LONDON -- For the first time in its 36-year history, Pizza Express is launching an advertising campaign.
Industry analysts raised concerns that the company's decision to do so was to boost business amid tourist counts that have plunged since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Pizza Express chairman David Page, however, disputed any claims that the campaign was knee-jerk reaction to the sagging market.
"In fact, it had been planned for six months," said Page.
Overall, Pizza Express reported a 2 percent same-store sales gain for the second quarter 2001, which ended Oct. 28. Nearly half of its 280 restaurants are located near London, and reported no sales gains for the period, but sales elsewhere in Britain and Ireland showed gains of 6 percent.
Page told The Guardian that running the ad campaign now was a means of maintaining momentum through the end of an already-positive year.
"We had a great set of full-year results and now we want to ensure that our business continues to grow as economic conditions tighten," said Page. "The best way for us to do this is to remind people that satisfied customers have been our best marketing tool in the past."
In its print and radio ads, the company is positioning itself as both a hip place to eat, and one that until now, has never advertised to draw customers. Using the slogan, "Pizza Express -- word of mouth since 1965," the ads feature people in clothing from every decade from its 1965 founding until now.
Sales of Pizza Express retail-branded products at supermarkets continue to grow ahead of expectations, and the company opened 12 restaurants in the UK, including one Cafe Pasta restaurant, outside the city in the third quarter. Recently the company said it wants to have 500 Pizza Express units and 100 Cafe Pasta units five to seven years from now.
Additionally, in a move to boost stock value, the company said it will seek shareholder approval to repurchase up to 10 percent of the company's shares off the open market.