Domino's Becomes A Tech Company That Happens To Make Pizza | KERA News

Domino's Becomes A Tech Company That Happens To Make Pizza

Nov 4, 2014
Originally published on February 29, 2016 4:08 pm

If we asked you to name a few technology companies, Google or Microsoft might come to mind. But one tech company that isn't so obvious is Michigan-based but globally present Domino's Pizza.

In recent years, the company has gotten noticeably good at something that wasn't always its focus — developing technology products to get pizzas to people more easily.

"Innovation, coming up with the ideas is one side of the challenge. But then you actually have to be able to deliver [the technology]," says Kelly Garcia, Domino's vice president of development, which means he oversees tech products.

He says advancements in online and mobile orders have become key ingredients for the company's recent success. Last quarter Domino's stock hit a record high, and in the past year its same-store sales figures have been climbing, while numbers for rivals Pizza Hut and Papa John's have stayed mostly flat.

"This technology is difficult," Garcia says. "It takes a lot of money, and it's complicated to put together, and so it just becomes a major differentiator for us when we look across the landscape of our competitors in quick-service restaurants."

Domino's made its online ordering simple, for instance by letting customers save an "easy order" that they can get in just a few clicks. And there's the Domino's Tracker — a progress bar that updates customers on their pizza order in real time. Step one shows an order was placed.

NPR intern Nick de la Canal ordered a pizza to test out this process, and discovered the tracker for the first time. "Now there's a blinking number two that says it's being prepped. Oh, there's an animation with a pizza guy! He's like, moving down the counter. Oh, this is so cool!" de la Canal says.

In a Domino's store, when an online order comes in, an "Internet alarm" goes off.

"We'll just look up, see that it's a large hand-tossed, grab our large dough and make the pizza," Domino's employee Luke Page explains.

The company emphasizes transparency, especially in its metrics. So inside the store, a screen detailing stats like average amount spent per order, rank against other stores in load time, and weekly new customer count are displayed for all employees to see.

What the customer gets to see is the tracker, which follows each pizza and updates customers on its progress all the way to the point it leaves the store. But that's last year's innovation. To keep up with more trends, Domino's is now betting on voice-activated personal assistants, a trend All Tech explored earlier this year. Domino's just rolled out its version of Apple's Siri. His name is Dom.

"He's like your personal pizza assistant," our second intern-tester, NPR's Charles Pulliam-Moore says.

Domino's says ideas like the pizza tracker and Dom came about because the company's biggest single department is IT, its management is staffed with digital futurists and it's looking outside for ideas.

"There's a lot of creative people out there that are outside our four walls. What sort of ideas, and how can we enable potentially more of that behavior?" Garcia says.

One partnership — with Ford — moves Domino's into the world of connected cars. You can now order a pizza from inside the control panel of the Ford Sync in-car communications and entertainment system.

If you ask Domino's executives, reacting quickly is a cultural orientation. The company has adopted a Silicon Valley-style, fail-fast approach to rolling out new products ever since it famously fessed up in 2009 to its bland, bad pizzas. Things are looking much better these days, and leaning into new technology gets a lot of credit.

"I'm just really glad we weren't slow to react to what were the emerging trends, both socially as well as with the ordering clients," Garcia says.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

OK, let's talk now about major contributors to the tech sector of the economy - companies like Google or Microsoft or Domino's. Yeah, I said it - Domino's Pizza - not an obvious choice but still, as it turns out, a tech company. NPR's Elise Hu explains.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: All right, it's a quarter past 11 and I'm in a generous mood so I'm going to buy some interns some pizza. This is Charles...

CHARLES PULLIAM-MOORE: Hi.

HU: ...And Nick.

NICK DE LA CANAL: Hi.

HU: Both Charles Pulliam-Moore and Nick de la Canal are ordering from Domino's Pizza because lately the company has gotten noticeably good at something that wasn't always its focus - developing technology products to get pizza people more easily. It's Domino's VP Kelly Garcia's responsibility.

KELLY GARCIA: You know, innovation - coming up with the ideas is one side of the challenge, but then you actually have to be able to deliver it.

HU: He's talking about delivering tech products. It's become the company's key ingredient for its recent success. Last quarter its stock hit a record high, and its same-stores sales have been climbing while rivals Pizza Hut and Papa John's have stayed mostly flat.

GARCIA: This technology is difficult. It takes a lot of money and it's complicated to put together, and so it just becomes a major differentiator for us when we look across the landscape of our competitors in quick service restaurants.

HU: Dominoes made its online ordering simple with pizza profiles in which you can save your, quote, "easy order," so repeat customers get their usual order in just a few clicks. And there's the pizza tracker.

DE LA CANAL: Oh, wait - there's a little tracker. Oh, I'm just noticing this.

HU: As intern Nick is just discovering, the tracker is a progress bar that updates customers on their pizza order in real time. Step one shows an order was placed. In a Domino's store this is what happens on the employee's end once that order comes in.

LUKE PAGE: That's the Internet alarm basically alerting us that we just got an Internet order.

HU: Luke Page fields orders like this all day.

PAGE: And we'll just look up, see that it's a large hand-tossed, grab our large dough and make the pizza.

HU: Back at Nick's desk, he's watching his pizza's progress.

DE LA CANAL: Now there's a blinking number two that says it's being prepped. Oh, there's like an animation with a pizza guy. He's like moving down the counter. Oh, this is so cool.

HU: The tracker follows each pizza all the way to the point it leaves the store. To keep up with more trends, Domino's is now betting on voice control. It just rolled out Domino's version of Apple's Siri. His name is Dom.

PULLIAM-MOORE: He's like your personal pizza assistant.

HU: Intern Charles gives it a try.

DOM: Welcome back to Domino's. Will it be delivery or carry out today?

PULLIAM-MOORE: I will have a large pizza with onions.

DOM: Pizza added.

HU: Domino's says ideas like the pizza tracker and Dom came about because the company's biggest single department is IT. Its management is staffed with digital futurists, and it's looking outside for ideas.

GARCIA: There's a lot of creative people out there that are outside our four walls. You know, what sort of ideas and how can we enable potentially more of that behavior?

HU: One partnership with Ford moves Domino's into the world of connected cars. You can now order a pizza from inside the control panel of a Ford Sync.

GARCIA: I'm just really glad that we weren't slow to react to what were the emerging trends, both socially as well with the ordering clients.

HU: If you ask them, reacting quickly is a cultural orientation. The company has adopted a Silicon Valley style fail-fast approach to rolling out new product ever since it famously fessed up in 2009 to its bland, bad pizzas. It has since embraced its failures, even in its advertising.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOMINO'S COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You're going to make mistakes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Have you ever heard of the cookie pizza?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I don't want to talk about it.

HU: Over at NPR, we have lunch on our minds.

PULLIAM-MOORE: Your pizza is here.

DE LA CANAL: Thank you, Nicole.

HU: How did this process go?

PULLIAM-MOORE: OK, so I definitely ordered a pizza with onions because I wanted to keep it simple, and the pizza that I got came with onions and olives, which I'm not upset about, but it's definitely not what I asked for.

(LAUGHTER)

HU: Whoops.

PULLIAM-MOORE: Whoops.

HU: The voice ordering app, Dom, must have heard him wrong. Even much lauded new technology has its glitches. Elise Hu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.