Act I: A New Aspiration
Coming out of 2008, Domino’s Pizza was positioned where it had been positioned for many years: It was the leader in pizza delivery, but its menu was struggling to stay relevant along with category leaders Pizza Hut and Papa John’s.
In fact, a consumer study from loyalty research firm Brand Keys in 2009 had the chain at No. 1 in price and convenience amongst major pizza chains, but tied for last in taste.
“We’ve always been the best at delivery and been given credit for it by consumers,” says Doyle, who was the president of Domino’s USA before taking over as chief exec when Brandon left to become the director of athletics at the University of Michigan. “We’ve always been viewed as providing good value to the consumer. We were not given credit for great-quality food.”
“We aspired to be higher, we aspired to grow faster,” Weiner says.
By April of 2009, the chain was head first into its reinvention. In August of the previous year, the Oven Baked Sandwiches line launched, featuring sandwiches like the Italian Sausage and Peppers, the Mediterranean Veggie, and the Chicken Bacon Ranch.
The new sandwiches positioned Domino’s against a new quick-serve foe: Subway. They were competitively priced at $4.99—challenging Subway’s $5 Footlongs—and generated buzz when Domino’s claimed to beat Subway in a national taste test of sandwiches, earning Domino’s a cease-and-desist letter from the sub giant.
In January of 2009, the new line of American Legends specialty pizzas launched, including combinations of ingredients like the Philly Cheese Steak Pizza, the Memphis BBQ Chicken Pizza, and the Honolulu Hawaiian Pizza. And April brought the launch of Domino’s Breadbowl Pastas, with pastas like Chicken Alfredo, Pasta Primavera, and Three Cheese Mac-N-Cheese baked into bread bowls.
The disastrous April 2009 YouTube incident, in which two Domino’s employees posted videos online of themselves doing crude things to the pizza, was barely a blip in the radar to the company. The new menu items already had it firing on all cylinders.
Doyle says there was only one way a chain of Domino’s size, with more than 5,000 units in the U.S., could pull off so many drastic changes in such a short time span.
“There was significant support from our franchisees for launching the lines that we launched last year, and moving very quickly on getting sandwiches out and American Legends out, and all of those new platforms that we launched,” Doyle says. “They supported and they supported the pace that we were moving on those.”
Dave Melton, a Domino’s franchisee with four stores in Manhattan and two in Connecticut, says that despite the many changes to the Domino’s system, the transition was “great.”
“First of all, [when we] started to expand our menu with the other stuff that we rolled out, with the pasta and the sandwiches and all that … inventory and operations got a little more complex, but nothing we couldn’t handle,” Melton says.
“It opened up a lot more places for us to do business. In 2009 and before, a lot of things seemed to sort of come together to help set us up for 2010.”
The biggest change, though, was still yet to come.