SupportBiz has an exclusive conversation with Mahesh Madiyala, Store Manager of The Chocolate Room, Bangalore. Mahesh tells us all about the chocolate business and what it is like being an entrepreneur.
Please give us some background about The Chocolate Room chain.
The Chocolate Room is an Australia-based chain, about four years old. It has about 40 to 50 stores across India. The Indian corporate office is in Ahmedabad. The Chocolate Room, Bangalore, is a franchise holder of the chain. We presently have two stores in Bangalore – one is at Koramangala and the other is at Brigade Road. The Koramangala store has been around since March 2011, while the Brigade Road outlet opened very recently, in February 2012.
What were you doing prior to starting The Chocolate Room?
I am basically an IT engineer. After studying at the IIM-Ahmedabad, I worked in the IT field for several years. It was when I began to feel tired of my job, when I felt stuck in my job, that I decided to set up a business of my own. How did you decide to set up The Chocolate Room in Bangalore.
Once I decided to start my own business, I researched the possibilities that were open to me. I learnt about The Chocolate Room offering franchises, and took up the challenge. When I was in the IT sector, I had worked on retailing, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity for me. Moreover, as I did not have any experience in the food sector, taking up a franchise seemed like a better bet as against starting my own store.
I could have done something in IT, as the opportunities in that sector are huge, but I decided against it, considering the investment that I could make and the gestation period. Dining out was fast becoming a trend when I was thinking of starting my own business, and I thought I could make a difference to the ‘going out for lunch/dinner’ scene in Bangalore.
Another reason for starting The Chocolate Room is that I felt that there was a gap in this sector. There were several cafes in Bangalore, but none that was exclusively dedicated to chocolate. I was fascinated by the number of things that could be done with chocolate – from milkshakes to sundaes to a variety of other desserts, and I wanted to explore this field.
I felt there was a good market for exclusive chocolate products of the best quality. I wanted to give to Bangaloreans something beyond the traditional South Indian or North Indian fare, and that’s how I zeroed in on ‘chocolate’for my business venture.
What are your signature products?
We offer hot chocolate in a variety of flavours, which is a very unique thing. Usually, cafes serve hot chocolate in only one flavour. Apart from that, our signature products would be chocolate fondue, waffles and pancakes.
Which of your products are the most popular?
I would say our pancakes and fondue are the most popular, along with Chocolate Excess and Chocolate Avalanche, two of our sundaes. Approximately how many people visit your store on an average day? On an average day, about 200-250 people visit our store.
What is the average age group of your visitors?
I have been very lucky in this respect, in the sense that I get both youngsters and families as visitors. In the mornings and afternoons, the store is largely frequented by youngsters, mostly college-goers, but in the late evenings, a lot of families visit us. Children and elders alike are fond of our chocolate products.
What are the major challenges that you face, as a small-scale entrepreneur?
When I was thinking of embarking on a business venture, I thought that the legal hassles – obtaining a license, registration and all that – would be a major hassle. However, when all that was taken care of, the store was up and running, I realised that the biggest challenge was to obtain and retain efficient staff. I am not in my stores for the entire day, and so, I depend upon to my staff to be really efficient, sincere and honest. I have spent a lot of time and energy in coaching my staff on the efficient disposal of their duties, on how to go beyond the call of duty, and have also tried to chart out a growth path for them. This has helped me reduce employee turnover to a certain extent.
How do you cope up with competition from similar products?
I regularly visit our competitors and keep track of their products and services. I always try to be ahead of my competition, in the sense that I try to provide better quality of products, better variety, better ambience and better service than them, of course within the budget available to me.
Do you have any plans for expansion in the near future?
Personally, I, as an entrepreneur, do not have any plans of expanding further into the chocolate business. However, I would definitely like to foray into other sectors in the food business.
What would be your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
There are a huge number of opportunities available to someone who wishes to start his/her own business today. One just has to be smart, and grab the available opportunities. That would be my advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
Also, I would advise them to I would advise them not to go by half-baked ideas, but instead, do a lot of ground work, a lot of research, before they jump into business. Talking to different people from the concerned industry helps a great deal in getting a feel of the real business world. An in-depth thought process is required to analyse business ideas and decide what would work out and what would not.
One more thing I would like to add here is that an aspiring entrepreneur must have loads of patience and the ability to accept challenges and tackle them as they come. Being an entrepreneur, one cannot have clearly demarcated job profiles and roles. Whenever required, I have myself taken up cleaning and scrubbing in the kitchen. An aspiring entrepreneur should be prepared for such occurences.
The Chocolate Room, Bangalore
Brigade Road: No. 14, St. Marks Plaza, St. Marks Road, Bangalore.
Koramangala: Near Manchester United, Hosur Main Road, Koramangala, Bangalore.
Corporate Website: www.thechocolateroomindia.com