We recently ran a startup work culture series where we showcased the work culture across a number of startups in the country. And while everybody had interesting ways to bond with their employees, maybe they can also try what Rohan Mirchandani does to stay connected with his employees – run with them and do push ups. So no, before you think Rohan is some kind of task master, let us clarify that, this is only Rohan’s way of making sure he has a personal connect with his store managers and icecream sellers.Rohan is the founder of Hokey Pokey Icecreams and also the primary founder of Drums Food International who own the Hokey Pokey ice cream brand. An investment banker and management graduate from Wharton, Rohan started Hokey Pokey in 2008 from a single outlet in Mumbai. Today the icecream brand has 15 outlets across Mumbai, Pune and Nashik and by the end of the year is looking to add another 18 to its list of locations. Rohan bonds the way he does with his employees because he realizes the challenge of retaining people in his line of business. “Most people who work at icecream parlours will jump to jobs across the street, because that outlet is giving them few hundred rupees more. There is no sense of loyalty because it’s not a very high paying job,” explains Rohan. While this is a challenge, Rohan also tells us very proudly of Elavarasan aka Prince, who started off as a icecream seller at Hokey Pokey and now takes care of the entire South Indian region for the icecream chain.
What is Hokey Pokey?
The brand Hokey Pokey shares its name with “Hokey Pokey” which was used in several areas of US and some part of Britain in the 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries, to describe ice cream sold by street vendors. However it is not just the lineage that led to naming the icecream parlour in this case. Rohan and his team made a list of ten different names they could give to the outlet, and conducted an engagement exercise with college students to see which name they remember the best.
So the team collected few students from Welingkar college in Mumbai and gave them a list of ten names they were thinking for the outlet. After having looked at the list for about 10 minutes, this list was taken back from the students and they were told to give the name that they could recollect best. “Most of the group could remember Hokey Pokey. Although they did butcher the name and called it hockey or something to that effect, it lingered on,” says Rohan.
Although the naming process was very scientifically done, the business venture itself was far from well-thought or planned. Rohan, alongwith his business partner Milap Shah and Chef K Ganesh started a desert lounge in Bandra where they decided to sell deserts, icecreams and more, in a big store format. They had it all – a great location, good real estate and a good variety of products to sell. However, the overheads of maintaining such a big outlet soon started affecting their bottomlines and they had to shut shop, explains Rohan. Hokey Pokey is therefore the second avatar of what they tried to do with desert lounge.
Rohan takes care of most part of Hokey Pokey, including marketing, operations, recruitment and such. Milap looks at the business side of things and Chef Ganesh creates the mouth-watering icecreams you can get at their outlets.
How is it different
Rohan says he wants to position Hokey Pokey in the same league as Haagen Dazs and Ben & Jerry icecreams and is taking enough precautions to make Hokey Pokey a class apart. Rohan explains how the product has more fat content, less air and is all vegetarian to cater to a larger segment of Indians.All Hokey Pokey outlets also have a live kitchen, where customers can order an icecream creation and get it made in front of their eyes. We witnessed a Belgian Dark Chocolate and Green Apple Mint creation before us, and as for the taste…it still lingers in our mouth.
Hokey Pokey recently announced their national tie-up with Barista Lavazza, which now gives the brand an access to all the Barista outlets in the country. Hokey Pokey will have a shop-in-shop format within Barista outlets to sell their icecreams.
The icecream brand also has plans to start selling in modern retail and is targeting chains like Godrej Nature’s Basket and Reliance Fresh to reach out to retail customers.
At this point Hokey Pokey is mostly looking at partnerships to increase their reach and has joined hands with franchisees to help spread the brand to more cities in the country. The brand also encourages franchisees to experiment with icecreams at a local level, and you may find a Hokey Pokey icecream served with gulab jamun in Mumbai and rasogulla in Kolkata. “The brand’s philosophy is ‘Put a smile on your face’, so whether it’s the creator or the consumer of icecream, Hokey Pokey should put a smile on everyone’s face,” says Rohan.
On the marketing front, Hokey Pokey relies a great deal on social media to spread the word about the brand as well as continually engage with its customers. Alliances that can be done in a cost-effective way to spread the brand message is also relied upon. They recently did one with Vodafone to give away discounts to Vodafone customers.
Challenges and the road ahead
One of the biggest challenges for the brand currently, is to raise good funds to expand the business, and Rohan is on his way to the US to meet prospective investors.
Talent remains another challenge because of the nature of the business. Today the Hokey Pokey team has 65 members, of whom 12 people are part of the core management team, and others constitute the store staff. It is this segment of people that Rohan is most worried about. “I want to make sure they find enough value in working for us, so that we can really help them grow in their careers as we grow,” says Rohan. Apart from Elavarasan, a recent joinee chose Hokey Pokey over a call centre job and that Rohan says is a small achievement for a startup with big dreams.