Co-Founder and CEO Kazem Samandari, a Ph.D. in Industrial Economy, MS in Electrical Engineering and a Business Degree from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland has four decades of varied experience and since 2008, he has been working towards building his leading business in an ever-changing industry. Kazem is Co-founder of L’Opéra and has served as its Chairman since its inception in 2008. He has been professionally exposed to diverse cultures and traditions across the planet.
He shares his view on impact of pandemic, lockdown and the future course of action.
Excerpts from the interview:
Let’s start with what everyone wants to know. How has business been in the past quarter?
Improving. We went from total shutdown of all activities to limited (both product wise and geographically) home delivery to extended home delivery, to reopening few outlets for takeaway only, to takeaway and limited dine-in and finally to where we are today which, except the limitation of seating due to required social distancing, is pretty much ‘normal’ operations. However, there is no doubt that the customers are still hesitant to venture out of their homes as they did during the pre-COVID time and we feel the financial consequences of the same.
Coming out of the lockdown, what factors in your opinion will separate the men from the boys, so to speak, in the café industry?
Strength of the brand, trust of the customers and patrons, capacity and ability to be flexible, to change, to adapt, to innovate and to overcome the chasm financially.
What are café’s doing wrong in the country today? What are they doing right?
I am afraid, I am not aware of all what is happening in the café industry, however, it would be wrong to think that one can go back to what was before, to pay high rents and to expect the footfall to recover rapidly. Developing the online business, renegotiating the rentals, implementing high standards of hygiene and food safety, using technology to reduce contact points and finally engaging the customers and innovating are certainly the right things to do.
What attracts you about the Indian market, apart from the number of consumers?
The scale and nature of opportunities in almost all sectors is impressive. The Indian consumers are increasingly developing a taste for quality and authenticity and asking for products and services which are ‘world’ quality. It is no more just about the marketing message and the shiny packaging or empty promises. It is much more about the substance of the products and services and the customers are prepared to pay the right price if promises are kept and the right products and services delivered.
Do you think India is a potential market?
India is certainly a potential market, but one would be ill-advised to take it as granted and to take a short-term position and aim at a quick gain without the necessary pain. Serious players need to take a long-term approach, invest in quality and sustainability, patiently build customer trust and establish the brand. Success will definitely follow.
Are consumers in developing markets moving from unpackaged/ artisanal to packaged industrial offerings?
There are actually two opposing developments taking place simultaneously: on the one hand individuals and families are constantly looking for easier, faster and more efficient ways of fulfilling their needs for food due to the accelerating pace of life which points towards more processed and packaged edibles but on the other hand true concerns for authenticity, sustainability, healthier alternatives, veganism, protection of the environment point in the opposite direction. Innovators and companies who can find the right balance between the two will be in high demand and successful in the years and decades to come.
Any interesting insights that you have learnt about the Indian consumer, that you would like to share with our readers?
Notwithstanding the general belief – certainly partially true – that the Indian customer only cares about money and wants to pay the lowest possible prices, we have seen the proof of the contrary to the effect that the Indian customer also cares about quality, dependability and consistency and is willing to pay the right price for products and reward the suppliers with his or her loyalty to the brand.
Do you believe in innovation or authenticity?
Absolutely, these are two of the foundations of our business. L’Opéra brought authentic French bakery, pastry and savory products to India which were not only in name, shape and color French but were authentic in all respect. There have been continuous innovations in products, services and even the look and feel of the outlets. On average, there are some 15-20 new products introduced every year. We went from a pure Boulangerie- Pâtisserie (bakery & pastry) operation to Salon de Thé (tearoom) operation and then to Café – Restaurant as we fundamentally redesigned our facilities whilst keeping the original touch. Last but not the least we constantly strive to use and implement technology from increased use of modern communication tools and online ordering to contactless interaction with our customers in these times of COVID anxiety. The success of the brand is the best testimony to the fact that these were the right choices and the right path.