Face off: We can’t have a good product and just sit back, says Rajeev Varman

Published: November 24, 2015 12:22:03 AM

The ever-growing quick service restaurants (QSR) category in India saw a new entrant in Miami-based Burger King, a year back.

The ever-growing quick service restaurants (QSR) category in India saw a new entrant in Miami-based Burger King, a year back. With other Western fast-food brands including McDonald’s,—KFC, Taco Bell and Domino’s Pizza tapping the economy growth in the country, the launch created a buzz in the market as 1,200 Indians pre-ordered the chicken, mutton or vegetarian versions of its signature Whopper sandwich on eBay before the first outlet was even set up.

Now with 32 outlets across India with an investment of Rs 1.75-2.50 crore per store, it is all set to capture the Southern part of the country starting with Hyderabad. Like its rivals, Burger King too has Indianised its menu to make it the widest menu for the brand across the globe. For a brand as young as one year in the market, Rajeev Varman, CEO, Burger King India tells BrandWagon’s Meghna Sharma about its growth plans.

It’s been a year since Burger King’s first outlet was set up in New Delhi, much after its competitors. What are the challenges in being a late mover?

If you look at the Indian market, it is very under-penetrated so even if others have been there for 20 years there is still ample room for existing players to grow and new ones to come in. Also, the market is growing substantially as there is an increase in dual-income families and hence, more disposable income available.

Every time a company enters a particular market, they not only learn how things operate there but also get feedback from the consumer, which we did. I came to India two years back and spent about a month with the senior teams, going into Tier-I and II cities, experimenting with various foods, talking to numerous people/focus groups. We came back and launched an extensive youth analytics study wherein we interviewed several people and learned about various products in the country, what was working, what wasn’t and what people preferred and what was the experience of other QSRs. It’s not that we jumped in with a product without any study. It is only after studying the market that we launched an effort to start building the product. And even after that, we went and did the largest taste test conducted by Burger King in years! We tested it on 3000+ people, across cities and then got a hang of what were the best products and those are the ones you see on our menu today.

Staying true to the brand’s global image, how much importance has been given to training the staff?

Burger King has extensive measuring and testing programs of each and every restaurant periodically, like many others players. In APAC, Burger King India stands very high in terms of service as per Burger King standards. We just got recognised for being the best market entry in APAC.

Our brand invests heavily in staff training because the lifeline of our business is the experience a customer has. Our training program is continuous—you get trained and re-trained. When you join the company, there is an extensive 30-day training program—‘Foundation’ — for managers, which is all about basics like how to cut vegetables, how to put the sandwiches together etc. All employees, even those who work in our Miami head office, spend a week in the restaurant because we want to make sure that every person working at Burger King appreciates how a restaurant works.

The leadership invests a majority of its time on the field—visiting restaurants, meeting and cheering people. We not only train people but also motivate and appreciate them with compensations for providing an experience to our guests.

Burger King has adopted an omni-channel distribution strategy. How has it helped the brand?

For a brand which is a year old, we have launched delivery; we have tied-up with technologies that can track a shipment. So once you place an order, you can actually track where the product is. It is working very well, though it has a few hiccups which we are working on. For example, once a person ordered a shake from Burger King but the manager forget to send it. So we arranged for a guy with a guitar to deliver the product, who played the instrument at his doorstep and apologised. The person was really overwhelmed by our gesture. This is the kind of service we are striving to provide to our customers.

One cannot launch a good product and sit back. You have to offer good services as well to connect with the customer and that’s what we are trying to do. Customers want to connect with a brand through the internet, apps or telephone.

How much research is done before launching a store at a particular location?

To be honest, they all have the same challenges and benefits. For instance, there is a lot of efficiency at a food court because there are common utilities and feeding areas so you need to just run your counter. In a standalone restaurant, volumes are higher because you are not dependent on weekends, which is the case with malls. So, both have a different response from customers.

There are a few things we need to do in the QSR business. Firstly, we need a convenient location. Convenience would be a place where one can pick up a burger on his way to work or home, a place close to a university, close to office buildings etc. Look at Churchgate in Mumbai, or Connaught Place or Saket in Delhi, they are great locations. People go out shopping and then it is very convenient to go and eat at Burger King. And secondly, apart from the convenience, access to the restaurant is important too. So you do need to be strategically located.

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