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Features

Pizza 2.0

PizzaTurnAround.com is Domino's Pizza's newest web endeavor. The company reinvented its pizza from the crust up, as it's cleverly said. The site leads with a four-minute YouTube video about change. A lot of it is focused on how bad the customers thought the old pizza was and how good Domino's thinks the new pizza is. To the right is a Twitter feed, and for better or worse, all the tweets are about Domino's.

Things like: "New dominos pizza: not impressed. trying too hard,has an odd flavor. Not ordering their delivery anymore even tho its cheap"

And: "If Dominos new pizza is half as good as their iPhone website, we will be in for a treat."

And: "First time I had the new dominos pizza I thought it was good.... Second time around not so much. Disappointment."

"That's Twitter," says Chris Brandon, a spokesman for Ann Arbor-based company. "It's transparent. A lot of people go there, and they go there for that. So we had to. Blogger, Twitter, Facebook, if we're not using these there's a disconnect with the costumer and the company and our leadership gets that."

Whether the pizza is good or not, that's up to you. This isn't a story about the pizza of Domino's. This is a piece about the technology of Domino's. It's the story of how the Internet became just as important as the tomato sauce. How the speed and efficiency of the delivery boy (or girl) runs parallel with the speed and efficiency of the web site. And, of course, how social media has pushed its way into every aspect of life even when it comes to ordering a slice of pie.

Domino's will say over and over again that the pizza is the priority. But the brains in front of the computer screens seem to be pulling equal duty with the pie slingers in the stores. More significantly, Domino's has the fourth largest eCommerce site, in terms of transactions, in the country. Online ordering now makes up 20 percent of its business five years ago that number was zero. The company pulls 20 million tickets a year since the launching of the site and has just recently surpassed $1 billion in online transactions. That's a lot of dough (get it?).

To push the tech storyline further, within its 150-person IT staff, there is a 20-member eCommerce and emerging technologies team, of which Jim Vitek is the director. "Pizza is a new frontier," he says. "There are a lot of technologies not currently applied in the retail sector of pizza. We have a huge opportunity here."

Domino's Pizza is one of the largest pizza operations in the world. The company ranks second in terms of franchise numbers with nearly 9,000 stores in the United States and 60 international markets. (Pizza Hut is No. 1 and Papa John's is No. 3.) That's a whole lot of pizza and a whole lot of reach.

Vitek's team focuses on the eCommerce site, which pulled in 1,000 orders a minute in the hour surrounding the Super Bowl kickoff, while keeping an eye on applications in the tech world that could work for the company. He says that in the past, pizza companies would wait for vendors to package a technology like an eCommerce site then sell and install the capabilities. But that took too long. This method, he says, also tends to lag about a year behind current advancements. A year in the tech world could mean the difference between the invention of the wheel and the microchip. Domino's didn't want that lag.

"There is enough geek in us to seek the stuff out that makes sense to Domino's - to employ in this company, to change things we've been doing for years for the better," Vitek says.

"This is a growing force in our own business," says Brandon. "Online ordering, mobile ordering, web advancement, it's now part of what we do, it's part of our culture now."

Early this year, Domino's rolled out its "Pizza Tracker." It's one of the technologies Vitek was talking about. Companies like UPS and FedEx have been using these capabilities for a while, tracking their packages. Domino's has adapted this tracker in ways its competitors have yet to match.

"Other sectors were using tracking applications to inform customers with progress," Vitek says. "These programs reduce questions, anxiety reduce calls back to the stores. This is an example where we looked out and saw a technology that we could use in our traditional retail sector."

The Pizza Tracker is a thermometer. Once you've ordered a pizza either online or through the phone the thermometer will glow red at various steps of the process. Order placed, prep, bake, quality check, and delivery each step is tracked and updated. It tells you who is making your pizza and who is delivering the pizza.

Before the geeky, nerdy, tech-y stuff came into play, it was just pizza. There was no Twitter, no YouTube, no online ordering. It used to be a phone call, an order, a 30-minute wait, capped off with a doorbell ring. Not anymore.

"We take the mystery and the questioning out of waiting for a pizza," says Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications and a 25-year vet of Domino's Pizza. "In a restaurant your waiter or waitress comes by, fills your water, asks you how you are doing, tells you that the food will be out in a few minutes. We didn't have that. We developed that with Pizza Tracker. We're high tech and high touch."

Oh, but pizza-tech doesn't stop there.

Domino's also has an option for TiVo users to order through their remote. If a Domino's commercial comes on, a little message that asks you if you want to order a pizza pops up. Users can then go in with their remotes, pick a pizza, and place an order.

And now this:

"We're looking at a few test vehicles electric and hybrid for energy efficient ways to deliver pizza," says McIntyre. Most of the pizza deliveries come from less than two miles from the store. Perfect testing grounds, McIntyre says, for small energy efficient vehicles. "We have an alternative vehicle team that's working with companies to discover a more eco-friendly way of delivering pizza." McIntyre says they have 12 test stores right now across the country. Could be a little Jetsons-y.

Despite all these advances the Pizza Tracker, Twitter and Facebook, TiVo orders, eCommerce, the online ordering customizer and don't forget about the potential eco-friendly delivery vehicles it's still just a disk of dough topped with sauce and cheese.

"A lot has changed in the 25 years that I have been here," McIntyre says. "But a lot has not." He says each new store doesn't stray far from that little spot in Ypsi that the brothers Monaghan purchased in 1960 then called DomiNick's.

"We're just a bit flashier," he says.


Terry Parris Jr. has consumed many a pizza. Domino's may even have been one. He is also a regular contributor to Concentrate, Metromode and Model D. His previous article was Building A Start-Up City.

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All Photos taken by Dave Lewinski


Photos:

Jamie Gasparella in Domino's Test Kitchen

Domino's Mock Storefront

Jim Vitek and His Crew

The Fish Tank

Pizza's Coming!

Domino's Lobby




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