For a long time in Lagos, quality fast food pizza came from only one location – Debonairs Pizza
Options were restricted to more upscale restaurants if you wanted good pizza. But for on-the-run or delivery pizza, it had to be Debonairs. Of course, Mr. Biggs, never to be outdone by the foreign players managed to represent the home team with its own pizza offering. But it wasn’t the same. Then for those a little older, there was Rico’s pizza, which started in Victoria Island and was for a while the choice of pizza for many in Lagos. At least on the Island.
But while Rico’s burnt out in the face of high Island operating costs, Mr. Biggs never quite made it with their suspect pizzas. Enter Debonairs riding on the wave of South African investments in Nigeria at the time, and taking total control of the segment. And their stuff was excellent. While its South African brethren like Chicken Licken’ and News Cafe didn’t survive the heat in Lagos, Debonairs took over the town.
The business of selling pizza is like any other business
There have been several smaller players since the arrival of Debonairs, most of them run by Nigerians or Lebanese, but none was able to rival the South Africans for market share. Not until the “Domino effect”.
Did the near monopoly of fast food pizza enjoyed by Debonairs lead to complacency? Did Debonairs pizza rest on its crust as it enjoyed almost complete dominance of the pizza market on the Island? Possibly.
Head to head like Betamax vs VHS
How else would we explain the insistence of higher priced pizzas at Debonairs than at Domino’s? A quick look at the competition – Domino’s is an international brand which made its foray into sub-Saharan West Africa less than 3 years ago. As pizzas go, Domino’s is a top 3 world player, sharing the enviable podium with Pizza Hut and Little Caesars. In coming to Lagos, what the company (or its operators in Nigeria) have done, is to bring to bear their globally recognised name, their brand culture, and international best practices.
They also came in cross-selling their pizzas with Cold Stone Ice Cream, a more recent addition to the brand. Like all other cross-selling strategies, the idea was to ensure control of buyers and potential buyers share of pocket. It also means buyers who were looking to only buy ice cream, could be more easily tempted to buy a pizza simply because the option is readily available. And the strategy works.
Domino’s now dominates the high-end segment of fast food in Lagos without question. Yet, the former Lagos champion has done little to protect its turf. True pizza lovers all say that Debonairs pizzas are better tasting. And this is probably true. But Betamax was also a superior machine to VHS by all accounts, yet we know how that duel ended.
Does physical attraction count?
There’s an airiness to every Domino’s store, with bright colours, bright lights and a clean feel. Many of the stores also have a window where you can actually see the pizzas being made. A top attraction for young kids as the chefs toss the dough in the air much to the delight of even older customers. A small matter, but it certainly counts.
Debonairs on the other hand may be leaning too heavily on its reputation of making the better pizza. Debonairs has to up its game or face extinction. And it appears that a complete overhaul is what the brand requires. From customer service, to shop finishing and decor, better engagement with the public, and most of all, a more competitive pricing policy.
This is fast food pizza. Not gourmet pizza or pizza from the Sheraton or Intercontinental. It’s high street. It’s what you buy as a treat for your significant other or for the kids. Demand is therefore very elastic (people will go elsewhere if your price is high). Buying a pizza must therefore be more than about the pizza.
The price of the pudding may be in the eating, but this is not pudding. And it’s not christmas either, certainly not at Debonairs head office. This is pizza. Everyday fast food (well, more like every other weekend actually). It’s the Fast Moving Consumer Goods sector. It’s Coke vs Pepsi, Star vs Harp (and now 33, Goldberg, Hero, Trophy, and many other brands you may never have heard of if you don’t travel outside Lagos).
What is the difference? Why does one win over the other in spite of having almost identical tastes or indistinguishable look and feel?
The winners in the game sell you an experience. Not just a product or service. Yes Domino’s is popping up on every street corner, but an effective online strategy by Debonairs can level the field somewhat.
It’s high time for a Debonairs experience.