Hunger for growth

Slowly but surely, Pizza GoGo is growing into a nationwide company, having recently opened four new stores in Birmingham in a move that is viewed as the first step towards further expansion in Northern England

During the 32 years Pizza GoGo has spent in the foodservice industry, the pizza chain has made London and the Home Counties a true bastion of its operations, currently running nearly 100 branches in the area. Indeed, for a long period of its history, growing the business in the South of England was the major task before the company and today, Pizza GoGo is present in each of the large cities in the region. Owing to the success it has achieved in this part of the country, the company’s appetite has inevitably been whetted and, albeit cautiously, it is now targeting expansion first in the Midlands and, then, further up north.

“We were originally looking for a rapid growth in the North and extending our franchise model to cover that area, but we quickly realised that the market up there is completely different from the one in London, so we took our foot off the accelerator to give ourselves a bit of time to re-evaluate the situation,” Fouad Haghighat, Managing Director of Pizza GoGo, points out. “Nevertheless, last year, we really took off in Birmingham by opening four new stores and we are hoping to spread out into the surrounding areas and, thence, into the North of England.”

Using the country’s second largest city as a springboard for future expansion appears to be a wise decision, given the space Birmingham offers for the opening of new sites. “Whilst we were not really well-known in the city, we now anticipate to see a kind of a snowball effect where the presence of several stores around will attract new franchisees who will help us grow in those parts of the region where we have not set up branches yet,” Fouad reasons.

“At this moment in time, franchisees are competing for territory, so we are in a fairly favourable position of being able to cherry-pick who we want to work with, based on their experience and strategy for moving forward. Our desire is to partner with people who are interested in running multiple sites in the future. In Birmingham, we found someone who is keen to take over the whole territory and they are going to open new stores shortly, so this is a great example of the kind of progress we are looking for,” he explains.

When Pizza GoGo was first established, the company boasted the USP of offering free delivery, which, in the late 1980s, allowed it to generate a lot of interest and get the better of its competitors. As Fouad acutely remarks, however, the times have changed, the costs of maintaining such a policy have increased dramatically, and, therefore, he does not expect free delivery to survive much longer.

“It seems to me that the introduction of massive companies like Uber and Deliveroo who have a lot of money to burn and are capable of making huge investments, will gradually lead to the demise of free delivery. We can no longer compete with these businesses, but the positive we are seeing, is that they are going to build an infrastructure, which we will also be able to benefit from. If the customers are willing to pay an extra £2.50 for delivery, that is fine for us,” Fouad discusses.

With free delivery on the wane, Pizza GoGo has readjusted its strategy in a way that will serve the business’ objective of bringing more customers to their respective branch to pick up their order, instead of opting for delivery and thus paying more for the exact same product. Fouad comments: “We have somewhat gone back to our foundations, focusing on the look of our stores. We began to refurbish and freshen some of our locations up to make them an attractive place to visit, which is a much more meaningful path to take, rather than choosing to continue the battle on the delivery ground.”

Moving onto food-related subjects, Fouad proudly notes that Pizza GoGo has recently added vegetarian and vegan options to its menu, having teamed up with Quorn to introduce a wide range of meat-free items. “Quorn is a meat substitute that changes the texture of a product, offering vegetarians a different bite to the traditional mushroom and onion pizzas they are used to consuming,” he states. “Interestingly, when we first launched this range, we had an excellent response and were highly praised by the vegetarian community for thinking about them, but at one point, it just tailed off, so we decided to remove it altogether. Then, all of a sudden, the demand for Quorn grew again and we reintroduced it to our menu.

“Clearly, veganism is the hot topic across the food industry at the moment, but what I have noticed from my research, is that because vegetarian and vegan customers have not been looked after by the foodservice industry for a long time, they seem to have developed a lifestyle that sees them rely predominantly on themselves. As a result, they tend to eat out less often than non-vegetarians, which probably is not going to change in the future. When they do go out, however, it is always good to have a vegetarian/vegan offer for 65them, because they appreciate it,” Fouad observes.

Illustrating his latter claim, he informs us that Pizza GoGo is presently working on developing its own vegan cheese. “If I am being honest, this product was due to be launched this year, but we delayed its release, because we do not feel we have got it absolutely perfect just yet. It is very difficult to achieve the right texture, colour, stretch, and pull, and we have been working with many manufacturers to get it right. Until we have perfected it, it is not going to appear in the market.”

Together with developing new products, Pizza GoGo is poised to carry on with the refurbishment of its stores, as the company moves forward. Fouad wraps up by revealing one other area he will be directing his attention to in the coming years: “We need to start looking at the demographics of our franchisees, because a lot of them are people we have worked with for decades and who are now reaching a retirement age. Under such a circumstance, they are getting a bit reluctant to invest heavily and grow the business further, so we either have to help them or see if we can bring in younger franchisees who have the drive to start pushing their sites.

“Ultimately, we will go with the market and see which way it takes us. The good thing about Pizza GoGo is that we are incredibly agile and we can implement changes within days, because the management team is small enough and can take decisions without wasting much time. This enables us to suddenly go for a new concept and, although it may appear challenging, it is also great fun to be able to do that and explore different opportunities.”