Sharing the origin, growth, success and future plans of The Chocolate Room, is Vikas Panjabi, Director, The Chocolate Room, in an exclusive interview with FIHL Abha Garyali (AG): Tell us something about success of ‘The Chocolate Room’? How did it originate? Vikas Panjabi (VP): The Chocolate Room is a specialist chocolate indulgence café. Our customised menu includes 20 flavours of Italian hot chocolate, chocolate fondues, chocolate melting pots, chocolate cakes, waffles with strawberries and hot chocolate sauce and our piece de resistance - hand made chocolates using the finest Belgian Chocolate. This is an Australian brand and we are the master franchisee. It was launched in October, 2007 in India. Over the years, the response to the Chocolate Room Cafe concept has been overwhelming. Our customers love the total experience of the beverages, food and ambience. AG: When did you start franchising? What differences you have noticed in the performance of your company after opting for franchising? VP: We started franchising our brand in India in October 2007 and since then we have 15 stores running and 10 more stores are coming up soon across the country. We have created a new chocolate culture in India and such expansion of stores speaks volumes of our success in the market. The differences that we have seen in our company from the time we have started franchising are spread of brand awareness, global recognition, cross promotional offers with MNC’s, joint branding with other companies and increasing faith and support of customers and above all excessive word of mouth that has led to the spread chocolate culture in India. AG: What is the USP of The Chocolate Room’? How are you different from the competitors? VP: The Chocolate Room is a specialist chocolate indulgence café - we offer our customers a unique chocolate experience. Our menu boasts 20 flavours of Italian hot chocolate, chocolate fondues, chocolate melting pots, a variety of chocolate cakes, waffles with strawberries and hot chocolate sauce and our piece de resistance - hand made chocolates using the finest Belgian Chocolate. Also the crockery that we use to serve hot and cold chocolates and other dishes is unique Italian and Belgian crockery launched in India for the first time. So that is what you can call our uniqueness of the product. AG: What qualities do you look in prospective franchisees for your company? VP: Before giving a franchise we seek these qualities in our prospective franchisee - background, financial credibility, favourable retail background, young entrepreneurs, motivation to run the show and open up multiple outlets, customer service skills to get the customers educated about the brand. AG: What eligibility criteria do you follow for your franchisees? VP: Good market area with excellent footfall possibility. Area required is 1,000 sq. ft onwards. The investment varies from Rs. 20 to 30 lakh, depending upon the area. AG: How many franchisees do you have and in which all cities in India? VP: In total, we have 15 franchises running and 10 more coming up soon. Currently, we have four franchised outlets in Ahmedabad and one franchised outlets each at Gandhinagar, Baroda, Surat, V.V.Nagar, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, Mysore, Indore, Jalandhar, and Kolkata. AG: What all training and support do you provide to the franchisees? VP: I along with my partner Kumar and a team of professionals provide all the assistance that an aspiring franchisee would expect from a professional franchisor: like selection, fit out, staff selection, training and on going support. AG: How much investment is required by an aspiring franchisee in terms of money and time? VP: An investment of Rs 35 to 40 lakh for a stand alone store with minimum space of 1,000 sq. ft. and around Rs 10 to12 lakh for a kiosk from 60-200 sq.ft. Investment includes franchisee fees, stock, machinery, inventory and interior set up cost. AG: What are your future plans in terms of expansion through franchising? VP: We are looking to expand in every part of India and plan to open up company operated outlets along with franchise outlets by 2010. We are expecting to have around 100 outlets pan India by end of 2010 because of the over increasing response that we have got and would really like to affiliate with Franchise India to grow our brand and take it to the next level as the current affiliation has also given good results and we look forward to its continuation.