How Patrick Doyle faced the reality of not being the best – and took steps to put Domino’s back on top

State your case

The biggest momentum boost for Doyle and his team might have come with a show of hands.

In the weeks leading up to the rollout of the new pizza, the corporate leadership at Domino’s held a series of meetings around the country, meeting with the leaders of all franchise locations.

“We had five meetings over the course of a couple of weeks,” Doyle says. “We showed them the research and talked to them about customer perceptions of the pizza. We had them sample the old product and the new product, and laid out all the implications for them.”

At one point during one of the meetings, Doyle had the franchisees sample the old and new versions, then vote for which pizza they preferred.

“At one point, we did a show of hands,” he says. “It was nearly unanimous. Out of over 1,000 franchisees in the room, there were 12 who preferred the old pizza. It was absolutely overwhelming. We made the case, we allowed them to give us input, but ultimately we had overwhelming support from our system. And that is maybe the most important constituency. Those are the people who pay us to manage the brand. They’re the ones who are relying on us to do the right thing.”

But Domino’s is an industry giant and a public company to boot, meaning the convincing didn’t stop there. When Domino’s made the announcement near the end of 2009, members of the media and pizza-consuming public were quick to whip out references to New Coke, the famous 1985 business blunder in which Coca-Cola reformulated its flagship beverage, resulting in a massive consumer backlash and, ultimately, the reintroduction of the old formula as “Coca-Cola Classic.”

However, Domino’s reasoning for changing their pizza recipe was fundamentally different from the reason Coca-Cola changed its formula a quarter-century ago.

“Interestingly, while New Coke won in blind taste tests, if you went to Coke customers, they’d tell you that the taste of Coke is why they bought the product. It’s what they were used to,” Doyle says. “When they changed the formula, they were messing with what made Coke what it is. What made Domino’s a household name was the fact that we deliver really quickly. We didn’t build our reputation around the taste of the old pizza. So it was a far different level of risk involved with changing something that consumers considered a weakness. At Coke, they were changing something that consumers considered a strength.”

By the time the New Coke questions came raining down, the new pizza recipe had already caused a spike in sales. The company’s first-quarter U.S. sales in 2010 were up 14.3 percent over 2009. Year over year, Domino’s finished 2010 with a 9.9 percent bump in sales.

“It actually made the New Coke questions kind of humorous,” Doyle says. “The fact that sales were up double digits made it very easy for us to say with confidence that we weren’t pulling a New Coke. Whenever we’d get the New Coke question, we’d just kind of smile at each other.”