How RocoMamas Grew To A Smashing Success
The Success Story of RocoMamas
At getlion™, we aim to inspire and support up-and-coming entrepreneurs who are on the pathway to building great businesses. One of the ways that we do this is by profiling some of South Africa’s biggest entrepreneurial success stories, so that others can learn from their successes and failures, and glean knowledge that will help them push their own businesses forward.
In this profile of RocoMamas, South Africa’s own Rock ‘n Roll styled restaurant, we take a look at the journey of Brain Altriche and his climb to the top of the restaurant world.
The extraordinary journey that the immensely popular dining and takeaway franchise RocoMamas has enjoyed, is one that started in the same way that many an entrepreneur’s dream has taken off: with baby steps.
RocoMamas can easily be described as a household name these days. With their unique approach to menu items and combination of fresh flavours, to their laidback bar-like setting with its relaxed seating and rock n roll vibe, RocoMamas is a one-of-a-kind establishment and favourite amongst a growingly loyal client base.
Climbing to the top of any industry requires dedication, knowledge, just the right amount of creativity and a dash of pure business savvy. And RocoMamas founder Brain Altriche has these qualities in just the right quantities.
Altriche’s journey into the world of restaurants was not the obvious choice at the start of his adult life. On the cusp of adulthood, Altriche was faced with another big choice to make – stay and serve in the South African Army under the conscription laws of Apartheid, or leave.
He chose the latter, and left home, heading to the United States of America where he survived on the money made from playing his guitar on the sun-baked streets of California, before one day returning home to begin work on what would become his empire.
Entering the world of food is a daunting undertaking for even the toughest person. There are so many minefields to navigate and without a keen mind for innovation, people management, logistics, as well as a firm grasp on marketing, surviving in this industry can feel like an insurmountable task.
As an entrepreneur, not only do you have to constantly think about your profit margins and how you are going to pay your growing staff base, but you also have to be focused on making sure that your customers are satisfied. As a restaurateur, you have to be equally concerned about hospitality and food quality, both of which can break your business should they be underwhelming.
Like Altriche, those who become entrepreneurs are not just pioneering spirits, they are the types who look difficulties in the face and go for what they want, despite the pitfalls that they may encounter. Altriche definitely had his fair share of failures during his climb to the top.
RocoMamas is not even a decade old and already the company has achieved a lot to be admired. The achievements of the company are also a reflection of Altriche’s business acumen and how his perseverance should serve as inspiration for other budding business start-ups.
The Best Lessons come from Failures
It is easy to look at Altriche’s journey and think that he had it easy. When some people reflect on the success of others, they are quick to assume that the successful entrepreneur had an unending reserve of cash, a fantastic support base, and an idea that was just so different and unique that they simply could not fail.
With no knowledge of the restaurant world, and no tertiary education, the success of Alritche’s groundwork was something he achieved through trial and (lots) of error.
And Altriche has bumped his head all along the way.
In what Altriche calls his “fabulous failures”, he not only had to climb a mountain of debt but he also had to overcome personal setbacks.
His very first restaurant was a wonderful failure and he also had Red Bull going after him with a lawsuit. While he did enjoy some quick successes, the money went straight to his young head and instead of making profitable business decisions, he ended up going down the wrong path, which ultimately cost him greatly.
For many people, such a setback would immediately prevents them from getting back into the arena, but Altriche is not just any person. His passion for business and for coming up with creative ideas for making money meant it wasn’t long before he had shaken off the fear and starting up again.
Altriche is the first to admit that the feeling of instant success is a rather fleeting one and although it led to a few bad decisions, those fabulous failures were just a part of the journey to his success.
Around the time that he had opened the first steak restaurant (that would also become his first big business failure) he suffered a devastating car accident. At just 25 years old he was left dealing with the trauma of his accident, as well as the financial failures that came with the closing of his first business after just a few months in operation.
While the setbacks took many months to overcome, he held onto that unyielding drive and he created a list of goals that would become a guide for how he wanted to live his life and what he wanted to achieve in the years to come.
“While I was incapacitated, I wrote down ten goals. And there’s a fundamental importance to this because I’d moved back home to my parents’ house and I was staying in a little room outside,” Altriche said.
“I put this little list on my shaving mirror – and then I moved out, got married, carried on with life, and about five, six years later, I had a Harley-Davidson and my mother phoned me and she said, ‘I need to see you.’”
