This article is a part of the CitySparks series sponsored by Verisign.
Ask anyone who has grown up in Bangalore about afterschool treats and their answer will most likely include aloo buns, nipattu, veg puffs, and the sinfully sweet “honey cake,” which is a sponge cake doused in honey, syrup, topped off with jam and dessicated coconut. One could find all these in any neighbourhood bakery, mostly nicknamed “Iyengar Bakery”, irrespective of the establishment’s exact name.
The original Iyengars Bakery was an iconic store and was born when founder H R Sridhara’s former employer, the owner of another popular local bakery, urged him to set up his own business. Sridhara worked as an accountant and used to sell this local bakery’s products to earn additional income. He was encouraged by his employer, who was owner of this popular bakery, to start his own production unit because it was hard to keep up with growing demand. The former accountant put his heart into learning the art of baking and, eventually set up Iyengars Bakery in 1981 in the bustling neighbourhood of Austin Town in Chennai.Lakshmeesha and Raman, sons of HR Sridhara, belongs to the next generation of this family owned business. When Lakshmeesha was in college, he wanted to start an e-commerce business. Instead of starting something from scratch, he used his savings to buy domain names related to ‘Iyengars bakery’. The corporate website was revamped to an e-commerce site in 2013.
For Lakshmeesha, a .com domain name was a no-brainer. The family has also registered other domain names related to “Iyengars bakery”, but all of them lead to the main website, IyengarsBakery.com. “Interestingly, once we set up our e-commerce site, our presence on online listing websites also got amplified.“ says Lakshmeesha.
“Going online has opened up a lot of opportunities for us, not just for direct sales to consumers, but also for generating inquiries for bulk orders from companies. It has given us a lot of visibility and has given us a lot of ideas for innovation. The possibilities are endless,” Lakshmeesha explains.
Most people who hear about the website are quite thrilled to know that a brick-and-mortar business focused on fresh snacks has an active online presence now. In fact, when the store temporarily suspended their online service for home deliveries, people turned up at the store to buy what they needed, but made it a point to ask why the online service wasn’t available. “And once they came to the store, they knew where it was and they kept coming back. So people who knew where the store was started trying the online service and those who discovered us online started coming to the offline store as well. It’s a win-win situation,” he explains.
Iyengars Bakery has been very careful about ensuring that delivery happens within the time mentioned on their website so that their reputation remains strong. But in a city like Bangalore, where traffic can wreck the best laid plans, making deliveries from only one bakery has been challenging. So Lakshmeesha is now exploring an online marketplace model: “We are trying to identify the best Iyengar bakeries in different areas of Bangalore, and tie up with them, so that deliveries can happen from the bakery nearest to the customer. But quality is our first priority.” They are also looking at tying up with local delivery logistics providers to meet the demand.
Raman and Lakshmeesha learnt the business at their father’s knee. Raman oversees the operations at their 3,300 square foot production area and customer service at the 1,000 square foot store. Together the brothers come up with innovations and what they want to do next. There are no executive titles for anyone. It’s a good, old-fashioned family business that has successfully made the transition to a modern, online presence.
“You have to be strong offline before you go online,” advises Lakshmeesha.
“Keep things simple – there is no point in having an impressive website that is complicated. The customer visiting the site is like a customer visiting our store. They come in, see what we have, try a few things, make a purchase and leave. The site has to give a similar experience. It has to be customer-friendly.”
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