Entrepreneurs are answerable to a wide section of people ranging from employees, investors, customers, families, etc. And when the chips are down, as is the case currently due to COVID-19 pandemic, they need help from various quarters.
Gautam Gandhi, an angel investor, along with TIE Delhi brought in leading brands such as BiryaniByKilo, Isharya, Tinted, EazyDiner and Sula Vineyards to talk about their strategies on keeping their brands flying high during a slowdown. A panel discussion on survival during COVID-19 was organised to celebrate India Internet Day.
The story of two D2C brands
Isharya and Tinted are big brands that were founded in the USA. The former operates in India. Celebrities such as the Kardashians and Serena Williams are regular users of these brands. However, the pandemic has changed the way these brands approach their businesses.
Isharya, a jewellery brand, went through the first slowdown in 2008. Back then, they were in a wholesale business and were supplying jewellery to wholesalers. Since the 2008 crisis impacted the entire retail industry, the brand moved to the internet to sell their products directly to the customer.
“We went D2C (Direct-to-Consumer) and focussed on early social media at the time. We began to listen to our customers and this helped the business. We came to India to figure out who were buying our jewellery,” said Radhika Tandon, co-founder of Isharya.
“That’s when we launched our India business and scaled up to ten physical stores. But the pandemic has changed the way we work. With our stores closed, we had to change the way we created our messaging. Our COVID-19 collection was called Borderless,” Radhika added.
The company is now sending its jewellery, sanitised and boxed, to loyal customers to try at home and later decide on purchasing it.
Isharya has now seen orders on its website outnumber those at its physical stores. The company is also going to be manufacturing in India.
Another brand that is almost recession-proof is Tinted, founded by Deepica Mutyala.
“I am fortunate because we are a D2C brand. We listen to customers and make our products. We are a community-based brand. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, we ran out of supply as our manufacturer was based in New York,” said Deepica.
She added, “We moved our products from beauty to skin care during the pandemic. But remember the beauty industry is recession-proof and we will always balance our product portfolio. People will invest in fashion”.
Cloud kitchens and the F&B industry
The business of cloud kitchens seems to have taken off during the pandemic while the restaurant and hotel industry is completely down and out. The restaurant industry is one of the biggest employers in India. And entrepreneurs in this industry are looking for a silver lining.
After four months of the pandemic, restaurants continue to flounder amid rising coronavirus cases and social distancing norms. According to NRAI, which represents over 5,00,000 restaurants, over 20 lakh people directly employed in this sector may be rendered jobless.
Keen to stay away from restaurants, diners have shown a propensity for takeaway options, leading to a shift towards cloud kitchens, cooking facilities that cater only to online delivery orders and that have no physical dining space.
Kapil Chopra, former president of Oberoi and founder of Eazy Diner says the industry is pivoting in many ways.
“Running a restaurant in India is very difficult and the pandemic has hit everyone hard. We are helping restaurants pivot to delivery. But we are doing it differently. We are telling restaurants that if they came to Eazy Diner they will own all the data, unlike other aggregators who don’t share data with restaurants.”
Kapil added, “We will charge the restaurants lower rates. And we are working with banks to give them credit. Now look at the way credit card companies like American Express are giving customers cash backs when they order from premium restaurants. I see that the industry will evolve and learn fast.”
RedSeer Management Consulting in a recent report said cloud kitchens were set to become a $2 billion industry in India by 2024, up from $400 million in 2019. In fact, it called cloud kitchens the “secret sauce to survive in the post-COVID-19 restaurant market.”
“There is no Indian brand that has gone global like a pizza or a burger brand. Standardising the biryani and its recipes was not easy and we have done it. We were lucky because we were online. Being in the biryani category helped. April, May, and June were the worst and the best for me because we learnt a lot,” said Vishal Jindal, the founder of BBK, which has scaled to 40 outlets in 20 cities.
“We were resilient because we had a strong team and the demand for the product picked up as the lockdown ended. Our orders are close to 90,000 a month. We are almost close to 90 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels. Automation is going to be the key as we scale,” Vishal added.
What of wine?
It were a tough two months for the alcohol industry as the government had clamped down on drinking as part of the COVID-19 lockdown protocols. However, it seems alcohol is back and is being consumed at home.
Rajeev Samant, founder of Sula Vineyards, based out of Nashik, said that apart from those two to three months, business was roaring as people were drinking at home.
“Our sales are making up for the loss in the institutional business. Our entire marketing effort is now online and we have stopped offline marketing. There is a big shift coming. It also shows that well-established brands need not go to trade fairs. The pandemic has changed the way entrepreneurs look at the way they connect with their employees,” said Rajeev.