First a Subway franchise owner in New Zealand, Christel LeBrun fell in love with Hong Kong on a visit in 2010. She decided to move to Hong Kong, where she opened four Subway restaurants in seven years. In 2017, when the opportunity arose to take over the management of the development office for Subway Hong Kong and Macau, Christel couldn’t refuse. She quickly made it into a family business, recruiting her son Jamie, who at the time lived in Shenzhen, China.
From October 2017, Subway Hong Kong and Macau was officially under new management, with Christel as CEO and Jamie as the General Manager. The mother–son duo enhances the family-like culture of the global brand.
“We have a close-knit culture,” Jamie says. “This runs true between all the layers of the company. We like to have the same relationships with our franchise owners and our sandwich artists. We want everyone to feel as if they’re part of one big family.”
Christel adds that the organisation has a flat structure free of hierarchy. “We don’t think that one person is superior to another,” she says. “We want everyone to keep growing regardless of where they are in the company.”
Christel and Jamie say working cross-culturally is a positive experience, as long as you’re willing to listen and understand the differences. “We have a diverse team, with people who will guide us and lead us, and we’ve learned different ways to work better in this culture,” Christel says.
“We have people from around the world, and local staff as well,” Jamie adds. “The most important thing is that we listen, we have our ears to the ground and that we’re respectful of the culture. We embrace the differences, and we uphold our values of integrity, respect and family. I think that’s important for integrating into any culture and for taking a global brand and making it work in Hong Kong.”
“The most important thing is that we listen, we have our ears to the ground and that we’re respectful of the culture.”
The brand has found success in Hong Kong and Macau and is achieving positive same-store annual sales growth. The recently unveiled newly designed restaurants provide Hong Kongers with a revamped version of Subway. “Eight of our 28 restaurants have this fresh new look,” Jamie explains.
“By the end of Q1 2020, at least half of the market will have this decor, which is big for Hong Kong. To stand out here, you need to have fresh decor. This has been a big project for us and has come along really well.”
The development team will continue to focus on enhancing the quality of the product on Subway’s menu. “Because of the size of Subway, the scale of our restaurants around the world and in the APAC region, we can procure great quality product at competitive prices,” Jamie says.
“We can procure great quality product at competitive prices.”
“This advantage in scale is then passed on to the consumer who benefits by having access to high-quality imported products at an affordable price. It is a win–win scenario for all.”
Subway’s menu is also constantly evolving, with exciting innovative limited-time offers launched in 2019. These included Black Pepper Beef, Shrimp and Avocado, Australian Prime Beef Pastrami and colourful wraps, to name a few.
“In Hong Kong, it’s so important that we innovate the menu, cater to the local palate and create excitement among our loyal customer base, as well as attracting new customers,” Jamie explains.
Christel believes that success comes down to profitability and employee satisfaction. “The franchise owners own the business, so they have to see the return on that,” she says. “For their staff, success is measured by satisfaction in their roles. This is shown through the customer service our staff give, because a happy staff member can relate to the customer. Our aim is to have staff stay with us for the long-term and for franchise owners to reinvest with us.”
During 2020, Subway aims to open several new restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau, which means the pair are keen to welcome more people into the Subway family. “We are looking for passionate, hands-on franchise owners with a team-player mindset,” Jamie adds.
Although Subway is a large brand with headquarters in the US and regional offices around the world, Jamie says it is rewarding to know that the restaurants on the ground in Hong Kong are owned and operated by people who live in and are passionate about Hong Kong.
“Our franchise owners help to provide jobs and opportunities to the community here. This makes Subway a real community centre that goes beyond just selling sandwiches,” he enthuses.
“We offer everyday people the chance to own their own business, their own Subway restaurant and, in turn, their business offers employment and career opportunities to thousands of people in the place we call home, Hong Kong.”