When Randall Wong had to shut down operations at his Damansara Uptown (DU) boutique gym during the pandemic, his priority was not sustaining the small business but pursuing a startup for income.
He searched the news for the effects of the pandemic on the health and fitness sector and came across rising awareness of nutrition.
Although he had no experience in cooking healthy meals, he was knowledgeable in preparing protein shakes, something that also satisfied the health conscious. In August 2020, after more than 3 decades of preparing the drink daily for himself, he began preparing it for others through his new company, Shakeasy Bar (Shakeasy), a cafeteria inside the gym.
Shaking up the smoothie industry
On the surface, Shakeasy looks like another juice bar. Dig a little deeper and you’ll notice that all of the drinks on offer are plant-based with soy protein isolate. Often used in the fitness world to gain muscle mass, protein isolate is a dietary supplement extracted from whey and is generally considered lactose free.
While the local protein shake market is by no means a blue ocean, protein shakes are even harder to find. Boost juice has its own range of protein shakes, but other than that, there is a notable lack of gamers who base their entire business on plant-based protein shakes.
Protein shakes are primarily aimed at avid gym-goers who work to gain volume. But since they’re not always plant-based and vegan-friendly, Randall saw an opportunity for Shaekeasy to serve a market beyond fitness buffs.
In addition to being a healthy snack option, she explained that Shakeasy products can also be taken as a meal replacement. It would be primarily for workers who sacrifice nutrition to accommodate their busy lifestyles, as the founder had experienced before.
As with any other liquid meal replacement, they should not replace more than 1 meal per day. It is better to continue consuming regular foods for your other meals to maintain health. Although smoothies provide nutrients that may be lacking in traditional meals, the reverse is also true. Therefore, a balance of both is necessary.
Planning for a post-pandemic future
Randall reported that while the R&D for Shakeasy’s shakes was relatively simple, as the company does not produce its own ingredients, the cost of sourcing raw materials from third parties increased the cost.
Starting Shakeasy in his gym meant spending RM70K on the setup plus renovations, funded by Randall’s business partners. While it’s much lower than the startup capital injected to get your gym up and running, it’s still a great investment for a company following a wellness trend that may not appeal to the mass market.
However, if Randall can maintain Shakeasy’s presence to cater to gym-goers after the pandemic around DU, which has boutique fitness centers and a chain of gyms within the mall, his company should stay relevant. Additionally, Shakeasy has the advantage of being surrounded by many offices, allowing workers to have one of their meal replacement shakes for their convenience from time to time.
Since dinners remain closed at the moment, Shakeasy focuses on distribution channels and social media to create its brand presence. Aimed primarily at millennials, it markets the brand primarily through Facebook ads, then Instagram and Google.
Using this approach, he sold more than 1,800 cups of smoothies from January to July 2021, and 65% of them were repeat customers from the target market. Randall also shared his gratitude for his existing gym members who built Shakeasy’s customer base from day one.
Driving rapid expansion
Something that took me by surprise about Shakeasy was the fact that it is only a year old, but already has 2 outlets outside of DU. Randall explained that the stores in Bandar Sri Permaisuri and Sungai Besi are operated by independent owners who took an interest in the Shakeasy business model.
“The business model attracted them to venture into Shakeasy Bar, as it has a low upfront cost and a relatively easy learning curve,” Randall said, adding that he does not charge any listing fees or commission from the other owners.
On top of that, Shakeasy will provide support, product knowledge, and supplemental training to interested owners who want to sell the protein shakes under the brand. These steps are standard for license / franchise agreements in the industry to maintain product consistency.
While it presents a quick opportunity to expand, Shakeasy should be careful in choosing who to partner with, as mismanagement can damage the overall reputation of the company. Also, since plant-based shakes can only appeal to one niche, location is important to the success of Shakeasy.
However, Randall is not overly concerned and is confident in the current locations. “Both Bandar Sri Permaisuri and Chan Sow Lin, Sungai Besi are mature markets, but many around are young adults working and within a 10 km radius [for food deliveries] it’s already a good cover. “
The founder also makes sure that the marketing is consistent and manages the social networks of the 3 media himself. Once the pandemic ends with dinners and gyms resuming operations, Randall plans to run Shakeasy like a cafe inside his DU gym once it’s safe again. As for further expansions, he shared that such discussions are still brewing in the background with potential entrepreneurs.
- You can learn more about Shakeasy Bar here.
- You can read about more F&B startups we’ve covered here.
Featured Image Credit: Randall Wong, Founder of Shakeasy Bar