Rethinking Domino(MNCs inIndia)

Rethinking Domino's Expansion Plan

Themes: MNCs in India
Period : 2001
Organization : Dominos Pizza India
Pub Date : 2002
Countries : India
Industry : Food, Beverages & Tobacco

Rethinking Domino's Expansion Plan
In May 2001, Pavan Bhatia, CEO, Domino's Pizza India Ltd.  (Domino's) stepped down from his post. Earlier, in March 2001, at a board meeting, Domino's top management concluded that 'Pavan Bhatia's performance during his 18-month tenure was not up to the mark.' The board felt that Pavan Bhatia had initiated an expansion strategy that was 'reckless and not properly thought out.' However, many analysts did not agree with the board's conclusion. They felt that the board was not considering the possible long-term benefits of Pavan Bhatia's strategy. During March 2000-January 2001, Pavan Bhatia opened Domino's outlets in small towns and cities. Pizza consumption in these places was very low. Analysts felt that even those willing to opt for the product found the price unacceptable. The cost per meal was too high. In September 2001, due to low footfalls  and lower volumes, Hari Bhartia  planned to shut down Domino's outlets not only in some small cities  but also a delivery outlet in the wealthy Gujranwala Town in North Delhi. One of the two outlets in Ludihiana was also planned to be shut down. (Refer Exhibit I for post Pavan Bhatia strategy of Domino's)

Sky is the Limit
In November 1999, Pavan Bhatia took over as the CEO of Domino's. He seemed to be very ambitious and wanted to make Domino's the largest fast-food chain in India. Pavan Bhatia went about opening Domino's outlets across the country. The number of outlets multiplied four fold to 100 between March 2000 and January 2001. It was the fastest growth Domino's had in any of the 63 countries it operated in. From an average of four stores every year in its first four years of operation, Domino's expanded to more than 100 outlets in 10 months across 30 cities.

Domino's entered into an agreement with a real estate consultant CB Richard Ellis to help with locations, conduct feasibility studies, and manage the construction. Pavan Bhatia said, "We are in the business of selling pizzas, not hunting for real estate. And one of the biggest impediments in retailing is real estate, so we decided to hand over the entire real estate operations to estate consultants CB Richard Ellis." Pavan Bhatia realized that fast track growth could be achieved only by focussing on the core business of selling pizza.

He said, "We realised we'd be wasting too much time, money and resources trying to do it all ourselves. For instance, just acquiring a bunch of permits for each store in each city is itself a big job. Then there are the brokers, city laws, markets, licensing, title, infrastructure, water, power, lease agreements, signage and most important, dealing with competing restaurants." CB Richards not only managed to take care of all these hassles but also furnished the outlets.
Domino's also opened outlets at large corporate offices, cinema halls and university campuses. In early 2000, Domino's had opened an outlet at the corporate office of Infosys, Bangalore, which was very successful. It also had outlets at cinema halls - PVR in Delhi, Rex in Bangalore, and New Empire in Kolkata. Pavan Bhatia wanted quantum growth and felt that Domino's needed to tie up with airports, railway stations and petrol pump stations.

Incidentally, CB Richards was already working with oil companies, advising them on how to go about making their petrol pumps ready for competition once private players came in. CB Richards made a recommendation to Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) to let Domino's operate in its petrol pump premises. In December 2000, Domino's entered into an agreement with IOC to provide food products at the latter's 7,500 outlets across the country. In early 2001, Pavan Bhatia signed an agreement with Steve Forte, CEO, Jet Airways, to launch their 'ultimate deep dish,' and 'sweetie pie' products on Jet Airways flights.

Pavan Bhatia said, "For Domino's, sky is the limit. We like to deliver hot, fresh pizzas everywhere, anytime. This tie-up with Jet Airways takes our commitment to customers on the move even a step further."
Pizza Hut entered India in June 1996 with its first outlet in Delhi. Initially, the company operated company-owned outlets. However, keeping in line with its worldwide policy where Pizza Hut was gradually making a shift from company-owned restaurants to franchisee owned restaurants, Pizza Hut made the shift in India too. This policy helped the company to reduce the huge costs in setting up new outlets. Pizza Hut had four company-owned franchisees - Universal Restaurants Pvt. Ltd. (Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan), Specialty Restaurants Pvt. Ltd. (Punjab), Dolsel Corporation (Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh), Pizzeria Fast Food Pvt. Ltd. (Pune and Tamilnadu) and Wybridge Holdings (Mumbai). By March 2001, Pizza Hut had 20 outlets. In the same month, Pizza Hut announced its plan of opening 30 more outlets in India by 2001 end, through franchisee route. By March 2001, Pizza Hut had 13,000 outlets across 90 countries.
What Went Wrong?
Domino's officials felt that there was nothing wrong with increasing the number of outlets. Hari Bhartia said, "We needed to grow to effectively utilize the expensive back-end infrastructure (like distribution centres) that we had set up by March last year (1999)." However, analysts felt that the growth had taken place on a business model that was not able to support it.

Unlike other fast-food chains, Domino's operated on company-owned outlets basis, rather than franchisee route or a mix of both. (Refer Box for Pizza Hut's expansion strategy) Domino's officials argued that this ensured quality and the ability to deliver on time, as the company promised. But this also meant that Domino's had to invest a huge amount in real estate and equipment for each of the new outlets. There were also other overheads such as salaries, keeping inventories, and huge marketing expenses to attract consumers.

