This burger QSR chain wants to make a splash by catering to the Tier II and III markets

As a youngster in Agra, Neelam Singh felt a lack of good fast-food chain outlets. When she decided to become an entrepreneur, she was reminded of this very gap. That is how Gurugram-based The Burger Company came into being
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India’s Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) market is slated to reach $827.63 billion by 2025. Over the years, this segment has gained immense popularity, thanks to millennials’ eating out habits, changing lifestyles, rising disposable income, and more. Factors like international players (McDonald’s, Dominos, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King) making headway into the Indian market have also given this industry a push.

Neelam Singh was always a foodie by heart, and it was her love for food that eventually led her to become an entrepreneur. After working with Genpact and ICICI Lombard, she quit her job in 2017 to start her own food business. She says she also wanted to target another gap in the market by opening a fast-food chain for youngsters specifically, preferably college and school students residing in Tier II and Tier III cities. 

“I grew up in Agra and there were not many places in those times where we could hang around,” she says. Today, fast-food chains across the country have considerably grown and Neelam hopes to carve a niche in this very market.

To set the ball rolling, Neelam started a B2B business. “We took a small shop in the food court in one of the corporates, converted it into a kitchen, and supplied to corporates like Sapient (in Gurgaon). We offered mainly burgers and beverages.”

Seeing the burgers getting a good response, Neelam felt encouraged to take this a step further to start her own fast-food business called The Burger Company, and in 2018, she opened an outlet in Palam Vihar, Gurgaon.

The biggest advantage of first trying and testing the model through the B2B segment was instant feedback and an opportunity to perfect the product before launching in a B2C format. “Moreover, when we made some changes or experimented with the food items, the customers (who were employees) were able to taste them and give us a review.”

Neelam also got an insight into the taste palate of the younger generation. She adds that she and her husband, Nitesh Dhankar, who joined the company later as a co-founder, have invested around Rs 12 lakh in the business.

USP of the company

What makes The Burger Company stand out is the sheer variety on offer, says Neelam, who reveals that the spicy Ghost Rider burger is one of their highest selling followed by the Punjabi Gabru, Hot Chilli Lava, Mexican Marvel, Pepper Jack Cheese and others. 

Neelam adds that the burgers have been designed keeping in mind the taste palate of Indians. The patty of the Punjabi Gabru burger, she highlights, is made up of seven spices. 

Besides burgers, the brand also has pizzas, pasta, hotdogs, milkshakes, garlic bread, and momos on its menu. “The idea is to have something for everybody.”

Variety aside, Neelam is a firm believer in the technique of food presentation to keep customers glued to the brand. “Initially, we served beverages in mason jars and then changed the shape of the bottles to ensure that the customer doesn’t get bored.”

She adds that the ambience of the outlets have been designed to feel “welcoming, comforting and cool.” Several outlets of The Burger Company also have a play area for small children.

Since the pandemic, the brand has scaled upto 42 franchisees and one outlet of its own. Following her dreams, Neelam has also been able to expand to Tier II and Tier III cities like Baraut, Loni, Roorkee, Bhiwani, Rohtak, Ujjain, Aligarh, and more. The larger plan is to open 100 more franchisee outlets by the end of the next fiscal year.

Since the pandemic, the brand has scaled upto 42 franchisees

The pandemic story

From 2018 to 2020, the company had only one outlet which was doing well. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit India in the month of March 2020, it halted all the operations. Thus, while the outlet was shut, Neelam says, they used this time to expand the business and started responding to several queries related to the franchising model. 

“Within six months of starting, we were getting a lot of queries for franchising, but our idea was to build a robust business model before getting into it,” she says, adding that by 2020, they felt confident of taking on investments from the potential franchisee takers. 

Neelam doesn’t share the impact of the lockdown on the outlet but adds that as soon as the restrictions were lifted between June and July, they started operating again. 

Talking about their franchisee model, she says the concept is divided into three parts- takeaway (upto 200 square feet), signature (upto 650 square feet) and premium (1000 square feet and above). A franchising fee is charged for choosing a particular model, which typically ranges from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 7 lakh. In FY21, the company-owned outlet clocked Rs 55 lakh. Neelam also claims that the overall revenue of the company (including the franchisee business) is Rs 30 crore.

The company also follows a zero-commission model. In this, franchisees are directly connected to the vendors of the company who supply the raw materials and the ingredients. “We have made arrangements that the supplies happen without any discrepancy, and we don’t charge anything extra for it.”

“There is still a lack of good fast-food chains in these cities. We want to give them what they deserve.”

Plans ahead

Neelam says that The Burger Company will continue to be a company that serves “hot and fresh food on time” to its customers. “We also want to focus on product innovation because this is a very competitive industry,” she says, adding, “We introduce a new product every six months and remove something from our menu which is not faring that well. The new item can be any innovation that is done in our kitchen, or it can be inspired by any current trend that is going on in the market.”

She also says that in the long haul, burgers are going to be the core, but they are also willing to experiment with other food items. In the next few months, Neelam is also in the process of rolling out a new category of drinks and plant-based meat burgers and sides. 

Finally, Neelam wants to deepen the company’s presence in Tier II and III cities. “That’s the reason we started the company.” She seems gung-ho about the plan as she is ready to unveil outlets in Jammu & Kashmir, Kanyakumari, and Surat in the coming months.
Edited by Anju Narayanan

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