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Ringing up sales around the globe

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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.

Restaurant chains can use Micros systems to focus on such overhead issues as inventory and employment-cost management. These systems can also be set up to boost marketing efforts, sifting through customer data to search out new opportunities, or even to customize a chain's offerings from one market to the next.

Micros counts Friendly's, Krispy Kreme, Panera Bread, Pizza Hut, IHOP, Ruth's Chris, Legal Sea Foods, Cracker Barrel and the ESPNZone among its customers. In Baltimore, the Ravens have just outfitted their concession and souvenir stands at M&T; Bank Stadium with Micros' POS systems.

Hotel chains demand even more customization and sophistication, part of the reason some insist on controlling their own development programs, analysts and industry insiders say.

Micros systems are in such chains as the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Marriott, Fairmont, Hyatt and Wyndham hotels.

With the Micros hardware-and-software system, a hotel can track reservations and manage the check-in/check-out desk, keep track of a guest's charges in the hotel restaurant or bar, or book time on a golf course.

The system can also store, access and sort key data on customer behavior, creating new marketing opportunities, said Angela Brav, senior vice president of franchise operations for the Atlanta-based InterContinental Hotels Group. InterContinental is working with Micros to further develop the information database even as the chain is installing its systems in more than 1,000 hotel locations.

"We really want to be on the forefront of hotel technology, but not out on the 'bleeding edge,'" Brav said. "We want something that fits our goals, that is [relatively easy to learn to use] and that provides us with good value."

Of the $487 million in revenue Micros reported for last year, the restaurant business probably accounted for about $282 million, or roughly 58 percent, of the total, according to First Albany's Scherago. He is projecting restaurant revenue for this fiscal year, which ends tomorrow, to be approximately $340 million - a very robust top-line gain of about 21 percent.

It was the downturn in the hospitality sector after the 2000 stock market slump that helped Micros gain an edge over its rivals, company and industry executives say.

As revenue dropped and income skidded, Micros faced a dilemma: Cut jobs and R&D; outlays, or stick with long-term plans and absorb the blow?

Micros incurred a net loss of $704,000 on revenue of $332 million for fiscal 2001. The decision only got tougher after the Sept. 11 attacks, when travel-spending nose-dived. Despite this gloomy backdrop, Giannopoulos said the company kept its R&D; program going full-bore. Starting with fiscal 2002, Micros would spend more than $65 million on R&D; over three years.

That paid off when spending for these systems began to rebound sooner than expected, said First Albany's Scherago. "Micros had product [to sell] while others did not," he said.

Micros' sales jumped from $367 million in fiscal 2002 to nearly $406 million in fiscal 2003, and have kept rising.

"They have that rare ability to [successfully] adapt," said Robert Furlong, an analyst with GARP Research, a Towson-based research firm.

Micros Systems Inc.

Headquarters: Columbia

CEO: A.L. "Tom" Giannopoulos.

Business: Develops point-of-sale (POS) and property management systems, chiefly for the restaurant and hospitality industries

Founded: In the 1970s by current Vice Chairman Louis M. Brown Jr. as a federal subcontractor that made "black box" security devices

Employees: More than 3,000, including more than 700 in Maryland

FY 2005 sales: * $580 million to $587 million

FY 2005 net income: * $50 million to $52 million

Ticker: MCRS

Exchange: Nasdaq

Market capitalization: $1.76 billion

52-week high/low: $48.71/$21.86. * Projected

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