Selling like hotcakes

An hour after Cinnabon’s opening, customers are already lined up on the sidewalk. But will this international chain succeed long term where others have failed?

Cinnabon 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Cinnabon 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A young man sticks his head into Tel Aviv’s new Ibn Gvirol Cinnabon store. “Are you open for business yet?” he asks. It is Friday, a couple of hours before the official grand opening. “Oh, man, if I bring some to my wife, she’ll love me,” he says, half to himself. In a corner, an a/c repair man sets up the air conditioner.
Behind the counter, employees prepare for a clearly drooling Israeli public’s first run on this great American treat.
Bringing the Cinnabon franchise to Israel has been a nearly two-year project of restaurant entrepreneur Ronen Sorinov and his wife, Katya. With silent backers and, according to Sorinov, an initial investment of nearly NIS 1.5 million, their group ROK Investments has obligated itself to launch at least 10 stores in the next three years, four of which are planned for Tel Aviv.
Sorinov has been on the premises since 7 a.m. At that early hour, when most Tel Avivians were enjoying the start of their weekends, he began the day’s work, along with one of his employees. They have recently returned from a week’s training at a Cinnabon in Cyprus. Now Sorinov – thrice crowned the strongest man in Israel in a contest that included dragging three 7.5-ton trucks for 30 meters – together with his team, is flexing his muscles, so to speak, under the attentive eyes of two members of Cinnabon’s corporate training staff.
In an upstairs kitchen, he begins carefully measuring the ingredients for the flour of the famous cinnamon buns. They add water and blend it in a huge mixer. Every once in a while, Sorinov checks in the Cinnabon recipe book to make sure they are precisely following all directions. The smell of Cinnabon’s proprietary Macara cinnamon, specially imported from Indonesia, plus brown sugar, permeates the air.
“If you come here or you go to Asia or to America, you still get the same product,” explains Dillon McFarland, international operations manager for Focus Brands, the company that owns Cinnabon, in addition to a number of other well-known American franchises. He wears a Cinnabon shirt and ball cap and has an infectious enthusiasm for his work.
Downstairs, preparations for the opening-day crowd are in high gear. Recipe cards lie on the counters.
“After they make it a few times with the pictures, we will leave the recipe cards out. They are in Hebrew so I can’t read them, but I can recognize the numbers of the measurements,” McFarland says.
If a Cinnabon location wants to make a change to a recipe or even substitute locally produced ingredients, it must receive corporate approval. This, according to McFarland, ensures that the products of every location carrying the Cinnabon name meet the same standards of taste and quality. Cinnabon Israel also adheres to all kashrut requirements, and at press time the kashrut certificate was on its way to the store.
This ability to consistently offer a taste consumers recognize is key to success with a brand like Cinnabon, according to Yehuda Ceder. He is the former CEO of the now-defunct Dunkin’ Donuts Israel franchise.
“I think the most important thing to remember is training, training, training,” he says. “The repeatability of the taste, the taste must always be the same.
This is important, as well as the freshness of ingredients.
Otherwise, the customers will return and say, ‘It’s not the same bun that I had.’” THE DOORS have only been open for about an hour, but the line at Cinnabon runs out of the entrance and onto the sidewalk. Tel Aviv is giving it a very enthusiastic welcome. The buns are being sold almost as fast as they come out of the oven.
“What will we take?” a little boy asks his mother. He dances around with his younger brother as he peers over the countertop at the different white frosted cinnamon buns lined up on hotplates.
“Whatever they have when we get there; that is the safest route,” his mother replies.
Outside, in the seating area, a couple enjoys a Cinnabon with coffee. “We saw the ‘Coming Soon’ sign,” says 28-year-old Hilah Harari. She describes the Cinnabon as “very tasty.”
Her husband, Boaz, 30, says he agrees but still prefers the US version. “The American one is better. In America, we’d sit on the bus for hours craving it.”
When asked what they’d say if they knew the recipes were exactly the same, Hilah laughs and replies, “The setting is different; it’s problematic.”
Ceder agrees with Hilah’s analysis. “We know you can go to the same place to drink coffee today with one person and the next day with another person, and you’ll think the taste has changed. So the important thing is the feeling, the impression of the product.”
Regardless of the version comparisons, things appear to be going well. “I have never seen any market where you can put ‘Coming Soon’ signs on the doors and people are still knocking to get in,” says Robert Derieux, director of international operations for Focus Brands. He adds that this clear consumer passion for the product, coupled with the involved management approach of the Sorinovs, are what give him confidence in their ability to succeed.
“The hands-on owner has a much better chance of success. It is extremely important that you are engaged in your business.”
And Ceder adds one more point – something he says proved to be Dunkin’ Donuts Israel’s fatal flaw and a quality that Cinnabon will have to have if it is to conquer the Israeli market. “There is a need for long-range planning until they reach an adaptation between the product and the customers. For this, the owner will need to invest in the long term.”
Business considerations aside, Sorinov puts it on a much more basic level. He says he believes in the product, he loves Cinnabon, and he thinks Israelis will too.
“I want to have a Cinnabon in every mall in Israel and at the airport. The most important thing is that every Israeli will know Cinnabon – that it will be just like a felafel.”
Cinnabon is located at 62 Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv. Tel (03) 726- 6694. The classic Cinnabon bun costs NIS 17.