“I went for coffee with her. It was a Saturday morning and I was on my Harley and drove to the coffeeshop in Rosebank and she pulled out this yellow piece of paper and she said, ‘You know, I’ve been ticking off your goals. And goal number ten was to buy a Harley Davidson.’”
His list of goals helped him to remain undeterred by this unfortunate series of events and soon after this difficult time, he found himself back on track and a stakeholder in South Africa’s best known seafood chain, Ocean Basket. He was also the very first person to own an Ocean Basket franchise.
As he got back into the swing of things in the business world, he decided to launch his own range of energy drinks, cashing in on the almost instant popularity that energy drinks seemed to attract. He named his drinks GoGirl and Mad Bull, and this triggered a storm with energy drinks titan Red Bull.
The word “bull” in the name had Red Bull seeing red and Altriche and his partners were served a law suit which forced them to backtrack on the name and rebrand their drink Mad Buzz. Sadly, the rebranding led to the demise of the brand and it wasn’t long before his energy drinks were added to his list of fabulous failures.
At 30, just 5 years after buying into Ocean Basket, he sold his stake in the company and bought into the Spur brand, which would ultimately lead to him creating RocoMamas. Altriche invested his hard-earned money in a series of Spur franchises.
The homegrown favourite steak ranch was already a thriving business by the time Altriche decided to invest, and since this was the direction he already wanted to go in, backing Spur was a natural choice.
Initially, he was satisfied with his Spur franchises, but soon that nagging creativity bug came back biting so he opened a few sushi bars, which, like his Spur franchises, enjoyed a lot of success.
Although business was doing great, and while he really enjoyed the occasional sushi dinner, he realised that sushi was not something he could eat on a daily basis, and again his creativity was sparked and he was soon mapping what would become RocoMamas.
A lot of his inspiration came from his experience in the USA, as anyone who has dined at a RocoMamas could probably tell you. Many American dining establishments have a rich culture and a unique approach to food, which Altriche set to incorporate into his own version of US food.
It is not just dining in the USA that drove his ideas forward. His creativity was also ignited by the cheeky Nando’s brand which has become well known for its fast approach to food and its brilliant marketing campaigns. Using the knowledge that he had gained through the years, Altriche quickly identified his market and then set about creating a menu that South Africa had never seen before.
He started by finding ways to make burgers, wings and rubs from fresh products (rather than premade packets) and serving them to the growing middle class market in a unique, laidback kind of way. His aim was to tap into the takeaway style service, while still being able to give people that social restaurant experience.
A Restaurant for a New Generation
RocoMamas has made its mark as one of the trendiest restaurants in South Africa and with the overall brand position being “hey, we’re not normal and we know it”. This has propelled the brand straight into the eyes of the market whose support they want the most; the Millennials.
RocoMamas has been inspired by many ideas and brands, but it is the Millennial Generation who has provided the most inspiration and who has moulded the brand into what it is today.
Altriche knew that this particular market was looking for something a little different from their food brands.
The Millennials are the age group that grew up enjoying family meals at Spur and as a result they didn’t associate Spur with being a trendy place. Now adults, this generation wanted something else, a new place with new food, at which to make their new memories, and an establishment like RocoMamas really hit the spot.
To attract this market, Altriche created the ultimate young and edgy vibe.
The menu was kept simple, but fresh, with new ingredients constantly added. The brand also took into account the fact that this generation liked to have things their own way, and so gave them the option of creating their own meals by customising menu in such a way that diners tick off exactly what they want.
RocoMamas incorporates a lot of flavours into the menu, and they have made sure that they always have something that diners hadn’t tried before or wouldn’t easily find in another restaurant.
When it comes down to it, RocoMamas is all about that one iconic fast food item: the burger. Altriche’s simple but tasty approach to American food led to the creation of the Smash Burger, a legendary addition that has a cult like status among regular diners.
With handmade food, which diners can see being prepared right there in the kitchen, along with the personalised approach to the whole eating out experience, Brian Altriche created a new approach to the market and one that has resulted in a new way of offering great food at great prices.
It is not just the menu that is out of this world. Altriche knew that aesthetics of his restaurant would be just as important as the kind of food he would end up featuring on his menu.
Unlike the family friendly theme that Spur goes for, he set out to make RocoMamas more hip. While the restaurant is more than suitable for family meals, the music and the décor are aimed at a younger market looking for a rocking good time.
A Stellar Advertising Strategy
To grow a business, every entrepreneur knows that they need a great idea. But a good idea means nothing if you are neglecting your marketing strategy.
