Roger Chen, a Taiwanese-born American, opened the chain's first location in 1984 in Little Saigon, a Vietnamese American community located in Westminster, California. (now closed). In 1987, a second market was opened in Montebello (also now closed). It was originally called 99 Price Market but was eventually renamed 99 Ranch Market to give the supermarket a somewhat trendier name.
The name has led to some confusion. Some of the stores (especially in Southern California) are located in the same market area as the similarly named 99 Cents Only Stores, but nevertheless there is no relation between the two chains (99 Ranch Market specializes in Asian-American supermarket products while 99 Cents Only is a variety store that sells products at a price of 99 cents). Likewise, in Phoenix, Arizona there is a similarly named ethnic supermarket called "Pro's Ranch Market", but instead of selling Asian products it sells completely different Mexican products.
Prior to 1998, all stores that were opened outside of California were done through franchisees. Except for a single store in Nevada, all of these franchises had either failed (Hawaii and Georgia), became independent (Indonesia), or both (Arizona).
In their first expansion outside of California, company owned stores were opened in the Seattle area at the Great Wall Shopping Center in 1998 and a second store at the Edmonds Shopping Center in 2003.
Expanding into Texas, two company owned stores were opened near Houston in 2008 and 2009 while at third store was opened in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex in 2010. A fourth store opened up in Katy, Texas in August 2016. Another store is planned to open in Austin in early 2017.
Over the years, 99 Ranch Market has developed into the largest Asian supermarket chain, with its own production facilities, including farms and processing factories. The chain is currently headquartered in Buena Park, California.
In addition to its American stores, it maintains its own production facilities in China and these company-owned plants have implemented quality control measures to ensure that products from China are compliant with Food and Drug Administration standards and regulations.
A franchise store was established in Atlanta at the Asian Square in 1993. This store was unable to compete with more recently opened East Coast based chains like Super H Mart and closed in 2010.
Beginning in 1993, 99 Ranch Market invested in a Chinese-Canadian supermarket chain called T & T Supermarket (大統華) along with Uni-President Enterprises Corporation of Taiwan and a group of Canadian investors headed by President and CEO Cindy Lee. T&T initially started stores in the Vancouver area, and then expanded throughout Canada and into Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. 99 Ranch Market sold the T&T Supermarket chain to Loblaw Companies in 2009 for $225 million.
In Phoenix, a franchise store was established by E&E Supermarkets in 1997 at the Chinese Cultural Center. Unfortunately, this venture did not last long and E&E Supermarkets filed for bankruptcy in 1999 and the store was eventually closed.
Another franchise store in Honolulu was established by Sunrise USA, Inc. in 1998 at the Moanalua Ethnic Village. This store was closed in 2007.
In 1997, PT Supra Boga Lestari established a franchise in Jakarta, Indonesia. After the May 1998 riots, PT Supra Boga Lestari decided it was best to break its ties with Tawa and become independent while using the names Ranch Market and Ranch 99 Market in Indonesia.
Although most of its customers are ethnic Chinese Americans and Taiwanese Americans, shoppers also include recent immigrants from China, ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, and others. The chain sells a wide range of imported food products and merchandise from Hong Kong, Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, and Southeast Asia (particularly Vietnam and Thailand). It also carries some domestic products made by Chinese American companies and a limited selection of mainstream American brands. In addition, it has also reached out to pan-Asian customers, especially Filipino Americans and Japanese Americans, by opening locations in areas predominantly populated by people of these two ethnicities.
Because 99 Ranch Market serves a predominantly Chinese American base, Mandarin Chinese serves as the lingua franca of the supermarket and its adjacent businesses. Taiwanese is also spoken as many employees are from Taiwan. In-store PA announcements announcing specials are multi-lingual and often spoken in English, Mandarin, Cantonese with certain stores also using Taiwanese and Vietnamese.
The name of the chain includes "99," a number considered lucky by ethnic Chinese. The number nine in Chinese sounds like the word for "long-lasting."
The English slogan is "united at heart for a better future" and the Chinese slogan is "大華與您共創未來" (Dà Huá yǔ nín gòngchuàng wèilái "99 Ranch is creating the future together with you").
Generally, the chain locates its stores in newer suburban Mandarin-speaking immigrant communities, such as Milpitas, California, where the supermarket is strategically located near the technology industries of the Silicon Valley which employ many Asian immigrants, and Irvine, California, where wealthy Taiwanese Americans settled during the 1990s.
Non-suburban locations tend to be located in multi-ethnic districts. For instance, the Van Nuys, California and Richmond, California stores are located in multi-cultural neighborhoods and are popular among African American, Mexican American, and white American customers, as well as Chinese-speaking customers.
Older Cantonese Chinese neighborhoods in California have not been as welcoming to the chain. The 99 Ranch in Los Angeles' Chinatown operated in the Bamboo Plaza area for several years, but eventually the store was closed, perhaps due to its obscure location and lack of parking space, and perhaps due to competition from local small grocers, who have maintained their popularity among elderly Chinese American shoppers.
