Having delighted Londoners with its wood-fired pizzas, Basilico is beginning to branch out across the UK
When it comes to ordering a pizza, people aren’t as spoilt for choice as they might once have been. The likes of Domino’s and Pizza Hut have managed to grab a big slice of the market, becoming consumers’ go-to brands in the process. However, those looking for something a little more authentic will be pleased to hear that Basilico, the wood-fired pizza chain, is embarking on a franchise drive across the UK.
Founded in the late 1990s, Basilico has steadily grown from one restaurant on the Fulham Road to a group of 11 outlets across London. It has managed to amass such a strong customer base in the capital by delivering traditional Italian fare to people’s doors. “Every element of our pizzas is Italian,” says Geoff Parsons, managing director of Basilico. “The ingredients are all imported from Italy and they’re sliced and packaged by us.” This extends to the sauce and even the flour used in the crust, which is blended at a flour mill in north-east Italy. “It’s a secret blend of flours,” he adds. “It’s a thin crust but it retains its texture and form very well for a ten or 15-minute delivery.”
But it’s not just the ingredients that help give Basilico’s pizzas their authenticity: the company is one of only a handful of pizza-delivery chains in the UK that cooks its pizzas in a traditional wood-fired oven. “It’s at the opposite end of the spectrum to a Pizza Hut or a Domino’s, where the pizzas are made on a metal tray and drop off the end of a conveyor belt,” says Parsons. While it means Basilico might not be able to pump out as many pizzas per minute, it’s a price worth paying for delivering the real deal. “It’s not the cheapest way to run a pizza oven but it gives you a different sort of heat and a more authentic product,” says Parsons.
Basilico’s specially trained pizza chefs – or pizzaiolos – also provide a point of difference that helps set the brand apart from its closest competition. “There is a company up in Scotland that has two or three wood-fired outlets but their ovens have a rotating floor, which deskills it,” says Parsons. “Ours are totally traditional in the way that the oven is set up and worked by the pizzaiolos.”
Yet prior to Parsons joining the company in 2011, Basilico’s ovens were hidden from the public eye; something that changed when he took the reins. “We expose our pizza ovens now, which means there is some spectacle if you visit our outlets,” says Parsons. “We are fundamentally a delivery business but, in some areas, we are 25% collection or eat-in, so the oven is absolutely fundamental to the brand.”
Having proven the model works in London, Parsons believes the brand is now fit for franchising. “We have got to the stage where it’s practical to franchise,” he says. “We’ve got critical mass and the brand is strong enough to expand within London and move out into Greater London.”
And with enquiries coming in from as far afield as the East and West Midlands, it’s evident that franchising will be the most effective way for Basilico to increase its presence across the UK. “We strongly believe in working with local schools, providing prizes for tombolas and raffles and getting involved with local sports clubs,” says Parsons. “That’s much better done by somebody who lives in and knows the territory.”
Basilico franchisees will also need to be well-funded and have some experience of running a food business. And Parsons stresses that the latter is more important than the former. “We certainly wouldn’t be looking for somebody with no experience but lots of money,” he says. “It benefits the brand if the franchisee is in some way involved with the operations. I’m not saying they have got to be their own pizza chef but they need to be hands-on to make sure service levels are good, food quality is good and financial disciplines are in place.”
In return for their investment, Basilico will support its franchisees in a number of areas, from sending out regular e-shots to designing flyers. A franchisee’s outlets will also be added to Basilico’s web-ordering platform, which now accounts for 65% of the company’s delivery orders. “And that’s growing: I think it will move up to 75%,” says Parsons. “It means that you don’t ever have to get involved with the Just Eats of this world.”
It all adds up to a pretty attractive proposition for potential franchisees. “Because it’s a premium product with premium positioning, you’re not going to get sucked into a margin squeeze as happens with a lot of franchises,” says Parsons. With five franchises already in the pipeline, Basilico certainly looks well on course to replicate the success its enjoyed in the Big Smoke. But, as Parson explains, it will only be taking up offers from regions that make sense for the brand. “It won’t work everywhere,” he says. “Our demographic target is somebody who knows about food and doesn’t want to eat a mass market, best-deal product.”
That’s why Basilico conducts some thorough research whenever anyone enquires about becoming a franchisee. “If anyone wants to be a franchisee, they give us a postcode for a site and we will run an analysis on 62 different categories of household,” says Parsons. “From that, we will have a pretty good idea as to whether or not the demographic mix is appropriate.”
With this in mind, Basilico will be looking to add five or six new sites per year, a strategy that Parsons believes will help sustain the company’s success going forward. “We are not going to say we want to do 15 [per year], which is what happens with some of the bigger franchises,” he says. “Property directors are given a target then it’s a case of ‘make the number and get a bonus’ and if the site doesn’t work it’s somebody else’s problem. That’s not how we think: for us, the most important thing is to get every franchise right.”
Further down the line, Basilico might set its sights beyond Blighty but, despite receiving some interest from overseas, Parsons wants to lay some firm foundations on these shores before thinking about other markets. “We have got to concentrate on the next couple of years and make sure that all those new sites are in the right place and are profitable for the franchisees,” he says. “In the end, a profitable franchisee is the best endorsement of the brand.”