Before Eat’N’Go opened up shop in Nigeria in 2012, pizza was still largely a foreign concept that people saw mostly in movies and TV shows. In many ways, the company helped make pizza mainstream through the Domino’s brand.
“A lot of people knew about pizza to start with, so there was already pent up demand for it when we got here,” CEO Patrick McMichael says. “But then there was a number of people, probably the larger number of people in a big population like Nigeria, who just had never eaten a pizza before.”
McMichael joined Eat’N’Go as CEO in 2018, after nearly 30 years working with Domino’s. He started out as a trainee manager in Sydney, Australia in 1990, then got promoted to area supervisor in 1992. For 10 years, he was a franchise owner of 10 Domino’s stores. He went on to become the chief development and franchising officer for Australia and New Zealand and CEO for Domino’s Pizza in Indonesia before taking over the role of CEO for Eat’N’Go in Nigeria.
Since 2012, Eat’N’Go has expanded to 107 outlets for its three brands – Domino’s Pizza, Cold Stone Creamery and Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt – with five more under construction and another 16 going through the approval stage. “We have a digital system that allows us to understand the traffic movements in any particular city we’re looking at,” McMichael says. “It gives us a view of the mobile phone movements in the morning, afternoon and evening. It allows us to see all the different retail drivers in the city so that when we’re selecting a site we get the best possible one.”
Making pizza mainstream
To make pizza more widely accepted in Nigeria, Eat’N’Go focused on two main strategies: sampling and localising the menu.
McMichael says the company gave away “a tremendous amount of pizza” as samples so that people could try out the product. “They enjoy it and then they come back and buy it,” he says, adding that “obviously now in this pandemic age, you can’t walk down the street with a box of pizza and hand it out to people. Sampling’s come to an end, but prior to that, we spent a lot of time giving away a lot of pizza so people would try our products and get to know it.”
The company also localised its menu to attract customers. For example, it has incorporated meat pie, a favourite snack in Nigeria, and suya (spicy meat cuts) into its pizza menu. By doing this, the company tries to make the product more familiar to its target customers. “Pizza doesn’t look so foreign if you’ve never had it before and you can see a meat pie pizza, a chicken suya pizza, or beef suya pizza on the menu. There’s about 30% of our menu that’s local,” he explains.
McMichael acknowledges the challenges of the current climate but also emphasises the importance of sticking to values that favour the customer. “Even during this pandemic, we’re still seeing strong same-store sales growth,” he says. “It is a competitive landscape and you have to be a value-driven player. You’ll see that we put out a lot of specials across each of the brands on a very regular basis because we think it’s very important to have a selection of various price points on our menu that suit all the different layers of customers.”
‘You’ve got to be good at doing business to be able to do business in Nigeria’
The quick service restaurant (QSR) market in Nigeria is competitive, with several strong local and international players, some of which have been around for decades. Chicken Republic, Tantalizers, Sweet Sensation and Mr Biggs are all long-standing brands. However, only a few of them have nearly as many active locations as Eat’N’Go does for its three brands.
McMichael recognises the competitiveness of the industry but also points out it remains “relatively small in comparison to the size of the population”. This, he says, is “dictated by the hurdles that you have to overcome to be in business in Nigeria. You’ve actually got to be good at doing business to be able to do business in Nigeria, you’ve got to be flexible, you’ve got to be willing to work hard and your thought process has to be one that can solve problems, not run away from them. Nigeria is like no other market. What you think is easy is not easy and what you think you know, you don’t know,” McMichael says.
Some of the hurdles McMichael talks about are infrastructural. Internationally, restaurant businesses can count on constant power supply and would already have gas, water and sewage connections built into their properties. However, in Nigeria, restaurant owners need to develop much of this infrastructure from scratch. One needs to figure out “how you are going to power the outlets, how are you going to get water to the outlets, how are you going to get [around] the intermittent power [supply], how you’re going to deal with the generators, how you’re going to do sewage, etc,” McMichael explains.
He emphasises how important it is for anyone looking to succeed in business in Nigeria to first understand the market. “A lot of people just come in and say well there’s a huge population here and they like brands, so we can open up here and it won’t be a problem. I think that’s the first mistake,” he says. “You really really need to do a lot of investigation on the marketplace to know people’s understanding of your product, how you’re going to be able to source the ingredients for your product, and then how you’re going to distribute that product.”
To succeed in the QSR industry, McMichael believes “the first step is having a product that people want and then putting a team together that serves people properly. The third part of it is you have to understand that success is rented, it’s not owned and the rent is due every day.”
“You can never be complacent about anything you’re doing in business. You look across the Nigerian landscape and there are so many people in businesses and so many people hustling to make a naira. I remind my team about that every day. If we want to stay in business, then we have to hustle too, we’ve got to be better than the next QSR brand, we’ve got to ensure that our customers are getting the best service possible,” he says.
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