• Beware, pizza operators, industry scams abound

    Tags: Commentary

Scanning the news wires the other day, I stumbled across this headline: "PizzaBizz.com is Offering Free Online Consulting for Future Pizza Business Owners."

Free consulting, huh? Interesting.

I clicked the link and came to a news release that said PizzaBizz.com offered "the most affordable and comprehensive business plan available today," and that John Kitovitsu, president of PizzaBizz, "believes that all future pizza restaurant owners can benefit" from his guidance.

No doubt about it, his plan is affordable: a whopping $19 for a PDF copy, and $24.99 for a CD copy.

Knowing this sounded too good to be true, I dug a little deeper into the PizzaBizz Web site to find some questionable observations about the pizza industry, such as: "The pizza business

Steve Coomes, Senior Editor

is one of the easiest businesses to get into. You find a store, get an oven, set-up your preperation (sic) area, have seating, and your (sic) all set!"

Like that one? Here's my favorite: "The profit margins on pizzas are extremely high; sometimes as much as 500% per pie. Many premium pizza outlets are charging as much as $25.00 for a large pizza."

Whose menu is he sampling? Spago's? Such prices aren't common in the land of margin-crushing $19.99 meal deals.

The Web page also said pizza parlor growth is expected to be at an all-time high in 2005.

If that's true, I'd hate to go back and find the all-time low. Every source I talk to expects the same 2 percent growth we've all watched for the past several years.

Even though Web pages give off no odor, PizzaBizz.com's weren't passing the smell test, so I looked a little further. Under the "Comments" tab were four customer testimonials, but only one bore the name of a pizza operation and the proprietor. Eager to talk to this operator, I called directory assistance and was told there was no such pizzeria in Los Angeles. The phone operator suggested a similarly named outfit in Coronado (near San Diego, about four hours south by car from L.A.), so I rang it up and asked for the name of the man featured on PizzaBizz.com. The response: "Uh, there's no one here by that name, sir."

I didn't think so.

Curious about Kitovitsu, his product and his claims, I e-mailed him to request an interview. Moments later, he replied, saying he was excited to talk to me, but that he wanted to know what the article would be about.

I replied, telling him I thought the Web site's claims were pretty spectacular and that I wanted to know more about how his plan makes good on those promises.

No response.

I sent an e-mail the next morning asking when he'd like to call me (since neither he nor his Web site supplied a phone number), but got no response. Several hours later, I e-mailed him again and received a reply stating he'd be in and out of the office all day and that he'd let me know when he could talk.

Not surprisingly, Kitovitsu was no longer excited about talking to me.

As anyone who's been in this business for any period of time knows, there's nothing easy about running a pizzeria, and to claim that a $25 business guide can cure an operator's ills is, well, highly questionable.

Have a good laugh for yourself by visiting PizzaBizz.com.

Paper Tigers

On the subject of scams, have you or anyone at your operation been hoodwinked by companies selling printer receipt paper (for POS, cash register and credit card terminals) over the phone? According to Jeff Aufdencamp, co-owner of Mama Mimi's Take 'N Bake Pizza, paper companies try to work the scam on his four stores regularly. Here's what happens:

A "salesperson" calls a store and tells whoever answers that they represent the company that supplies the store with receipt paper. They ask if the store needs any, and if they say yes, the company sends a case. The paper arrives via UPS — and with a hefty price tag.

"Here's an invoice for $193 for a case of Verifone paper," said Aufdencamp, whose shops are in Columbus, Ohio. "Normally a case costs 70 dollars."

The invoice, he said, is from GPS Paper Supplies in Branford, Conn., where he has sent paper back.

"They say, 'Oh, no, you ordered this paper. You've got to pay for it,'" he said. "They are still calling and trying to collect on that."

The scammers' trick, Aufdencamp said, is to catch employees when they're busy.

"They bank on the fact that some people are unorganized, or when it's busy, whoever answers the phone might be in a hurry and say, 'Yeah, send it.' Or they figure that if it's a larger company, the people will just pay for it to avoid the hassle of sending it back."

Aufdencamp said the scam isn't unique to pizzerias, that it happened when he worked for the Cucina Bravo chain.

The solution? Preparing your employees and refusing to pay.

"I know they'll probably never stop calling, but we've told our employees that none of them is authorized to make purchases in our company's name," he said. "I guess it's just a hassle we've all got to put up with."

* Ever been scammed? I'd like to hear your story. E-mail me at stevec@pizzamarketplace.com.

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