Thursday, November 21, 2013

Brewing Cheer with Beer!

I recently happened to meet Rahul Singh, Founder and CEO of “The Beer Café”, an upcoming chain in Delhi NCR, based out of Gurgaon. Rahul comes across as an affable person, having spent over 20 years in the Indian Retail Industry. Before turning entrepreneur, Rahul was working for Reebok as Executive Director and was responsible for sourcing apparel for domestic as well as export markets. An electrifying guy, Rahul seems to have a natural flair for entrepreneurship. It was a chance meeting to discuss a business proposition but turned out to be a very engaging 90 minutes one on one. Prior to The Beer Café, Rahul  was responsible for creating the first ever indoor Golf centre along with F&B and Entertainment at Gurgaon, at the upscale Ambience Mall.

TBC 1

I couldn’t resist but to ask Rahul how many months did he take to come up with the idea of a Beer only place. He was quick to retort saying that it took him just two months! I loved the way he simplified his method of narrowing down the concept. According to Rahul, there are three broad categories in the F&B Business – Fine Dine, Quick Service and Fast Food. He chose the Fast Food model. Within that, there were two options – to focus on food or beverage and he chose the latter. And within Beverages (read Coffee Café chains like Café Coffee Day, Barista, Costa Coffee, Gloria Jeans and Starbucks which have more than 2,000 cafes in India), he chose cold beverages and that’s how the idea of Beer Café was born. Simple idea that relies on classy execution.

Rahul wants his chain to be the CCD of beer and conversations. Alcohol frees up the mind and the soul and today, one has fewer choices to consume a pint of beer, either at a restaurant or at a Pub (home parties are a limited choice though). So, he wanted to set-up Beer Cafes in convenient locations where people could drop by with their friends or colleagues at work for a quick chat or a relaxed conversation.

TBC 2

The Beer Café now has over 11 locations within Delhi/NCR and would have about 30 operational outlets within the next three months! With VC funding coming in, Rahul hopes to grow the café network substantially over the next couple of months. His only gripe: Real estate costs of First World with consumer spends of Third World. Every Retailer would agree to this quote. Operating Costs, especially store rentals are extremely high and staff attrition is another big challenge. Rahul is now looking for an able COO to run the business, so he could take a bigger role in managing Strategy and Expansion.

The café is very appealing, with bright lights and a friendly attitude of staff. On a weekday evening when I passed by at the Beer Café at the Ambience Mall at Gurgaon, there were many who were having a good time seemingly. And many more would be in times to come.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Should Cafes Advertise?

I came across two special offers by India’s leading café chains Café Coffee Day and Barista today. One was through a email campaign – Buy One (Cappuccino), Get One Free. And the other was on newspapers – a combo offer of a Cappuccino and Egg Wrap at a discount of over 35%. And this was not an isolated case – both these café chains have been advertising in the mainline media for quite a while now and have also been continuously offering discounts over the past couple of months on their products. And all this for attracting footfalls into their cafes. with the onslaught of new café chains such as Starbucks over the recent months and those such as Gloria Jeans, Costa Coffee and other regional café chains, this space has been witnessing active poaching of customers. However, the regulars haven’s shifted loyalty, and that’s in the proof of the pudding. If that were the case, monthly sales of these chains fluctuate quite much, which has not been the case.

Barista

The biggest effort for cafes, contrary to what we believe is not just retaining existing customers but attracting new ones as well. CCD, as it is popularly known has followed a deep penetration strategy in large cities like Bangalore (where it is headquartered), Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata. There are over 8-10 cafes of CCD within a 3 sq. km radius in Bangalore and all cafes are full with guests in peak times. Chennai, the hotbed of the South Indian Coffee culture has grown slower for CCD than other cities. That’s perhaps because the iconic Filter Coffee available in regional restaurant chains such as Saravana Bhavan, Ananda Bhavan, Vasantha Bhavan, to name a few are just unbeatable. The modern cafes also do not prepare the filter coffee and are more popular with the Cappuccino, the Latte, the Americano, the Espresso and ofcourse the cold coffee varieties which are difficult to replicate and are not easily available at other restaurants. Barista, which has slowed down its growth over the past three years and has focused on store profitability rather has been a pioneer of the coffee culture in the North, especially in Delhi. It has also been heavily advertising especially in conjunction with India’s leading newspaper Times of India about various offers.

CCD

So, this set me out thinking, “Should cafes advertise?”

The first answer that comes to my mind, is Yes, indeed they should. Every company must advertise its products and services through relevant media to their target customers. There are two kinds of advertising, I would say. One is the Corporate form; CCD came up with its campaign “sitdownism” a few months bacj which was an instant hit among the youth and was well appreciated within the Advertising faternity. And the other is advertising its products and services. But then, for cafes, in my opinion, being present in a locality is itself the best form of advertising. The store itself is an advertisement (and holds true for other retail formats too). Be it Malls or High Streets or Airports, Café are often point of direction or a meeting place. CCD at Bangalore Airport is located in a very prominent place such that no one can ever miss seeing it. Same applies for Gloria Jeans at Hyderabad Airport. However, At Delhi Airport’s T3 Terminal, Starbucks is quite tucked away and is almost missed by everyone.

The café should rather focus on the following to retain customers and to attract newer ones mainly through word of mouth;

  • Ambience
  • Convenience
  • Familiarity
  • Consistency
  • Quality

These are some factors which potential customers would consider before they step into the café for coffee and conversations. Most of them, even college kids who are the most targeted for such cafes do not like to indulge on products that are heavily discounted. Or would like to be seen in places which are positioned as being “discounted”.  I would wonder then, why do cafes scream so loudly that they have products which are “discounted” and gain adverse publicity. A satisfied customer would get ten more, goes an old saying. Cafes would do better in attracting newer customers if they provided top quality Coffee and other Food & Beverages to its customers with consistent quality and convenience (Read: Furniture, Sofas, Chairs, Plug points for Laptops, Wi+Fi, toilets) and make the place a familiar one for them to revisit. Afterall, cafes are meant to be the third alternative place after Home and Office and hence need to be the first point of recall for customers to walk into.