“If they are at the right place at the right time, and offer the right price, any investor can recover their investment within three to six months,” entrepreneur Nilofer Saeed relates to The Express Tribune. She is recounting the story of Hobnob – one of the fastest growing bakery chains in Karachi.
The Hobnob Group was recently featured among the 100 fastest growing companies in the Arabia500 Summit, Turkey – a ranking of the fastest growing young companies in the Middle East and North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan. The ranking is compiled by the AllWorld Network, with an aim to highlight growing companies in emerging markets in order to expand the global entrepreneurial economy.
According to the AllWorld ranking, Hobnob grew consistently at 10% in the recessionary period between 2008 and 2010. And although the Hobnob Group was placed in the category of businesses whose revenue range was less than $1million – the smallest revenue range for the ranking – it was also featured among the ‘startups to watch’ category.
In an interview at the Hobnob Café – one of Saeed’s businesses located in Clifton, Karachi – the optimistic entrepreneur reveals her desire to make Hobnob the largest bakery franchise in Pakistan.
Hobnob’s story starts from the Copper Kettle Café Saeed started in 1993 to offer western, continental and Pakistani cuisine to her Karachi clientele. Its desserts, according to Saeed, were a raging success. Their popularity led her to launch a series of bakeries using the Hobnob brand name, and the first Hobnob bakery was launched in 1997.
Although her business started from a posh locality in Clifton, it now has a citywide network of 13 branches serving products to all income groups; from plain cakes costing Rs150, to cheesecakes priced at Rs1,200.
Be it Eid or a birthday celebration, cakes have become a norm for celebration, Saeed says. “My cakes are what mainly drive the revenue,” she reveals.
The Hobnob network now caters the densely-populated localities of Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Nazimabad, Bahadurabad and Korangi.
However, she admits that certain factors have affected further growth of the enterprise beyond the country’s financial hub.
“Raising infrastructure and controlling the supply chain are the most challenging aspects of this business,” Saeed says, when asked why she delayed expansion into other cities and provinces. “It is easy to start a new bakery in an area where you already have a factory,” Saeed says.
“Many of our products are perishable and it was not feasible to dispatch our cakes to Punjab from our kitchens in Karachi,” she informs, explaining the primary factor affecting growth. “The supply chain has lots of issues: all of our products need different temperatures; some need cold storage while others need ovens,” Saeed explains.
While infrastructure and supply chain issues may have restricted expansion plans for some time, Saeed says they are no longer a problem. She is almost ready to enter Lahore, and is aggressively seeking investors’ attention in order to expand her business network across Pakistan.
“We are setting up a new factory in Lahore. We expect to introduce Hobnob to Lahore within six months,” Saeed says. Relating her five year plan, she says, “I [also] want a strong presence in Lahore, Hyderabad and Faisalabad.”
However, Saeed says, the company cannot grow only by opening new branches. She will, therefore, seek franchise and partnership offers to expand the business domestically and internationally. “If I get a good offer, I will certainly go for it,” Saeed says.
Saeed prefers to keep her revenues confidential, but hints that it takes between Rs2-2.5 million to start a bakery comparable to Hobnob; and that one can recover this money within three to six months.
Meanwhile, she is currently working on launching the N’eco’s Natural Store & Cafe and Hobnob Express, both of which will launch soon at the Dolmen Mall in Clifton.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2012.
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