Dubai: Ian Ohan doesn’t much care for any of the food delivery apps that show up on everyone’s smartphone these days. The founder of the Freedom Pizza chain would rather retain full control of taking the orders... and making the deliveries.
“The problem with third-party delivery companies is they put themselves between you and the customer,” Ohan said. “And there’s no way the food company can control the customer experience when someone else is doing the delivery. In the end, we get disconnected from our customers.
“What’s happening is a third-party gets to have ultimate control of the customer and the pricing — for food companies, there is a cost to doing that. It costs us money because we have to pay the credit card fees.”
In a little over two years, food delivery apps and operators have become a common feature on UAE residents’ smartphones and on the roads. The consensus belief in the F&B industry was that this would help grow the market exponentially and allow even newer F&B entrants to try and catch the eye of consumers.
But that consensus of delivery apps being the next best thing seems to be fraying, even if a little. Other F&B operators are also evaluating whether they should focus on building their own delivery networks rather than rely on outside vendors.
As far as Ohan is concerned, he’s done it all.
“We used to be on all the independent platforms and then we decided to come off,” he said. “That promise of them bringing in additional new customers and additional income was never realised, at least in my case.”
Following this, Freedom Pizza proceeded to develop its own online order and delivery platform. And it brought in 135 of its own delivery drivers.
“Right now, 52 per cent of our total sales are coming through online and that could go up to 75 per cent in the next 18 months,” said Ohan. “A lot of customers don’t know where our stores are. There’s no denying that today’s consumers want the convenience of ordering through apps/online. The only difference is that we are doing it ourselves.
“If you look at Amazon, the whole buying on it is ruthlessly efficient. Tech has removed all of the friction or interaction in the consumer process. These days you could check into a hotel by booking via the smartphone and even open the room using it. And all of this without the need to talk to anyone.
“I don’t think that’s where the food business should be. I want to bring back a bit of the human element — the friction, so to speak — into the process.”
Freedom operates 10 locations in Dubai and Sharjah, with the latter being a franchise operation. It is in the process of tapping investors ahead of its launch in the UK.
“We plan to commit about 3 million to set up proof-of-concept stores in the UK and then get the franchisees in,” said Ohan. “It’s a simple enough reason why we plan to be in the UK — it’s [the] third largest pizza market in the world. Our plan is to scale up to 100 store locations there and we want to be in a position to compete with anyone who delivers.”
Ohan has no issue with his business being defined by the delivery experience.
“I’m in the convenience business... and that means a super-fast delivery every time an order comes through. We want the brand’s promise to be built around that.”