Savoring the Sweet Taste of Success
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A brand is often born at one place, before moving out of the city then regional, then national and soon international. Entrepreneur unveils the story of one such tastemaker, on taking the Indian taste global, Bikanervala.
Bikaner is one of the cities in Rajasthan, famous for its namkeens (savory) and sweets. In fact, such relished sweets and namkeens are prepared in every household. Those who have been to the city, must have tasted namkeens at Lalji, the 100-year-old shop, which gave birth to the brand ‘Bikanervala’. In 1950, Shyam Sunder Aggarwal’s father and uncle moved to Delhi in search of business to explore expansion. They soon set up a stall in Chandni Chowk, one of the oldest and busiest markets in old Delhi, to sell sweets. “Initially they used to sell their sweets by setting up tents and in marriages; we had our own workers, who used to prepare those,” reminisces Aggarwal, a second generation entrepreneur. They soon opened a small shop by the name of Bikaner Bhujia Bhandar in Paranthe Wali Gali in Chandni Chowk. In the 60s, they increased their products, which included more varieties of traditional sweets and namkeens, and opened several shops as Bikanervala in prominent parts of Delhi, like Karol Bagh.
In 1965, Aggarwal’s father asked him to join the business. Then 16, he had just finished high school. Learning the
art of making sweets from his father, he started experimenting with the products. Remembering the early days,
Aggarwal says, “In Delhi at that time, people were not familiar with kaju barfi or sponge rasgulla, we introduced it to them.” Sharing his father’s memories, Aggarwal says, “My father was concerned about quality. His idea was
to improve quality, so that we can serve the best to the customers. He wasn’t very much worried about profit or loss.”
In 80s, when pizza entered the Indian market, Aggarwal visited one such outlet. He soon realized there was a scope to explore more products and it was necessary to expand. They opened several outlets in various parts of the country. On how the expansion took place, Aggarwal says, “We struggled a lot while establishing new outlets
because we had developed spices, packaging materials and we lived in a joint family where everyone had their
own opinion, which clashed but we overcame all hurdles.” In 1995, Bikanervala formed an exclusive agreement to produce namkeens for PepsiCo’s brand, Lehar, opening a new plant in Faridabad, Haryana. In 1996, when fast-food chains like Pizza Hut entered the Indian shores, Aggarwal gave a serious thought of taking his brand global. The company switched to selling sweets and namkeens in air tight packets over lose packets, and sold the packed products under the brand name, Bikano.
Aggarwal continues to live in a joint family. His father had six brothers. Out of six, four of these brothers still live
together. Currently, Aggarwal along with his son Manish takes care of the entire brand, while his other son lives in Dubai, taking care of the six outlets and one factory there. It had not come easy, neither for Aggarwal, nor for his
son Manish. When Aggarwal sent Manish to US for higher studies; he didn’t support him with money to bear living
cost. Manish worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant to support his living. Post his return; he joined the business in 2000, there too he worked in the factory first, before moving to the production department, to gain experience.
Talking about his initial years, Manish says, “When I had joined, there was only one factory which was established by my father, I joined Bikano at that time.” Bikanervala follows one process all across its outlets, controlling its taste via recipes, quality control, and SOPs. Its team of professionals works towards maintaining consistency and doing regular R&D, taking care of quality via regular audits. Currently, it runs a mix of company-owned and franchised outlets. The Bikano brand has a turnover of Rs 550 crore. The company’s exports contribute 10 per cent to the overall revenue.
Bikanervala started franchising quite early, around 20 years back. Sharing how the first franchise came up, Aggarwal says, “We have opened our first franchised outlet in Nepal around 20 years ago. I had gone to Nepal with the few friends from Rajasthan and there I saw the market. Every month I used to visit there to look after the progress, and when the outlet was ready I sent trained workers.” Today the company has eight outlets in Nepal, operated by the same franchisee. Besides Nepal, the company opened franchise stores in New Zealand
Currently, Bikanervala has approximately 60 stores all over the world, out of which 15 are franchised. Talking about expansion, Manish says, “We are targeting majorly North India. In South, we have our two outlets in Hyderabad; two in the West Zone, in Ahmedabad.” Going forward it is building more factories for further expansion and increasing the number of outlets every year, which would be approximately three to four. On still
being looked as a North India brand, Manish says, “We still feel the need of someone more professional and mature at supervisory level. We cannot expand more without proper advise. Hopefully, by next year we will be able reach that level from where we can control everything while sitting here.”
For last six years, Biknaervala is also running a training school, where it trains people for 100 hours, 200 hours,
and 400 hours under ‘Skill India’ mission. The syllabus is approved by the central government. Around 400
to 500 students get trained every year.
Sweets and India have a different combination. In every occasion, whether it is small or big, sweets are
distributed. Here the maker likes what he makes; Aggarwal despite being a diabetic can’t resist himself when it
comes to sweets. Petha forms to be his favorite.
(The article had first appeared in the October issue of the Entrepreneur India Magazine)