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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Domino's Grabs Customers, Employees with 'Pizza Theater'

Domino's Pizza has spent the last few years remaking its brand and has created an industry juggernaut.

So the "pizza theater" that it is rolling out at its prototype new stores will just be icing on the cake -- or, rather, mozzarella on the pie.

But Domino's CEO Patrick Doyle is quickly embracing the way that the open architecture of the new stores is engaging customers in the thrill of seeing their pizza made -- and is drawing Domino's employees into the enthusiasm as well.

He stopped by one of the new outlets in Seattle the other day and described the adoption of the new format as "one of those lightning-bolt moments" where chain management decided to be as open with its pizza as it was being with its brand overhaul.

"You walk into these stores and see how they're operating and it's a completely different sort of interaction," the head of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Domino's told us. "Because the wall is literally gone. And the true loyalty to any kind of retailer comes from the interaction between employees and customers."

What Domino's has done in the handful of new-format stores opened so far by the company and franchisees is to establish an open-kitchen format where customers can see their pizza being made, up close and personal. A monitor tells at what stage of construction their pizza resides.

There's also a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard where patrons can -- and do -- leave their comments and, in some stores, a big-screen TV for entertainment and a few seats for people who want to eat their Domino's on the go.

The brand has done a lot of overhauling during the last few years, including a marketing campaign -- starring Doyle himself in some ads -- in which Domino's admitted that its pizza used to taste bad. Its online business is burgeoning thanks to the IT efficiencies that a big pizza maker can apply, and more Domino's customers are getting a taste for its chicken wings and other menu additions. Overseas sales are booming as well.

But Doyle told us the possibility of the pizza-theater stores as they spread across the chain could become one of the most revolutionary changes yet for the company.

"It's open and honest and transparent, like our brand, and you don't build a wall that hides everything from consumers," he said. "Just things like our employees stepping around the counter to hand customers their pizza rather than sliding it over the counter.

"Opening up the stores has powerfully impacted the behavior of our employees."

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