Eat’N’Go will continue to be a customer-focused company in 2021 – Patrick McMichael

Surviving in the toughest times is what builds a brand and boosts consumer confidence. It also requires forward-looking and ahead-of-current-thinking ideas to pull through such moments. During the Coronavirus pandemic crisis, the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) industry has been under more pressure than ever before, while adjusting on the fly to consumer behaviour. In this interview, the Group MD and CEO of Eat‘N’Go Limited, franchise owners of Domino’s Pizza, Cold Stone Creamery and Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt, Patrick McMichael shares penetrating insights with MARKETING EDGE.      

Could you assess, holistically, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Nigeria’s economy in 2020, and the QSR industry in particular?

I can describe it from our perspective – not from everybody’s angle. Perhaps I am lucky enough that I travel back and forth between Australia and Nigeria, So I became aware of the Virus early enough. I did some research on it and I understood that it was a novel virus. We immediately started preparing for the possible outcome in January 2020 when we convened our first crisis meeting and made plans on how to deal with the Virus.

The shock wave that went through the Nigerian economy was, from my view, partially expected. The global drop in oil price was something I didn’t quite consider, and both factors had a huge impact on the country’s economy and confidence. Whilst I was aware of the national impact, like most business leaders– I was looking at what the effect would be on our business and how to navigate the situation.

In Nigeria, the economy relies on oil, so when the economy suffers a twin impact of a pandemic and falling oil prices, obviously the spending power of our customers struggles at the same time. We absolutely felt the impact. Our management team had to manage a severe customer decline as well as a pivot in customer purchasing channels overnight as our customers couldn’t come to us because everybody was in a lockdown and our revenue dropped by 60% at the time. There was nothing one could do to prevent that because none of us knew the impact at that point. But we had to make the decisions on what to do about the impact.

Could you state in specific terms, the feats achieved by Eat‘N’Go at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown?

We got to the point where we had to make stern decisions; because the business model we had in 2019 and 2018 had to change to survive. We had to look at the way we spent money on adverts. “Would we launch a new product during the pandemic lockdown or would we not?” We had to go through every line of our business expenditure and asked ourselves: “Is this a must have or is this a nice to have?” We had to make all the decisions that we could make to pivot our business model to the meet the new challenges. We chose not to launch any new product during the pandemic lockdown and that radically changed our marketing strategy. Everything leaned straightaway to digital. We cancelled a lot of our billboard and radio adverts because there was nobody in cars. All marketing campaigns had to go digital. It was equally a case of 80/20 in terms of card/cash transactions because nobody wanted to handle cash. We had to radically change the business overnight. We managed to cut down a lot of costs of doing business and that made a big difference to us. As a result, we became more profitable during the closing part of 2020 than we were previously as business started to return again.

Just like us, there were businesses globally that had to review their underlining businesses and through those changes, they made more money. I will give you a perfect example. In Australia when I was visiting during Christmas. I went to my local McDonald’s and KFC, and there was nobody serving food at the front counter because the customers had all gone on the digital kiosk to place their orders to limit contact. Everything had gone digital and the customers were placing their own orders which went back to the kitchen to be prepared and then served. That is a perfect example of front counter labor cost that had disappeared in business during the pandemic. I doubt it will come back. It is now an accepted way of doing business by customers.

Where is the place of innovation in all of this?

The innovation is in delivery technology; speed of service and home delivery is now key in everything most businesses do. People would rather have their food at home on most occasions. Customers would rather have their products delivered at home as you can see the explosion of Amazon. There is an explosion of technology to improve customer relationships and delivery service. Attention has shifted from traditional advertising and newspapers publications; it’s now all about talking to people and having various customer engagements on digital platforms.

What are your projections for 2021?

The 2021 plan is for us to continue building positive relationships with our customers through our digital platforms and at the customer service touch points.  That’s one of the things that have been truly important to us – before, and during the pandemic. We have a strong customer communication platform. I am very proud of our marketing team who have the special interaction with our customers. Instead of launching products, we launched conversation that gave our customers information on our ability to serve them and what we were doing to ensure our team and products were safe for them.

For 2021 and beyond, we will continue to be a dynamic customer-focused company; one that wants to hear from our customers. I quite often get questions from our marketing department such as: What do you think of this product? Do you think we should launch it? And I say: What feedback do you have from our customers? If you think like the customer, your journey will end in success, and we will continue to do that on the digital and other platforms.

As far as the stores growth, we have just crossed over 130 stores in Nigeria. We opened our Northern manufacturing facility in Kano State yesterday. On top of that, we have got 26 new outlets to be opened across Nigeria in 2021. There are new cities in regional Nigeria that we do not currently serve. We receive constant requests to open new stores in new cities by local residents and governments. We will continue to launch new tasty products. We will continue to employ people locally and promote from within our team to create careers for our team. We will always look at the design of the stores to make sure we continue to innovate in design and in the business model.

