The arrival of Wharton students on campus hails the end of the summer season; pools close, beach towels are packed away and ice cream shops begin to close their doors. But for Rohan Mirchandani, WG’12, summer seems endless when you’re the co-founder of India’s fast-growing ice cream chain, Hokey Pokey.
Mirchandani opened the first Hokey Pokey store in Mumbai in 2008 with his childhood friend, Milap Shah. The two knew they wanted to “scratch [their] entrepreneurial itch,” but the business didn’t take off until 2012, when Mirchandani moved back to India after graduating from Wharton to focus his energy on making Hokey Pokey a success.
In a country where the ice cream industry has long been limited to small, local chains, the founders of Hokey Pokey believe it is poised to become the dominant player. According to Mirchandani, foreign brands available in India, such as Baskin-Robbins and Häagen-Dazs, don’t cater to their Indian customers the same way that Hokey Pokey does.
“We intend to change the game by creating a pan-India brand that stands for something more than just the product,” says Mirchandani.
Part of this goal starts with Mirchandani’s ability to retain and motivate his staff. A challenge for any business in the consumer goods sector is keeping ground-level employees satisfied and loyal—something Mirchandani is all too familiar with.
“Attrition was really high when I took over as CEO back in November 2012,” he says. “It became really important to create a culture which was valued by the entry-level parlor staff. I started morning exercise routines, promoting ice cream as part of a balanced lifestyle. It also gave staff at the bottom of the ladder a chance to interact with me on a peer-to-peer basis.”
As a student at Wharton, Mirchandani couldn’t have been more different than his current self. Entering the School having previously worked in finance, he admits that “the classes I never took seriously at Wharton were management courses.”
“Yet the content and strategies they covered became the most valuable takeaways for the growth of my business,” he adds.
Specifically, he points to Associate Professor John Paul MacDuffie’s “Management of People at Work” as particularly influential in Hokey Pokey’s growth.
Beyond expanding storefront operations (there are currently 15 ice cream parlors in four cities with more opening soon), Mirchandani has other big plans for the company. Hokey Pokey is in the process of bringing packaged versions of its five most popular flavors into Indian supermarkets, and a partnership with the coffee chain Barista Lavazza will lead to the addition of in-store ice cream parlors by the end of 2013.
Of course, an interview with an ice cream entrepreneur wouldn’t be complete without finding out his favorite flavor.
“King Alphonso mango ice cream with almonds and pralines,” says Mirchandani. “I’m a sucker for mangoes, and we make a damn good mango ice cream!”