The pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime test of business continuity planning for retail businesses across the globe. Even when things have stabilized to an extent and economies are gradually opening up, the industry is being confronted by a hard question – what’s next? With little to no revenue in sight for months, brands and retailers turned to those who they have always looked upon to lead them when the going gets tough – their CEOs.
IMAGES Retail spoke to Kabir Jeet Singh, CEO & Co-Founder, Burger Singh to find out how he led the change in a crisis year with the way he managed his brand, integrated technology in the workspace and let consumers be the voice of the brand – all in a bid to understand the future of the industry.
From your brand’s perspective, how did you fare during the lockdown and what was the consumer response in the initial Unlock phase?
Almost every industry has taken a tremendous hit due to this pandemic and the foodservice industry has been one of the worst-affected sectors. During the lockdown and initial unlock phase, the only option left for many restaurants amidst the chaos was to become takeaway and delivery-only outlets to ride out this pandemic. Luckily for us, we were already delivery and takeaway-based, so the impact on us has been minimal. Our numbers had dropped during the lockdown, but they have seen steady growth since the unlock phase and today they are nearing the Pre-COVID era levels.
What steps did you take to bring the brand firmly on the road to recovery?
We launched a campaign called #YourSafetyFirst for our customers. This was an industry-first measure, with a focus on providing customers with a window to our kitchen as you believe what you see. Our customers have the option to access the CCTV feed of the kitchen for the duration in which Burger Singh staff prepares their order. Customers can see their actual orders being prepared using the live feed of the kitchen. Since August 2020, more than 40,000 users have accessed the CCTV feed to watch their order being made.
Under the same campaign, we also introduced an internal contact tracing and attendance app for our staff. Besides the usual sanitisation precautions, the staff is also provided with immunity booster vitamins and enhanced medical coverage. All staff members undergo COVID-19 antibody tests twice a month. To ensure contactless deliveries, the customer receives the food, a sanitiser pouch and the bill along with the details of the staff members (Name, body temperature, etc.) who either prepared or handled their order.
To ensure a contactless dine-in/take away experience, we have switched entirely to online modes of payment. Customers scan a QR code at their table or the takeaway counter, and a digital menu is made available on their phone. They receive a WhatsApp notification when the order is ready, and they can pick up their order from specially designated food pick up counters inside and outside the store.
Did you emphasise more on a digital presence in this time period or did you opt for the traditional retail model with minor adjustments?
Even before the lockdown began, we were focusing on expanding our takeaway and delivery only outlets which have digital means as the primary mode of customer acquisition. This focus on digital-led outlets has helped us ride out the situations and various obstacles created by this pandemic. For our dine-in outlets, we have switched entirely to online modes of payment. Digital translations are the preferred mode of payments.
Does your brand have an Omnichannel / Phygital strategy? If yes, elaborate.
We do have a phygital strategy that was instituted to maintain the safety and security of the customers at our dine-in outlets. Ordering from a mobile menu, WhatsApp notifications when the order is done, CCTV access to see your own order being prepared in the kitchen are some examples of the steps taken under this strategy. We are expecting to see phygital measures playing a much broader role in improving customer experience once the pandemic is over.
How has been the consumer response been like in the festival season? Were you able to match the level of business and profit last year?
This festival season was a muted affair, but still, people did venture out and many ordered from home. The numbers were not as high as the previous year, but the turnout was better than expected considering the restrictions this pandemic has put upon the populace.
Has the brand reached pre-COVID levels in terms of sales? If not, how much more time will be required to reach the same?
Currently, we stand at 75 percent sales in comparison to the pre-COVID levels, but the silver lining is the fact that we have a much lower operating cost right now. We expect the numbers to reach or surpass the pre-COVID levels by May 2021.
What are your future plans?
We are keen on looking to expand in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and will be doing this in phases. Right now, after signing the master franchise in Gujarat, our Ahmedabad store is already live and will be going live with our Surat outlet in December. In Punjab, we are expanding in Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Chandigarh with more are in the pipeline.
How much has the company grown under your leadership during COVID?
We are probably the only brand that expanded during the lockdown – we have grown 11 percent in store count during this period. Before the pandemic began, we had a presence in 8 cities, but today we are operational in 13 cities. We have robust systems and processes in place and excellent unit-level economics on the takeaway store model that has fueled this growth. For the very same reason, we see a very high demand for franchisees for that variant. We should grow by another 13 percent in the last quarter.