It’s a year to be dynamic – not a year to recede thinking that your business is not what it used to be. Your business has change and develop to be in this new world because everything is not going to be the same again.

What Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative would Nigerians be expecting from Eat‘N’Go this year?

We will continue with our partnership with Slum2School.That’s certainly an enduring partnership that’s sustainable. It’s important from my perspective as the leader of the company and from my team’s perspective. We will continue to give back and support 1200 underserved children into school in 2021. Based on the discussions we’ve had, the best way to give back is to give to the future of Nigeria. Providing education to young Nigerians who are the future of the country, employing people and providing the right career path for them is the best way to give.

What’s your customers’ feedback like?

The feedback we get on our digital platforms is positive. We measure all feedback every month. About 80% of the feedback we are getting from our customers is about product launches and about new stores openings, are very, very positive. Where we have expanded to more states, we have had support from the governors of the states. That said we are not perfect, and we do get concerns on product and service the same as every company. Our goal is to make sure we never lose a customer due to us not meeting our expected best standards. Customer communication and follow up is so important. We pride ourselves on ensuring that we follow up every concern. We work too hard to lose customers through our own errors. Every customer is very important to our entire team.

The feedback we get from our suppliers is also positive. All the small suppliers who started with us eight years ago are now bigger suppliers. I call it the ripple effect of Eat‘N’Go. Although we have two and a half thousand employees, the total number of people who work for our company across the many industries are more than ten thousand. There are so many industries that support the Eat’N’Go. The ripple effect of the company is actually bigger than the company.

Is there any other feedback mechanism in place apart from the above mentioned?

The main feedback we are always chasing is our customers’ feedback. But we have different ways of receiving feedback – we always liaise with our suppliers and do market research. We’ve done market research twice this year. We do that on different things and one of them is about what flavours our customers like, and the other is competition versus us. Another one is on customers’ uptake versus two years ago. So, we are always seeking feedback from the end user and that comes back to my earlier comment about ‘thinking like a customer. We have to understand the growth of the company from the customers’ perspective. I always like to make decisions based on information. I like to have quality information at my finger tips and our marketing team do a lot of research to provide this information. They guide a lot of decision-making and help to understand customer traffic movement. Then they will give me the impact on how that affects our company. We do a lot of work like that to make sure that the decisions we take are innovative, responsible and are taking the company in the right direction.

Where do you see the future of QSR business in Nigeria?

My view on the QSR industry in Nigeria is really positive. I have been in Nigeria for three years which is such a short time, and I have been reminded several times that I am still “Johnny Just Come”. Despite my being in the country for a short time, I see so much development around – the skyscrapers going up, etc. I am not ignorant of the fact that there are a lot of people in Nigeria struggling. It’s been a tough number of years and a lot of people are living below the poverty line, however Nigeria will continue to grow and improve in my view. I can see that everywhere I go. There is a huge population here and my view is that QSR business will continue to prosper. You have to be smart about the way you run your business. If you have a good understanding, local partnerships, and ability to grow at the right pace intelligently, you will do well in this market. Nigeria will continue to do well and become the leading nation in Africa. I have no doubt about that, but you really need to work hard to be suited for this market.

Strategically, where do you see Eat‘N’Go in the next 5 years?

We have a five-year plan. We see a lot of growth across Nigeria. We are planning to open more stores in Ibadan and Abuja. We are also looking at some of the big regional towns too. We will continue to increase the penetration of our store-plan across Nigeria.

Congratulations on your new position as the Group MD of Eat‘N’Go! In what direction do you see the company moving right now as a group?

The group title is more about the complexities of the company. We’ve got the manufacturing, distribution, warehousing, import and a number of different divisions. We may look at more business opportunities to attach to Eat‘N’Go in the future. That’s the strategic process of what the company will look at in the next five years in relation to business opportunities in Nigeria.

Business leaders do have their business philosophy. How would your philosophy impact on the group going forward?

You are right. Every CEO has their business philosophy. Mine is very simple –“people first”, this extends to the Eat’N’Go team, our customers and potential customers. If you have visited my office, you will see the inscription on the wall: “I don’t care about your race, your title or your money, I care about how you treat people”. My philosophy is that I treat people the way I want to be treated. For me that’s the number one principle and everything flows from there. If you ask me what I have brought to the business with many years’ experience in QSR, I would say – stay humble, always look behind you, bring next person through and help them to succeed, treat people the way you would want to be treated.


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