• Recession has Magnets by PAC sticking to pizza business

While many businesses are struggling amid the current recession, Bob Trope sees his getting busier.

As president of Process Automation Corp., a firm recognized by clients as Magnets by PAC, Trope manufactures magnetic-coupons for companies like Pizza Hut and Hungry Howie's. The magnets, which are laminated on one side with promotional material, are mailed or attached to pizza boxes and, ideally, put on customers' refrigerators.

According to a report in the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Trope is confident that the economic downturn has people turning to bargains more than ever.

"They're looking for cheaper meals and use more coupons, especially for things like pizza and fried chicken," Trope told the Journal.

While Magnets by PAC sells to non-restaurant companies, 90 percent of its business comes from pizza companies. In 2001 alone, the firm manufactured nearly 3 million pieces just for Hungry Howie's.

A mechanical engineer, Trope designed and built the machines that churn out his millions of promotional pieces each year. The machines cut, sort and apply magnetic strips and apply promotional messages to everything from business cards to football schedules.

Trope estimated his company's 2001 revenues will total $1.1 million, up 14 percent over 2000.

Steve Watters, co-founder of Bayshore Media Inc. in Largo, Fla., told the Journal that the beauty of such advertising is in the way it generates repeated viewings.

"How many times do you open your refrigerator?" Watters said. "How many times do you look up a pizza place's phone number? If it's on a magnet, odds are you're not going to throw it away."

This year Trope plans to add a product bearing scratch-off coupons that would provide something free for coupon users.

"It will only cost about a penny apiece extra," Trope said. "We're almost ready to move with that."

Proof that magnetic pizza coupons are big business is a lawsuit filed last February by Louisville, Ky.'s Crane Productions, maker of the Monster Magnet product. The company claimed Central Missouri Pizza Inc., a large Domino's Pizza franchisee in Chesterfield, Mo., and Southeast Print Programs Inc., a magnetic coupon manufacturer in Tampa, violated its patent on Monster Magnet.

Damages sought by Crane have not been disclosed, and the suit has not been settled.

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