The Loop Pizza Grill ready to 'reintroduce' brand to marketplace

The Loop Pizza & Grill has been through some ups and downs in its 30 years. In 2003, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based chain was poised for extensive growth of 70-plus new units.

The strategic development plan, however, was delayed when the economy began to waver.

Now, The Loop is ready to grow again, buoyed by a broader menu, a new restaurant prototype and a strong marketing plan. Mike Schneider, founder and CEO, talked to PizzaMarketplace.com about some of the brand's current initiatives.

PizzaMarketplace: What has changed the most for the business in the past 30 years?

Mike Schneider: Our culture has changed dramatically and so has our industry. There are so many competitors serving so many guests. Eating out is no longer a luxury; it's a way of life in America. Husband and wife both work and kids are shuttled to activities. The kitchen table has become the neighborhood restaurant. The Loop desires to be that table.

PizzaMarketplace: Your menu extends well beyond pizza; what are your signatures and how have your offerings changed?

Mike Schneider: The Loop was created to offer menu items that would meet the need of our guest for both lunch and dinner, 7 days a week/14 meal periods. We believed pizza would drive guests to The Loop for dinner and our burgers would drive our lunch business.

Over the years, our pizzas evolved from thick Chicago-style pan pizzas to a thin crust California- style pizza. We offered both, but our guests eventually chose the thin crust California over the Chicago- style, and we decided to focus on what our guests wanted. That is a crispy thin crust pizza, with basil pesto and fresh, flavorful ingredients like cilantro chicken, Kalamata olives and goat cheese.

The Loop burgers haven't changed. They are 7-ounce patties of flame-broiled fresh ground beef served on a premium roll with fresh toppings, with a side of steak fries, onion rings, or a healthy veggie.

Chicken at The Loop has become more popular through the years. Our marinated grilled chicken breasts are as popular as The Loop burgers.

The Loop was probably the first "fast casual" restaurant. We were probably the first of this type to offer a hand tossed Caesar salad. When we introduced the Caesar salad, it changed our business forever. We now offer a variety of fresh entree salads that our guests choose almost 30 percent of the time when they visit. Our Walnut Gorgonzola salad is our most popular. Co-founder/Loop "foodie" Terry Schneider continues to create new and exciting salads that are introduced each year as limited-time offers.

The Loop's original Tomato Bisque has become one of the most talked-about menu items. Another signature item at The Loop is our hand-dipped milkshakes. They're served along with the stainless mixing tin, giving our guests 1½ shakes.

PizzaMarketplace: In 2003, The Loop had an expansion plan in place. Why did the company follow a different plan and where does it stand now in terms of growing?

Mike Schneider: Just prior to the 'great recession,' The Loop prepared a strategic development plan. The launch of that plan was delayed. We are now prepared to re-introduce our brand to the marketplace. Our average unit volumes are strong, as is our profitability.

Wherever The Loop is located, the brand has become an "institution" within that community. With the opening of our new prototype design in the fall of 2012, we will once again be prepared to market our unique concept (burgers, pizza, and salads) to prospective franchise operators.

Some of the new features at the prototype restaurant will include a larger area for take-out orders, outdoor seating, and Wi-Fi. There will also be a 50-foot mural by local artist Steve Williams on one of the walls. There are new plans of this prototype for other units.

PizzaMarketplace: Your marketing initiatives have ranged from Mother's/Father's Day promotions to holiday coupon books to text message campaigns. Have you found any more success with some marketing strategies over others?

Mike Schneider: A lot of our most successful marketing campaigns have been when we are introducing a new product, like our current limited-time offer promotion the Five-Cheese Pizza. Years ago, we didn't have social media to use so we did the standard things like in-store point of purchase displays, direct mail and local magazines.

For the past few years we have come to rely on Facebook, our E-mail Club, and text messaging as a big part of our plan.

Although we still use the traditional marketing methods, we are now able to reach a much broader and more targeted audience. Moving forward, we will continue to use social media. It seems to change every day and we do our best to keep up with the newest trends. Social marketing is not only effective for us, it is also affordable.

Check out some of The Loop's signature menu items here.

Read more about operations management.

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