Setting up in suburbia, 99 Ranch Market is often the only Asian American supermarket and shopping center for miles around. For instance, 99 Ranch Market is one of the very few Asian supermarkets operating in the San Fernando Valley.
Given the market chain's premium locations, the costs of rent for tenants are generally high, but other Chinese businesses, such as Sam Woo Restaurants, Chinese traditional medicine shops, and gift stores, have been known to follow 99 Ranch Market to its new locations, with 99 Ranch market becoming the anchor tenant for the smaller stores and restaurants within developing Asian suburban shopping areas. For example, in Phoenix, Arizona, the state's first 99 Ranch Market opened as part of a larger "COFCO Center" that offers a number of Asian restaurants and shops for the city and surrounding areas.
Since 2008, 99 Ranch Market has opened locations in Texas, in particular Houston (2008), Sugar Land (2009), Plano (2010), Carrollton (2016), and Frisco (expected in 2017). This is in response to the growing population of Asian-Americans in Texas in the 2000s.
Most 99 Ranch Markets are company-owned. The only franchised locations remaining in the United States are those in Las Vegas.
In design, 99 Ranch Market stores are similar to mainstream American supermarkets, with aisles that are wider and less cluttered than in most other Chinese markets. The supermarket accepts credit cards for totals above $5.00 whereas many markets in old Chinatowns do not. Also, a handful of 99 Ranch Market locations have an in-store branch of East West Bank, a major Chinese American bank.
Most 99 Ranch Market locations have a full-service take-out deli serving a combination of Cantonese, Taiwanese, and Szechuan fare. Some of the delis in the markets also feature pre-cooked meats, such as Cantonese roast duck (huo ya) and barbecued pork (cha shao). These stores also have a bakery with cakes and fresh Chinese pastries, most of the bread products and pastries sold in the markets are made inside the store. The 99 Ranch locations that do not have delicatessens and/or bakeries simply operate as bare-bones markets.
99 Ranch Market used to operate a membership VIP card program, send out mail circulars with coupons, and promote some sweepstakes as well. All of these programs and promotions were discontinued in August, 2007, in favor of offering all customers the same price benefits. Although the chain remains successful and popular, prices are on average generally higher when compared to smaller non-chain Chinese groceries.
The chain also runs major advertising campaigns, including in-print ads in Chinese-language newspapers such as World Journal, television ads on ETTV America and TVB USA, and radio ads on Chinese-language radio in Southern California.
In Southern California, 99 Ranch's main competitors are the Hong Kong Supermarket (established in 1981) and Shun Fat Supermarket (started in the mid-1990s) chains. These two supermarket chains tend to be located within close proximity of some 99 Ranch Market locations, especially in the predominantly Asian American neighborhoods of southern California.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, 99 Ranch Market's main competitors are the Marina Food and Lion Supermarket chains, as well as smaller and longer-established Cantonese Chinese grocery stores, such as those in Oakland's Chinatown and the Asian neighborhoods of San Francisco. In the Silicon Valley, 99 Ranch Market and Marina are complemented by a number of other large Asian supermarkets with various national-ethnic affiliations. These include Tin Tin (Chinese), Lion (Chinese), Mitsuwa (Japanese), and Han Kook (Korean) supermarkets.
In the Seattle metropolitan area, 99 Ranch Market competes with longer-established supermarket chains such as Uwajimaya, local Vietnamese supermarkets Viet Wah and Hop Thanh (HT Market), and suburban Korean supermarkets and groceries such as Paldo World and H Mart. The two stores in the Seattle area are located far from where most Taiwanese Americans live, and cater instead to mainland Chinese immigrants and Asians from other backgrounds.
On Asian American culture, 99 Ranch Market chains have been built in predominantly Asian Areas. 99 Ranch Market is now on of the largest Asian American supermarket chains including 35 locations across California, Texas, Nevada, and Washington. Employing more than 1,300 full time employees, mainly Asian, this corporation is estimated to generate $315 million a year.
One reason 99 Ranch Market has been so successful is due to the fact that Asian/ Asian Americans are moving into a single city replacing much of the White population there. Targeting their produce toward Asians has been the success as stated in the unofficial business slogan "home away from home".
When the company first opened their location in Westminster in 1984, it was the start of a economic shift of culture for immigrant communities as many where not familiar with domestic products and less spoke English fluently. 99 Ranch Market provided a hub for immigrants by assimilating the wants and need of the immigrant population. Most of the cashiers and worker speak either Mandarin or Cantonese as well as the necessary English to get by.
99 Ranch Market has actively been participating on hosting ceremonies and contest in Asian American communities, these include the Mother's Day Children Graphic Design Contest where they showcase children's talents in drawing and creation as well as celebrating Mother's day. Other notable impacts include the acculturation of American products into the shelves of 99 Ranch. Annual Asian Food Festivals are also held by 99 Ranch to introduce and educate the American public on Asian cuisine. This includes celebrity chef culinary classes and food demonstrations. Other events include New Year celebrations which is a big part of the Chinese community, and varies contest.