Pizza for £1? That's easy, says Stelios. But this time has he bitten off more than he can chew?

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The Independent Online

Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the head of the burgeoning business empire easyGroup, will further extend his entrepreneurial reach next week when he adds a pizza delivery company to his portfolio.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the head of the burgeoning business empire easyGroup, will further extend his entrepreneurial reach next week when he adds a pizza delivery company to his portfolio.

Working on the same "demand-based pricing" that has applied to his low-cost airline, it will offer a pizza for a pound for those who order early enough, impressing some business analysts and appalling anti-obesity campaigners in equal measure.

The easyPizza launch comes a week after the easy brand took another step towards ubiquity when Mr Haji-Ioannou put his name to easy4men, a range of toiletries sold exclusively through Boots.

With the aim of taking a slice of the £500m male toiletries market, the range of nine products was launched to coincide with the Christmas rush in a publicity campaign which heavily featured the billionaire head of the empire, otherwise known as the "jolly Greek giant".

By next summer, the empire that was founded with the launch of easyJet in 1995 will have grown to 16 companies, with the addition of five new companies specialising in holiday cruises, hotels, online recruitment, music downloads and mobile telephones.

Mr Haji-Ioannou, who has reduced his role in the airline to 41 per cent of shares held by his family, is concentrating instead on start-ups, many of which are still in their infancy and have yet to break even. The business model at easyGroup allows for three to four years before a profit can realistically be expected.

His easyInternet cafe is expected to break even this year, easyCar is forecast to achieve the same in 2005 and easyMoney makes a modest profit.

Business analysts reckon that, in common with Sir Richard Branson, Mr Haji-Ioannou has made his fortune by building up considerable "social capital" comprising impressive contacts and widespread public trust.

Kevin Boles, a senior lecturer in enterprise at Manchester Metropolitan University said the ideas for new companies often come from other people and Mr Haji-Ioannou will pick the best, often arranging finance without risking his own money. He has also chosen to invest in start-ups in airlines and technology-driven companies which can attract financial assistance from local and national governments to defray costs.

Mr Boles said: "He is trading on his name. He has a fantastic reputation for success and as a person who will invest in a product or service. He is very well connected which allows him to build a brand quickly."

Although a tireless entrepreneur, Mr Haji-Ioannou has indicated that after the next series of start-ups, he may pause for fear of stretching the brand too far.

Mr Boles, who uses Mr Haji-Ioannou's career as a case-study in his lectures, said over-expansion was a potential pitfall. "Not all of the companies will work but they haven't for Richard Branson either. There won't be any damage to the group provided there is no collapse in trust. That will start to happen only if it is seen to make excessive profits or there is a trend towards asset-stripping."

Michael Tamvakis, an academic at the City University's Cass Business School in London, where he was a contemporary of Mr Haji-Ioannou, has reservations about some of his latest ventures. He said: "Stelios is an innovative spirit. However, I think some of his ideas don't work."

Dr Tamvakis, associate dean of the dean of undergraduates programme, doubted the appeal of ordering a pizza a week in advance and predicted easyCinema would continue to face resistance from distributors. He also predicted that broadband technology would make internet cafés increasingly competitive and said Mr Haji-Ioannou should focus instead on promoting the brand overseas.

He said: "Part of the appeal of Starbucks is that no matter where you are in the world it is a product you can trust but at a serious mark-up. But Stelios is all about low-cost instead."

NOT SO EASY PICKINGS

easyInternetCafé

Founded during the dotcom boom in 1999 with £40m investment, easyEverything, as it was first known, has grown to 70 sites. Mr Haji-Ioannou plans to convert 20 of the largest cafés, including five in London, into easy.com ventures to sell and promote his other ventures. The company is not expected to break even this year.

easyCar

Launched in Easter 2000, it grew to 50 sites in four years but now acts mainly as an online brokerage for 1,100 car-hire firms. It has been criticised for the large number of disclaimers in the rental contract in an attempt to cut costs. The number of disclaimers has been cut but rental costs have had to rise. EasyCar is expected to break even in 2005.

easyCinema

Launched last May in Milton Keynes with a 10-screen complex offering tickets from 20p. It is said to be showing promise after overcoming opposition from the big distributors. It sells tickets based on the principle of yield management which Mr Haji-Ioannou mastered at easyJet. Not expected to make a profit until next year.

easyBus

Launched in August, easyBus consists of a small fleet of minibuses which, it is hoped, will one day rival National Express.Tickets start at £1. Profit not expected for up to three years.

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