Luckily, with Altriche’s background in business, even though it was rough and often guided by strategies created by the franchise founders, he knew that creating a good approach to marketing would be the best starting point.
RocoMamas is a brand for the “young at heart”, so naturally the marketing plan has been greatly guided by modern marketing techniques.
Traditional media like newspapers and radio adverts are mostly missed by the Millennial Generation who are more engrossed in social media which is engaging and more suitable for their on the go lifestyle.
By 2017, just a few years after the brand launched, RocoMamas boasted more than 17 000 Twitter followers, 30 000 fans on Instagram and more than 200 000 Facebook followers. This made them a popular and highly visible online brand and all of these followers exclude the many thousands who hear and talk about the brand via profiles like this one.
The marketing team takes the time to be really engaged with their followers and this encourages followers and diners to not only share their posts but to also take a snap of their food and tag the brand, often offering prizes to those who share something that ends up going viral.
Much of the marketing success is owed to the brand’s bestselling product which is their iconic burgers. Photos of their burgers, along with memorable titles and a little play on words, has helped and continues to be used to elevate the brand’s social media position.
Another aspect of their marketing has to do with their “We’re not normal” brand position, which is reflected in everything that the company does, from their décor and eclectic menu, to their marketing.
Their rock n roll approach to business is something that not many brands can get away with but for RocoMamas, it works well, perhaps because they were one of the first South African brands to do it.
RocoMamas is not just incredibly social media savvy. They also have their finger firmly on the pulse of the market. They are up to date on current affairs and moods, and they capitalise on the consumer’s very short attention span.
The marketing strategy of RocoMamas is something that every entrepreneur can learn from. According to Chantal Meugens, the founder of CM Freelancing, a social media management company, these are the 5 lessons anyone can learn from RocoMamas.
Be willing to put in the work
RocoMamas marketing is only the success that it is because the ground work was thoroughly done. Having someone working closely with the marketing team, overseeing the rollout and having an active poistion in the various campaigns, means the team is very responsive when people engage with them and they take any feedback as an invitation to improve their marketing.
It also means having to have a very good idea about who their target market is. RocoMamas social media campaigns are hugely effective because they are targeting an audience which consists of a generation defined by social media.
Altriche is a hands-on CEO who understands that his brand cannot be marketed without his involvement.
The best way to ensure that your marketing is effective is to make sure that as the founder, you know what is being put out there about your company.
Since RocoMamas is Altriches’ baby, he needs to stay on top of the marketing as much as the social media manager, to ensure that his vision is properly communicated and to the right people.
His involvement is not just one that is necessary for successful advertising, it is also important for business growth. If the marketing strategy does not match the business plan, the company could well veer off in the wrong direction.
Identify and understand the audience
A marketing strategy aimed at the wrong audience is a complete waste of time. You cannot expect to throw out a bunch of creative marketing ideas without making sure that you know who the campaign is meant to reach.
From the outset, RocoMamas was aiming their products at the youth. So going for a predominantly social media driven marketing strategy was a natural choice. But although their market is the younger generation, it is not enough to just put your money into social media. RocoMamas creates catchy, vibrant adverts to appear on their social media, and they have created a website which is as informative as it is nice to look at.
RocoMamas understands their audience well, and if you wish to take one thing from their highly successful campaigns, it is to research your audience and then make sure that your ads speak to your people.
Even playing field
Some marketing just works better than others and this means finding the right platforms from which to share your advertising.
RocoMamas made sure to give themselves an even playing field and a good starting point, by only choosing marketing platforms that they knew would work well for them. How did they figure out which work best? Through researching which social media platforms are popular in South Africa, and which are primarily used by their target audience.
Practice until its perfect
Being flexible with your campaigns means practicing and making plenty of mistakes until you have the winning formula. RocoMamas is no different.
Even when the perfect advert is created and targeted to the right people, it can totally flop. When this happens, and it will as you grow your brand, it is important to not just give up but to be agile in your marketing and learn from your mistakes until you start hitting the right marks.
And just as you need to take the time to figure out why one advert failed, you should also be committed to finding out why those that succeed are so popular, so that you can replicate that success.
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The RocoMamas Approach to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
These 3 social media platforms have been absolute gems for RocoMamas brand building venture. And like all marketing, instead of just posting until they hit gold, the RocoMamas marketing team have taken the time to build a strategy that suits their style and has gone a long way towards building a brand that is now going global.
Facebook and Instagram are the two most popular social media platforms in South Africa, with Twitter also gaining traction to become a popular, albeit not as popular, social media space.
