Featured case: Semsom US: Market Entry in New York City

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The case

Who – the protagonists

Sisters Christine and Carine, founders of Lebanese cuisine chain Semsom.

What?

Semsom is a franchised brand with stores across the world – serving Lebanese dishes with a modern twist.

Why?

Having cracked the Middle Eastern market, Christine and Carine decided to open a fast-casual store in New York City, as they struggled to find anywhere serving proper Lebanese food.

When?

Semsom opened their first store in New York in 2014. A further two have opened in the city since.

Where?

The trio of stores in New York are all located in Manhattan.

Semsom’s other stores can be found in the Middle Eastern countries of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE.

Key quote

“To be honest, I always thought in New York you’d get anything you want for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I just can’t believe there is no place that serves really good hummus.” – an amazed Christine speaking to her sister Carine.

What next?

Before opening their first store in Manhattan in 2014, the sisters were on their way to meet FFA Bank, after receiving a pledge of four million dollars in Lebanon. But with Carine worried about the fierce competition in the city, was it the best idea to take Semsom there?

 
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Semsom US: Market Entry in New York City
Ref 317-0119-1
Teaching note
Ref 317-0119-8

The author

author

Lorenz Graf-Vlachy

Lorenz discusses teaching undergraduate students with cases, and female entrepreneurship.

Overcoming challenges

Lorenz said: “Undergraduate students are mostly used to sitting back and relaxing while they listen to lectures, so it is always a challenge to get them engaged, especially at 8am in the morning.

“To get them engaged, I am very explicit about the fact that they absolutely must have read the case before class. Second, I actively encourage them to speak up and occasionally also cold-call people, just to get the conversation started. Frequently, we do not get around to discussing all the aspects of the case because there is a lot of information in it – but that is not a problem.

“I just want students to start using the theoretical frameworks and realise that real-life business problems require thought and discussion – and that there is not always the one ‘correct’ answer.”

Bright lights of New York

New York

Lorenz explained: “I think the case works well because students can relate to the setting (of New York) very quickly. It is exotic enough to be exciting, but familiar enough to not be overwhelming.

“I usually ask my students “Who has been to New York?” and about half of the hands go up. Then I ask, “Who has ever seen a movie set in New York?” When the rest of the hands inevitably go up, I tell them “You know enough about New York to join the discussion.”

Arguing the case

He continued: “The sisters’ split on whether Semsom will be a success in New York often crosses over into classroom discussion. Those are the best sessions – when there are two camps that vividly exchange arguments.

“I always have a vote at the end of the class to see who would be willing to invest in Semsom US. It is funny that my students are usually more optimistic about the success of Semsom than I would be based only on the information in the case.

“But – spoiler alert – Semsom US is alive and kicking and I greatly recommend you check it out if you ever go to New York.”

Food for thought

“Students can relate to the competitive environment very well.

“One thing that I occasionally have to point out, though, is that not every environment is as competitive as the restaurant business.

“And in fact, from a firm’s perspective, it is not very desirable to be in a highly competitive market. Just because you think you know how to run a restaurant does not mean you will be successful, simply because many others might also know how to run a restaurant – and possibly better or more efficiently than you.”

Inspiring females

He concluded: “At the University of Passau, we have an overwhelming majority of female students in the business school.

“So, it always struck me as odd that, for example when doing group work, the comparably few men would disproportionately take over the leadership roles.

I hope that the case provides some role models to my students and can showcase female entrepreneurship!”

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