HAKIM FAIZ: When did Johnny & Jugnu (J&J) launch?
GOHAR IQBAL: The first J&J opened in Krishan Nagar Islmapura, on Sanda Road, Lahore. We bought a second-hand fryer from OLX, two gas cylinders and a hot plate – in Rs 80,000 we had set up the first J&J. We did not even have a menu at the time. We just started making a variety of fast food (chicken burgers, sandwiches, fries etc.) with a desi touch. Since we were based in Krishan Nagar – which has a good ol’ Lahori community feel to it and which you don’t see anywhere else these days – when customers did not like a particular ingredient, flavour or dish, we would sit down with them and ask them what they would like and how we could improve. Today, J&J represents what we believe local fast-food should be: Pakistani by design. Even though we had to close the Krishan Nagar branch, it helped us learn and we have ended up growing.
HF: What sets J&J apart from its competitors?
GI: At the Krishan Nagar location, we did not let people dine in – even though we had space for a dining hall – and it baffled them! The aim was to save on operational costs in order to offer consumers high quality (and large quantity) items at competitive prices. Why? Because high-quality fast-food in Pakistan is a luxury. We believed that competing with established local and global brands or replicating their model was guaranteed failure or second position at best – replication is not a recipe for success. Hence, we decided to cut costs associated with dining in and passing on the financial benefit to our consumers.
HF: Who is J&J's target audience?
GI: 15% of our customers are families and large groups of people. Moreover, people from all SECs and income levels come to J&J – I am always proud of how you will see both a Land Cruiser and a Honda CT70 parked here.
HF: How do you market to them?
GI: The core of J&J’s marketing goals is authenticity – we have never jumped onto the bandwagon unnecessarily. You will not see J&J indulge in say using a pop culture reference to market ourselves because it is trending; whether it is an ongoing cricket tournament, a funny scene from a TV drama or a meme, we do not intertwine those with our messaging unless we are adding value to a conversation. We also aim to create value as opposed to volume, which I learnt from a former professor at LUMS. When J&J launched in DHA, I called him to discuss the idea of offering a 31% discount on Halloween. I’ll never forget what he said: “If all you learnt after four years of studying marketing with me was discounts, then you wasted your degree!” And he was right. Price-based advertising and marketing is what anyone can think of. From then on, J&J does not use price-based promotions and advertising at any cost. Instead we are more creative in our marketing strategies.
HF: Which of your ad campaigns would you consider the most successful to-date?
GI: In the early years, with a budget of Rs 45,000, we decided on making a ‘horrible’ video advertisement – the team was adamant. One of our customers from the Krishan Nagar locale made cable ads for all of the businesses near there (electronic stores, hotels etc.) and we hired him to make an ad for J&J’s ‘Wehshi Burger’, which was so bad that it was good (seven years down the line, I am still embarrassed to watch it). After posting it on Facebook, within an hour it had blown up with 200,000 plus views. People from all over the world were messaging us to ask where J&J is located. The ad became a cult classic, and we were fortunate that all of that social media chatter transformed into on-ground sales. Following that, it was the company’s smooth operations and quality products that kept people coming back.
HF: What are the challenges that come with operating a local fast-food chain?
GI: One is the age-old mentality that a local service can never be as good as an international one, and another is that a bulk of fast-food workers are employed at minimum wage without any room for growth (resulting in high turnover rates). At J&J, we try to address these challenges by striving for international standards in terms of quality and service, and by upskilling our employees. In 2018, J&J started an internal training school, which today teaches J&J employees subjects like English and Mathematics, how to operate computers, how to write emails, how to make MS Excel projections, how to budget for their households etc. – we have dedicated class rooms in every branch, with professional teachers and a curriculum geared to build talent from within the company.
HF: What areas is J&J currently located in and are there any plans for expansion?
GI: We opened two outlets between 2015 and 2016, in DHA and Johar Town respectively. When sales started plummeting, we decided not to open more outlets for the next three years, and to instead focus on building relationships with the best vendors in the industry. As sales volumes grew we started to realise the importance of vendors who could supply good quality products consistently. We also invested in a tailor-made Enterprise Resource Planning system (for inventory management), an internal business structure, food technologists overseeing compliance and product development, auditing teams, quality HR, improving supply chain, etc. Once we were comfortable, in 2020, we opened three outlets in one year. Our plan now is to expand rapidly, with 14 outlets in the next 24 months, including in Karachi, Islamabad and other major cities.