American Express OPEN goes “Out of the Box” for business owners. Find out what happened when OPEN employees went into the field and offered to provide marketing advice to Cardmember Nandini Mukherjee of Indian Bread Co.
Nandini Mukherjee founded Indian Bread Co. five years ago to provide the residents of New York City’s Greenwich Village with traditional Indian breads and authentic vegetarian and meat fillings. Her success — crowds typically waited in lines around the block for her food — encouraged Mukherjee to expand into catering.
The catering started small, with most orders from café customers, and Mukherjee found that she liked this new side of the business. The only issue was that despite a loyal café customer base, repeat catering engagements were elusive. To replicate the café’s success and proactively market the catering, Mukherjee needed to understand the exact appeal of her food and what the competition had to offer.
Catering to a New Clientele
“The biggest question for me was whether we should launch the catering business under the same brand as the café or whether we should address the differences among clientele needs by creating an entirely separate brand,” says Mukherjee. “Cafe customers and catering clients are not necessarily looking for the same thing.”
Mukherjee had several theories and assumptions about her customers and received help from the OPEN “Out of the Box” team about how to test them and build a plan. In an initial meeting with OPEN, it seemed clear that in order to fully understand how to approach the catering opportunity, Mukherjee needed to reach out to her customers and conduct a competitive assessment.
With assistance from her OPEN team, Mukherjee surveyed all of her current and past customers to probe topics, such as why customers chose Indian Bread Co. over other caterers and what they liked most about the service. This outreach revealed that the company’s greatest selling points were its ability to offer a consistent, memorable and universally loved product. The food was also described as unique.
“Nandini’s catering clients were so willing to provide feedback, and they were so excited about what she wanted to accomplish. It’s helpful for any business to ask for this kind of information from their customers,” says Leila Ledsinger, a member of the OPEN “Out of the Box” team.
Conduct Market Research
In conjunction with soliciting this feedback, the OPEN team conducted extensive market research to give Mukherjee a sense of where her catering business would fit in the competitive landscape. Based on their findings, they recommended that Mukherjee develop her catering business under a separate brand.
The OPEN team also provided a portfolio of recommendations and an actionable marketing plan, including ideas for slogans to jumpstart the new brand. This helped Mukherjee to shape her expansion efforts by allowing her to understand her strengths and develop a strategy to build on them.
“I understand the market much better now,” she says. “I would advise all business owners to analyze the entire marketplace to see which bracket their business fits into and to learn more about their competition.”
Ledsinger points out that many small business owners are so entrenched in the daily operations of actually running a business that they lack the time and data needed to choose a direction for growth.
“We offered Nandini a broader framework to analyze her business,” she explains. “How does she view her brand? Where does she want her business to be in ten years?”
Ledsinger saw this aspect of the project as an important opportunity for Mukherjee to continue to apply what she learned through her work with OPEN.
Open the Communication Channel
True to her flair for innovation, Mukherjee has incorporated many of the ideas she developed with the OPEN team to grow her business. Through e-newsletters, she keeps current clients informed about her catering business and builds loyalty by offering tips and recipes to those who wish to cook her inventive Indian cuisine. Most importantly, she has forged a lasting communication channel between Indian Bread Co. and its customers that will continue to serve and inform her business as it grows.
While Mukherjee was already prepared to branch into catering, now she is armed with the information and skills to attract repeat business under the new brand.
“I have absolutely implemented new approaches that I wasn’t using before,” she says. “Anyone interested in expanding should try what I did, talk to customers, review the competitive landscape and take time to craft a plan for how to move forward, before taking action.”
OPEN “Out of the Box” team: Marion Hsieh, Leila Ledsinger, Sharlene Mousfar, and Todd Reynders.