Since a huge chunk of their marketing energy goes towards digital marketing, it makes sense that have put a lot of time and effort into creating the best possible content, the kind that is visually captivating and that actually tells a bit of a story. Not only does the team focus on the written messages, especially when they are using Twitter to get the message out there, but their graphics are truly unlike any other.
RocoMamas knows how to make a statement and they understand that by targeting the younger generation, those who are really on the move all the time, they need to make their graphics do the talking. This can be seen across their social media accounts although each account certainly has a distinctive approach.
The Facebook Strategy
With Facebook having been around for 10+ years, marketers of all kinds have learned how to capitalise on this unique style of marketing that allows the social media team to direct messages directly to the right audience, using Facebook’s algorithm and its geo targeting marketing capabilities.
RocoMamas starting using Facebook as a marketing tool just a few years after the platform launched. They got their brand out there in the early days, before many had caught onto the idea, and during that time took full advantage of their position.
Facebook is by far one of their more useful tool, and with some 200 000 followers, this platform allows the brand to have quite the far reach, especially when adding to their menu.
But what really makes Facebook the best tool at their disposal is the way in which they use it.
Not only is their Facebook page consistently updated, but they are also very much engaged with their followers. RocoMamas is on the ball when it comes to responsiveness, even though most brands in their industry are more concerned with a one way sort of communication. RocoMamas goes out of their way to make sure that their followers feel as though they are really being heard and that means that their followers feel important.
As for what they post on their Facebook account, they are careful to use a mix of striking visuals as well as catchy messages, using the kind of language that their target market really can relate to.
A lesson that entrepreneurs can take from the RocoMamas Facebook strategy, is to use Facebook as a research too and to then set up a Facebook page in such a way that it encourages likes, follows, shares and those all-important engagements.
The Instagram Strategy
Instagram is a product of Facebook, and considering RocoMamas success with Facebook, it’s no surprise that their Instagram account has really taken off. Compared to the amount of work they put into their Facebook page, their Instagram account is not given that much attention, and yet the likes and the follows continue to grow.
Their strategy focuses on creating delightful visuals and unlike other food brands, RocoMamas plays around with interesting angles and eye catching backgrounds when photographing their food. They place their product in settings that appeal to their younger market, like bustling highways and busy office spaces, giving the impression that their products are made for those who are rushing to the top and living life to the fullest.
The strategy is not entirely focused on food either. They go out of their way to include a few human interest snaps, often featuring staff preparing and serving food, customers enjoying the space, and various close ups of the different elements that make the restaurant the one of a kind place that it is.
Their Instagram strategy also includes an easy way to contact the company, which takes on the form of a visible contact button. The team is very active in terms of engagements. Customers feel seen and heard and this helps to build trust and confidence in the brand.
The Twitter Strategy
Twitter might not be the biggest platform in South Africa, but it certainly has enough staying power to provide brands like RocoMamas with a great place to spread their message. With only 140 characters available in a single post, to get the message across RocoMamas knows how to wield Twitter to its advantage by using a combination of visuals and quick attention grabbing text. They often feature images of their customers enjoying their time at their respective RocoMamas, snap shots of the menu, and short videos showcasing the bestselling products.
Like Facebook and Instagram, RocoMamas is fiercely dedicated to engaging with clients. Twitter is a great place for honest opinions and instead of being dissuaded by criticism, RocoMamas focuses on using that feedback to better their brand and to guide them in growing their business.
Conclusion of RocoMamas' Success
RocoMamas is without a doubt an entrepreneurial success and seeing that the brand is now reaching overseas and continuing to expand, there is little doubt that we have seen the peak of this company just yet. And Brian Altriche’s story is one to inspire entrepreneurs in every industry.
From the entrepreneur’s point of view, RocoMamas provides numerous lessons in business startup excellence and what’s more is that most of these lessons are easy to replicate and won’t cost a fortune to get started.
To break it down, this is what you can take from RocoMamas:
- Launching a brand with minimal capital and no experience does not mean the company will flop. All you need is a vision and a stubborn determination to get going.
- Don’t neglect your audience. If you don’t define your audience and target them from the start, you won’t find your people.
- Social media is a free and easy marketing resource that reaches beyond traditional marketing mediums. Since most people have at least one social media account, you will eventually reach the right people.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. It is important to have those failures as a guide to figuring out what actually works.
- Finally, nothing can be stagnant in business. Eventually your company will grow and you will need to decide in which direction you’d like to expand.