Gulfport — At 33, Richard P. Mueller III with the 140-store Domino’s Pizza Chain RPM Pizza is most likely the youngest chief operating officer of a top 100 private company in Mississippi.
RPM Pizza was the 29th largest private company in Mississippi in 2003 with sales of more than $100 million. It also ranks as one of the top private business employers in the state with about 600 full-time and 3,500 part-time employees.
Richard P. Mueller Jr. started in the business in college working delivering pizzas. And what was good enough for the father was good enough for the son. Mueller III also started off on the bottom rung, recalling that one of his most memorable pizza deliveries while in college in the Washington, D.C., area was to then Vice President Al Gore.
“That was a pretty interesting delivery for me,” he recalls.
After getting a bachelor’s degree from Eckerd College in 1993, Mueller began working for RPM Pizza as a financial analyst in the accounting department. He returned to school to get an MBA from Duke University and after graduating in 1997 returned to work as general manager of a store in Mobile, Ala.
After that he was RPM’s real estate coordinator for two years and chief financial officer for three years. He was promoted to COO in 2003 and works directly with the vice president of operations to manage store operations and marketing for RPM Pizza.
Mueller Jr. is now retired and his brother, Glenn Mueller, is currently the majority owner of RPM Pizza.
Many a person has made it through college by delivering pizzas. Mueller said with wages and tips, drivers can earn between $10 to $12 per hour, plus they are reimbursed for mileage on their cars.
“The best thing about being a delivery person is the freedom you have,” Mueller said. “You are in your car where you can listen to the radio and are on your own the majority of the time. It is an environment that a lot of people like. Myself, I like to deliver pizza.”
Asked about how his dad went from pizza delivery driver to owner of one of the biggest pizza franchises in the county, it didn’t hurt to be in the right place at the right time when Domino’s Pizza — now the largest pizza chain in America — was taking off. At one point Mueller Jr. owned 10% of Domino’s Pizza Inc. stock, and while serving as vice president of operation in the late 1970s and early 1980s the number of stores went up from 180 to 380.
“My dad is really just an extremely innovative, creative person,” Mueller said. “There were a lot of people with the same opportunities that didn’t grow like RPM Pizza. One thing is that my dad is very good at surrounding himself with extremely talented people. RPM has sponsored over 100 people who have gone on to open their own franchises. You know if you go to work for RPM Pizza, you will learn the skills necessary to open your own business. We have been fortunate to attract really good people, and that is the reason we have grown our business to the size it is today.”
As for the success of Domino’s overall, Mueller said a key is that the whole distribution network is set up to be extremely efficient with delivery, which allows them to provide the most reliable service to their customers.
“It may not be true of every store, but on average Domino’s has faster service to the customer than competitors,” Mueller said. “In our society, convenience and the speed of service are very important. That is what Dominos was founded on, and what has grown the business to the size it is today.”
Another important growth factor that has allowed Dominos to take its business to the next level is the development of new and innovative products. Products that are “scoring higher on the taste score” include the Philly steak pizza, double melt pizza and chicken kickers.
“We have innovative products that score very high on perception of taste,” Mueller said. “Now, when you couple having the best-tasting products with the most reliable service, it has really helped us grow our business a lot faster than the competition.”
The company plans to continue to grow. Mueller said they are doing that primarily through partnerships with their team members. They sponsor a proven employee to purchase a store. RPM takes a minority interest.
“We help them and help ourselves at the same time,” he said.
The current biggest challenges in the pizza business are the high cost of cheese and increased competition from the competition, which has also started to implement new products. “And one of the biggest challenges is always finding enough people to deliver pizzas and work in stores,” Mueller said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.