About 15 years ago, I entered the restaurant industry as a marketing rep without any experience in pizza. However, it didn't take long for me to realize that the pizza business was significantly different from other restaurant groups; it's more complex. After all, any food group that can stand alone as its own billion-dollar industry demands special attention.
Immediately recognizing my need to gain a greater understanding of the business, I started working out of our store in Carpentersville, Ill., to learn about pizza from the kitchen up. I must admit that I was not too great at Pizza 101. It had always looked easy, but there was so much more to it than I had ever realized. I was pretty awful at putting pizzas in folder, and to this day I still hate boxing pies, but I love the marketing value of the pizza box. Boxes are a necessity for pizza delivery, but to me their real value is in the artwork. Every time I see an empty pizza box in a recycling bin, I don't see a pizza box, I see an advertising banner shouting, "Somebody just ate from this empty box, and must have liked it."
Back when I was starting out, POS systems were DOS-based and the term 'user-friendly' had not yet been invented. I hated the systems, but truly loved the relationship marketing lists, or 30/60/90 day lists, they would spit out on the good old dot matrix printer. Although indispensible, using these lists required a significant investment of time, first compiling information and then handwriting postcards one at a time. This was a ritual task usually done in that 2 to 4 p.m. down time every day.
Choices for marketing were generally limited to vehicles such as phonebooks, newspapers and marriage mailers if you went paper, but if you wanted more impact and could afford the price, there was always TV and radio. Needless to say, customer communication was very slow; it's not called snail mail for nothing. Calculating ROI was time consuming and usually consisted of keeping coupons in a box under the counter, then counting them by hand and developing charts. Between taking orders, counting change and handing out pizzas, the counter staff didn't stand a chance at getting it right, and tracking was way off.
Oh my, how times have changed! With the advent of the Internet and email, marketing now moves at the speed of light. Getting your message out to customers can be instantaneous, and the return can be calculated just as fast. Pizza 101 couldn't even conceive of blogging, G+ or Foursquare. Social media was not even on the horizon.
A few weeks ago we lost our senior project manager, who also happened to be our social media/ IT expert. Abiding by the golden rule of Pizza 101 (when a man goes down I must seamlessly take his place), I am now the one sending out email blasts, posting on Facebook and tweeting every day. This just goes to show that old pizza guys can learn new tricks. This may not be easy, but then again neither is the pizza business.
We will, of course, eventually hire someone new. Hopefully, that person will be a master of technology and can educate me in the art of maneuvering in an ever-advancing digital world. It's clear that social media is the present, so embrace and learn to love it. The future will undoubtedly bring something new, the next great thing, and as savvy business people we need to welcome the opportunity to adapt and adjust to whatever comes next and to the mastery of Pizza 102.
Marla Topliff, president of Rosatis Pizza, has helped grow the Chicago franchise from 60 stores in 1999 to the 170 national brand that it is today. She supervises all aspects of marketing, customer service, store communications and vendor relationships.