Ringing up sales around the globe

Leader: Micros' software and terminals help restaurants, hotels keep track of things at about 200,000 locations.

June 29, 2005|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

Grab a doughnut at Krispy Kreme during the morning rush, lunch at Panera Bread, order from Pizza Hut that night.

Then there's the romantic weekend getaway stay at the Hyatt with dinner at Ruth's Chris. And Sunday, there's hot dogs and cold beer at an Orioles game at Camden Yards.

Through it all, the computerized terminals sporting the Micros Systems Inc. name are not only tallying your bill, they're keeping track of inventory, ordering more rolls or pizza sauce and telling the hotel manager whether he needs to beef up staff for the weekend and stock up on towels.

And that's just part of it.

With the explosive adoption of sophisticated information-management systems by hotels and restaurants domestically and abroad, Columbia-based Micros has emerged as an industry leader, with its hardware and software installed in about 200,000 locations worldwide.

"They are everywhere - literally," said Randall J. Scherago, an analyst who follows the company for First Albany Capital, a market-maker for Micros shares. "And yet, there are still many opportunities out there."

In the United States alone, Micros is by far the biggest player in each of its two key markets: so-called point-of-sale, or POS, transaction-processing systems for restaurants, and property management systems for large hotels.

Micros controls an estimated 40 percent of the POS equipment market, and as much as 30 percent of the market for property management systems, a figure that excludes the hardware and software some major chains still develop in-house, according to analysts.

Both niches remain highly fragmented, and are dotted with dozens of firms, most of whom will end up watching as their share of the market is gobbled up by Micros or one of a few other strong survivors, analysts predict.

Micros is also diversifying abroad and already derives nearly half its sales overseas. It's also moving into new categories, such as casinos, and new business areas, such as specialty retail and health care information services.

The company's overall sales grew to $487.4 million for fiscal 2004, which ended last June 30, nearly triple the sales of $178.1 million recorded in fiscal 1996. For the current year, Micros has forecast revenue of $580.2 million to $587.2 million. Net income is expected to range from $50 million to $52 million, up from $33.2 million last year.

Micros has achieved its twin leadership positions in the hotel and restaurant businesses while overcoming two recessions; the post-Sept. 11 travel slump; the near-implosion of Westinghouse Electric Corp., its one-time largest investor; and a radical shift in its business model.

Its shares, which in the first nine months of 2000 plummeted more than 80 percent to bottom at $7.34 - and then recovered strongly only to plunge again after the 9/11 attacks - hit an all-time record of $48.71 June 21. They closed yesterday at $46.17, up $1.06.

Among the moves the company has made to help fuel this advance was a key decision, made several years ago, to stop making hardware: Micros opted instead to design the equipment and software for PC-based networks, and contract out the hardware production. The firm has made key acquisitions, too, most recently buying a firm that markets restaurant pagers.

The company's ability to respond to marketplace changes "solidified our position as ... a total systems supplier," said CEO A.L. "Tom" Giannopoulos, a former Westinghouse executive who has been with Micros since the mid-1980s. "We have increased our leadership position" as a result, he said.

To be sure, challenges remain.

For instance, Micros is benefiting from an upsurge in hospitality-sector spending on capital equipment - a trend that many analysts believe will one day have to slow. And though Micros is working to diversify, some analysts question how successful it will be in penetrating specialty retailing and whether its systems are suited for businesses such as health care.

But even in its core businesses, lots of upside remains, the company and analysts say. Take the POS terminals and software, which can ring up a customer's bill and process the payment. But that's not all: Part of the company's strategy across all its markets is to break its offerings down into smaller pieces, or "modules," enabling customers to pick and choose the tasks they want their equipment to perform. In such a fragmented market, this should also help Micros to gain market share.

"These systems do an excellent job," said John Koontz, vice president of information technology for Real Mex Restaurants Inc., a Long Beach, Calif.-based restaurant operator that uses some of Micros' restaurant products. Real Mex operates the CHEVYS chain, which has several locations in Maryland and Washington.

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