The Showdown

Don’t go by the title. It’s how we say don’t judge a book by its cover. To me retail experience is what you get in a KFC or Pizza Hut. They don’t just sell junk food but also make sure you keep coming back over and over again. By definition it means a retailer who packages an experience together with merchandise.

Still sounding heavy? Well let me elaborate on today’s dissection then. When McDonald’s or KFC or Pizza Hut decide to open an outlet in a locality, the simply put the neighborhood puny out of business. Remember the chicken revolution of the late 90’s and early 00’s. A brand made famous by yummilicious chicken broast that used to be as popular as Haji’s Biriyani and every part of the city seemed to have a branch. From Kalabagan to Banani, Rifles Square to Uttara there was no shortage of the infamous HELVETIA sign.

But no sooner had KFC come in, the bright shop boards in red and white started looking stale and shabby next to the red n’ blue. With one outlet alone, KFC was outselling all of Helvetia’s spread out branches. It was actually the other Yum! Brands franchise Pizza Hut that nailed the coffin of local franchise business in Bangladesh. The big boys were here with their gun-slinging kill ’em all attitude. And desi lungiwalas didn’t stand a chance in front the western denim. The dark days of colonialism were imminent, and so were we (the consumers) ready to change our platter.

A decade later KFC is a household name in every corner of the country. With their recent opening in Cox’s Bazar they have catapulted themselves as the undisputed market leaders in the fast food industry. Their offering may not be so healthy, their innovation in menu could be non-existent but the experience they give is still something to die for. Even on a hartal day with heavenly traffic (i.e. no traffic), the buzzing atmosphere during lunch in a KFC outlet doesn’t fail to surprise me!

With Transcom Foods hitting the ball out of the park with both Pizza Hut and KFC, it was time for MGH Group to come forth. Their Nando’s and Barrista chains have also proved to be quite successful. Not so much a quick-serving food chain, Nando’s is still offers a decent fight to KFC with charcoal-grilled chicken. Of the other international brands in operation Pizza Inn still has a long way to go and Coffee World has lost its charm to the newer players in the market. Basically its not so difficult to conclude, we are a nation of early adopters. We pick up on whats trending at an early stage only to chuck it off our wish list in a few years time.

Enough with background, my point of interest was in discovering how an Indian food chain is successfully fighting off the brands that made such a dent around the world, specially in our beloved Bangladesh.

Enjoying or not, I am stuck living off fast food for a good few months. I could blame it on the quality of hotel food (which I’m yet to taste), but I much rather resort to the universal fact of convenience. Quick-serving chains didn’t just make it BIG overnight. The convenience is quite incomparable.

Thanks to its economic boom and 2nd  largest population count, India has just about every fast food brand one can think of. From McDonald’s to KFC and Subway to Taco Bell, the choice of brands in quite diverse and mimics that of the Indian ethnic groups (over two thousand and counting). So when the Big Boys decided to step in, I wonder what were the local boys were thinking. Trembling like the Helvetia owner!!!

Quite NOT. India with a near split of vegetarian and non-vegetarian population, offered a challenge to the meat-loving westerners that they had to quickly get accustomed to. They had to adapt. And not only adapt to a different taste bud, but change their menus altogether. In came the likes of McAloo Tikki (McDonald’s India’s highest selling item) and Paneer Tikka Sub (one of Subway favorites). The meat guzzling All American McDonald’s consumer was now a veggie loving stereotyped Aam Admi (a common Indian). Their successful adaptation meant a bombardment of other international brands in the local scene, who also catered to the local needs in some way or the other. Fancy a Nimbu Mirchi or Chicken Jalfrezi, anyone?

The retail experience a McDonald’s, Subway or KFC offered was quite similar to what you find anywhere in the world. I will discontinue referring to Pizza Hut or Domino’s hereon for their different nature of service (one is principally a dine-in restaurant kind, the other being a delivery-savvy value for money brand). With a major focus on retail experience and customer journey in the outlets, these brands spend millions a year establishing a better connect with the consumers and leave them with a unique experience (of some sort).

However in reality, McDonald’s and KFC offer nothing but alarmingly uninteresting menus with quite poorly designed consumer journey. If we just take the selection, delivery and payment (not in sequence everywhere) management system, its one of the most worst-managed queues you’ll see anywhere in the world. From pushing and shoving around by the hungry mob (aka. crowd) to the congestion at the delivery counter, the experience is everything but unique. There is virtually no difference in how a McDonald’s or  KFC chain would serve food to the common man.

These amateur drawings (by me) demonstrate how virtually identical customer journeys exist in experiencing the aforesaid brands. And as mentioned, they both suffer from congestion and queues. Lets not even get down to those impatient hours (minutes in patient world) you wait for the food to be ready.untitled-0011untitled-0023Subway is a tad better in crowd management albeit catering a much smaller crowd (in most cases). To their advantage (aside from the health issue: 97% fat-free) is the live demo of food preparation and freshest of fresh items in offer.untitled-0033In my opinion (and you are welcome to differ), the best retail experience in this case is in visiting the local chain called Haldiram’s. A snacks-maker turned fast food joint, Haldiram’s caters only to the all-veg segment with commendable success. They don’t have a pan-India presence, nor do they have a charming story of how it came to be; but in my experience at least, they have the best customer management model (far outweighing the above three) among the local quick-serve food joints.Untitled.004

By distributing the functions of payment and preparation, they have literally cracked a killer solution. I admit such a solution requires a larger format store and perhaps costs high on manpower as well. But the fact Haldiram’s retail experience (regarding payment and delivery) is better than the Big Boys from the West remains intact.

From a separate payment counter to watching your food getting prepared right in front not only provides convenience but also quality assurance. With its veg-only menu and rather selective items (I think not more than 20 items in total), Haldiram’s is a case study of significant merit. Challenging and winning in a war most lose out on, India is a country where historically local conglomerates have been successful at holding back foreign oppressors (do I sound nationalist?). From the historical duels between Unilever vs. ITC to the more recent Amazon (Junglee) vs. Flipkart the success rate of Indian firms facing better-financed, better-managed MNCs have been nothing short of pulling a rabbit out of the hat. Luckily there is always a hat.

Luckily for Haldiram’s, the Indian consumers remained loyal to their roots as they ventured into the western delights. We on the other hand, are mythical creatures only seen in the land next to Bay of Bengal!!!

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