Interviewing Crystal Jade’s Chairman Ip Yiu Tung

January 16th, 2012   •   no comments   

Crystal Jade Golden Palace
Crystal Jade Golden Palace in The Paragon (courtesy of Crystal Jade)

In the restaurant-eat-restaurant world of F&B, few local brands have stood up as clearly as Crystal Jade, one of the market leaders in Singapore.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary last year with a refreshing of its identity that involved extensive refurbishments at its restaurants, Crystal Jade enjoyed a turnover of S$240 million in 2010.

Over the last three years, it has expanded aggressively, investing $25 million (together with partners) to open 39 new outlets across Asia. This year, the F&B group will sink in a further $17 million to open 17 new outlets across 8 cities. These efforts helped it to achieve a targeted 10% to 15% yearly growth in sales.

Beginning from a single outlet in Cairnhill in 1991 – which was closed and reopened with a Kitchen outlet in Shaw Plaza and a Palace outlet in Ngee Ann City – the group now has more than 100 outlets sprawled across 18 cities in 9 countries. Half of these are in Singapore while the other 50 are in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and more.

To find out more about Crystal Jade’s longevity in the hypercompetitive F&B market, I had the pleasure of speaking to Mr Ip Yiu Tung, its Group Chairman and CEO. Joining the group in 1992, he was responsible for the group’s sterling performance in the last two decades. With a passion for pianos, the former engineer by training is surprisingly soft spoken with a gentle demeanour despite being the chieftain of such a large enterprise.

Crystal Jade Golden Palace
Courtesy of Crystal Jade

Three Keys to Success

Keeping things simple and straightforward, Mr Ip’s business philosophy is embodied in three basic principles:

1) Offering great food;

2) Providing attractive service; and

3) Caring about the dining ambience.

While innovation is part and parcel of Crystal Jade’s strategy, the group has not veered away from its core competence in traditional Chinese and East Asian cuisine. To ensure that every dimension of the business runs like clockwork, Mr Ip travels extensively to his outlets around the region. He also has his pulse on the business, knowing the ins-and-outs of the business down to its nitty gritty details.

Crystal Jade Golden Palace
Courtesy of Crystal Jade

Sourcing and Buying Fresh

Sacrificing profitability for customer experience, Crystal Jade spares no expense in sourcing for quality ingredients in its dishes. Mr Ip shared that its restaurants actually imported higher quality soya sauce from Singapore (which costed about 23 RMB per bottle) rather than buy cheaper alternatives costing 4 RMB in China. They also use hazelnut oil sourced from the UK for their Hearty Five Treasures Yu Sheng, giving it a greater fragrance compared to competitors who use the cheaper peanut oil.

Known for its roast meats, Crystal Jade also purchases 49 day old ducks from a farm in Ipoh. Unlike the more conventional 40 day old birds that other restaurants may purchase, a 49 day old bird is lighter and leaner with more muscle mass and less fat. Pound for pound, Crystal Jade is willing to pay more to ensure that customers enjoy a premium dining experience.

Innovating to Please the Customer

To understand what its increasingly demanding customers desire, the Group conducts regular surveys to gain their inputs. These insights help to spark new menu ideas or service improvements. It also operates a full-time customer care team since 2005 with a hotline and email for customers to contact them during retail hours. A service call bell is also installed at the tables of new restaurants like Scott’s Square.

While the group is focused on traditional Chinese cuisine, it hasn’t stopped inventing new ways of serving its customers. The group was one of the first to offer takeaway Yusheng back in the old days, and has recently pioneered a new dish called the Pagoda of Eight Treasures. Every quarter, its menu would have a new chef’s special, and seasonal promotions help to keep its customers coming back.

Responding to feedback from business customers, Crystal Jade has recently launched a new Nourishing Treats menu that combines fresh, high quality ingredients with taste, texture and health. I had a chance to sample some of these dishes and thoroughly enjoyed myself without feeling the typical guilt accompanying Chinese restaurants.

Recruiting, Retaining and Motivating Staff

People are the most important resource in the manpower intensive restaurant business. Running the Crystal Group chain of restaurants is an army of more than 4,000 chefs, waiters, operations, and office staff. To keep its staff happy, Mr Ip adopts a simple management mantra of giving them respect and allowing them the freedom to innovate. Believing in the staff empowerment, managers are free to handle their subordinates.

To ensure that it recruits the most talented chefs – considered the lifeblood of the F&B business – Crystal Jade gives aspiring joinees a cooking test. In a manner reminiscent of Iron Chef, candidates must cook in front of a committee and pass the taste and food presentation test. Once they join the group, however, all chefs follow a strict training programme to ensure that they could meet the high quality and standards needed by the Group.

The Road Ahead

For the journey ahead, Crystal Jade is paying particular focus on marketing strategies that help it to draw closer to its customers. Other than refreshing its logo and restaurant designs, the group will continue to engage both traditional and social media channels, working with journalists and bloggers alike to get the word out. Future innovations include the refreshing of its website and the introduction of a customer loyalty programme to allow priority queueing for members.

Crystal Jade Golden Palace
Courtesy of Crystal Jade

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