getting into a place where you feel like you’re a local store to their community even though you’re a global brand – or going to be a global brand – you want them to feel like that’s their store. And so that’s a little different from what some of the top brands have done, going in and saying “hey, we’re an American brand.”
“It’s really about getting into a place where you feel like you’re a local store to their community even though you’re a global brand…you want them to feel like that’s their store.”
We said “Yeah, we’re an American brand, but we want to be your brand. We want to be the Peruvian brand. We want you to have these things where you come in and you have a great experience. We were trying to figure an experience that would feel local to them. Was it more seating? Was it less seating? Was it more tart flavors? Fewer tart flavors? When you go to the Philippines there’s more of an indulgent taste, so you’ve gotta change the menu. When you go to Japan, the Green Tea has to change a little… and I’m all for that, because you need to have those palate tastes. I mean it sounds simple to put this stuff in, but it’s really hard: it’s not a cookie cutter thing and it causes more stress on the other systems.
GetGlobal: So, to some extent it’s a matter of market research… but I think it also takes a certain kind of person with the right kind of mentality to go into these markets and just seek to understand them.
Ryan Patel: Definitely. You know people always ask me “well, how do you do all this stuff?” And I say, listen, I’ll be very honest with you, we went into 23 countries and I didn’t know every country like the back of my hand. I’d be lying to you if I said that. So I had to become the expert so I could help push the local partners. You just don’t let the local partners go, “hey this is what we want to do:” you want to be able to add value. You’ve got to do the homework. Look at non-traditional opportunities. Look at different ways to help them make money. Someone with a regular entrepreneurial background just says, “yeah, I just wanna open stores,” but, no, there’s more than that. You have to think about it in other ways.
“…you want to be able to add value. You’ve got to do the homework. Look at non-traditional opportunities. Look at different ways to help them make money.”
I don’t get to spend that much time – two, three weeks, it’s three or four days – so I’d better understand it very quickly if I’m going to have a point of view that says “this is different from there,” and that’s where I think my market research justifies going back and saying “this is what we did on paper but this is why this market is different: because it doesn’t do this or it doesn’t do X. Or there is no breakfast. Or we’re going to have to open later. Those are some of the cultural differences as well: some people stay open late, some people don’t.
GetGlobal: If you had one piece of solid advice to give people or companies or entrepreneurs who are looking to expand internationally what would you tell them?
Ryan Patel: The international market is not scary – they aren’t – but the market’s consumers are much more sophisticated than people give them credit for. I think it’s a good thing because that means there is a lot of opportunity.
And I think the advice that I would give (to entrepreneurs) is to do their due diligence, just as they would any other place, if not more. You should know as much as you can. You would probably do the same thing here. Don’t take any assumptions for granted. Respect the culture, the local way of doing things, and other existing local brands. I think you can learn a lot from watching what’s going on.
“Respect the culture, the local way of doing things, and other existing local brands. I think you can learn a lot from watching what’s going on.”
Register now to connect with Ryan Patel and other global business leaders at GetGlobal Conference 2017, October 25 – 26 in Los Angeles.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
(Cover photo: Alex Proimos/Flickr)