Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit a most amazing restaurant. No, it wasn’t a swanky, latest in thing on the Delhi rich kids circuit. Nor was it a new must-go-to place in any of the 5-star hotels. It was a humble dhaaba operating out of a temporary 10×10 kiosk by a middle-aged man, Vipin.
You might well ask that given the thousands of such dhaabas strewn all over Delhi, why should this qualify to be part of a marketing blog? Well, it’s because The Treat displays among the highest levels of service marketing that I have seen achieved.
Vipin claims that his partner for this business is none other than the movie star Rajesh Khanna, and hence The Treat is dedicated to him – the posters and songs bear testimony. Dubious, but an endearing claim. The kiosk is decorated with Rajesh Khanna’s likeness and the music system blares out his songs from the 70’s, as you sit at plastic tables and chairs on the pavement, consuming the oh-so-delicious keema and kababs
But that’s also not why this dhaaba is special. What’s special is that The Treat is situated in the middle of the most posh and highest security zone in the national capital, surrounded by VVIPs and no other retail establishment for a few kilometers. Spread over a pavement length of 50-60 metres, Vipin has run The Treat for over 25 years at the same location, obviously fully protected by the roaming armed police jeeps. A handful of Delhiites know of its existence, and new customers are acquired only through word-of-mouth.
Amazingly, Vipin makes enough money to have sent two daughters to universities in USA and Canada respectively, where they’re now happily settled. But more than the brazen nature of this operation, to which we are quite inured anyway, I am blown by the marketing and customer retention that Vipin manages. He’s no hotshot strategist or a Harvard graduate, but here are some key principles that he has intuitively followed for years.
- Compelling identity:
No true-blooded Delhiite can resist a dhaaba where you sit under the open skies, bring your own liquor and be served kababs while listening to Chingaari koi bhadke. Vipin has cleverly combined these elements into a physical and experiential identity that is cohesive and compelling. The urban myth (is it myth? people still wonder) of Rajesh Khanna as partner is intriguing. What’s more compelling is the unique experience of sitting in the middle of a high-security area sipping your favourite drink, with dinner out under the stars.
- Segmented service:
Vipin knew that a large number of his customers are men who come with their pals to have a drink and shoot the breeze. He also knew that he could make a lot more money if he were to be “respectable” enough for men to get their wives and girlfriends to The Treat. The kiosks, therefore, sits in the middle of the 50 meter stretch, and you have a stag zone on one side while there’s a family zone on the other.Vipin ensures with a firm hand that even the rowdiest of stags do not get to park their cars on the family side, thus ensuring peace of mind for the fairer sex customers and their beaus. By my calculation, this probably gives him minimum 25-40% incremental revenue, not to mention word-of-mouth publicity from women folk as well.
The fact that The Treat has been running for more than a couple of decades points to Vipin having tackled “environmental factors” brilliantly. No doubt, many a cop’s beat would have changed, but the policemen patrolling the area have all remained supportive and benign. Though I do not necessarily condone the likely methods, but I must marvel at what Vipin has achieved considering the location of The Treat.Besides, his rates may not be 5-star, but they’re definitely a few notches above your regular dhaaba. Vipin’s service ensures such strong word-of-mouth that his upscale clientelle continues to grow, but very discreetly. That’s how he’s amassed a mini-fortune from two generations of customers.
- No risk supply-chain
Vipin buys his raw material everyday and seldom has any left-over at the end of each night. He packs up his equipment every night and brings it back the next afternoon. He doesn’t operate a tandoor, which we know can get quite unwieldy in dire situations (you get only tawaa rotis here). He employs four guys and pays them in cash at the end of business hours daily. No liabilities carried forward.In effect, if he was forced to shut down The Treat today, Vipin would suffer no significant losses.
People like Vipin are the marketing and business geniuses in our daily lives that I never cease to be impressed by.