To earn a return on these investments, sales in each new outlet had to reach a viable level quickly. Or else, the operation could soon become unviable. It also meant that profitable outlets would end up subsidizing the non-profitable ones. Location of the outlet was an important determinant of profits. Analysts felt that, in its race to dominate the pizza business, Domino's took some wrong steps. For instance, the outlets in Meerut (Uttar Pradesh) and Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh) were located in areas that were not very lucrative. Moreover, some outlets were located far from the nearest commissary. 

This resulted in a logistical lapse and hence, huge transportation costs. Analysts felt that the worst mistakes were made in Sri Lanka. Domino's invested US$2 million (Rs. 94 million) to open six outlets. To become viable, each outlet had to earn minimum threshold revenue, which according to some analysts, was in the range of Rs. 10,000 - Rs. 16,000 per day.

This meant an average footfall of 100-160 per day. The outlets would run into losses, if it was not met. According to reports, three of the six outlets in Sri Lanka were under-performing. Analysts felt that Pavan Bhatia believed in spending money to create hype about the brand. For instance, Domino's opened 15 outlets on a single day in early 2000.

And, as it was customary to have outlets inaugurated by film stars, Domino's spent in the range of Rs.0.3-0.5 million on each film star to inaugurate one outlet.  He also initiated an all-India brand-building exercise. Besides TV campaigns, the exercise included the installation of a unique, single toll-free number to order pizzas.

Many analysts felt that there was nothing wrong with Pavan Bhatia's expansion plan. Commenting about the expansion, a consultant associated with the expansion plan said, "One has to take risks to reach economies of scale. Domino's also shook up competition when it reached a target of 100 outlets." According to a company handout released in early 2001, the increase in number of outlets was fourfold during March 2000-January 2001.

However, Hari Bhartia, without whose approval the expansion could not go ahead, insisted that the increase was only 100% in 2000-01. Domino's officials who supported Pavan Bhatia's expansion plan were of the view that only 5% of all stores were located in places where business was poor. This was a globally accepted trend. They further argued that the profitable stores cross-subsidizing the unprofitable ones was also a common practice globally.

Though Hari Bhartia was skeptical regarding the effectiveness of some of the marketing initiatives taken up by Pavan Bhatia, many analysts argued that the campaigns got new individual a The number ensured that the call would be diverted to the nearest Domino's outlet and the customer didn't have to remember numbers of specific outlets. Analysts felt that the combination of national advertising and the single toll-free number led to discontent amongst customers who were attracted to dial, but discovered that no outlet existed in their city or town. Many analysts argued that the toll-free number would have worked if Domino's had 1000 outlets. Also, the all-India campaign did not justify the needs of specific outlets or regions.

nd institutional customers to the company. Gautam Advani, former Chief of Marketing, Domino's explained, " was the advertising blitzkrieg that helped the company move to the first place from the sixth in both Mumbai and Bangalore..."

Analysts were divided in their opinion about Hari Bhartia's role in all these developments. While some felt that Hari Bhartia was kept in the dark, others felt that he was a silent spectator. Still others felt that Hari Bhartia actually agreed with Pavan Bhatia's strategy, only to make him a scapegoat when things went wrong. Officials who supported Pavan Bhatia's expansion plan felt that Hari Bhartia was completely aware of all the developments. They said that he had actively supported some of Pavan Bhatia's plans including expansion of outlets.

However, others claimed that Pavan Bhatia did take some initiatives without prior consent of Hari Bhartia. For instance, marketing expenses of about Rs.50 million were allegedly spent without prior budgetary approvals. It was also believed that there were no records to account for an expenditure of about Rs.20 million on the Sri Lankan operations. However, Pavan Bhatia's supporters claimed that such allegations were meant to malign him and nothing of the sort could take place in a professionally run organization.
No Correlation Between Expansion and Sales
Pavan Bhatia's expansion plan would not have come under criticism had actual sales matched the projections. Hari Bhartia said that there was a gap between the two. According to some company officials, in mid 2001, the actual sales were half of projections. As the sales were poor, the burden of huge expenses  impacted the bottomline.

This led to serious cash flow problems. A few suppliers said that Domino's was either asking for an increase in the credit period or requested a go-slow on supplies. Others added that although they had no problems with payments, they heard that Domino's was going through a bad phase. Said one, "I too have heard adverse stories about the company. I also know that Domino's is undergoing reorganization. But that should be over in a few months' time and the company will be back on the course."

Analysts also felt that Domino's would be back on course soon, as pizza sales were growing despite new stores coming up near the existing ones, at least in the metros. For instance, the store in Greater Kailash I in New Delhi was among the first to be opened. Sales at this outlet grew though new stores were added in neighboring areas. However, Domino's needed fresh funds to get out of the financial problems. Indocean Chase, the venture capital firm, which owned one-third stake in Domino's, said it would invest only after the existing problems, were sorted out.

To Grow or Not To Grow
By mid 2001, Domino's future growth plans were also slowed down. (Refer Exhibit II) In early 2001, Domino's had announced plans of adding 100 outlets every year, and an investment of Rs.500 million in 2001. Hari Bhartia said, "The board had never approved either the investment or the plan to start 100 new outlets in a year's time." The plan to open new outlets in Bangladesh was also postponed. These corrective measures were expected to be over by late 2001. Explained Hari Bhartia, "When you grow the way we did last year, (2000), there are bound to be problems. Now, we are dealing with them." He was also looking for a new CEO.