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To say the least, Kamron Karington's start in the pizza business was inauspicious. His early days as owner saw him scramble to learn to make pizza, his mixer go kaput and some of his employees quit.
Dave Ostrander's learning curve was equally steep and lasted years into his career as an owner. His business was running pretty well, but he couldn't call on anyone to teach him how to make it hum, so "I wound up learning everything by mistake."
The Cliff's Notes versions of their stories have happy endings as both eventually built and sold successful pizza companies. Now their careers center on sharing the secrets they learned — the very shortcuts they wished they'd known when they started — which they'll do at the Pizza Operators Workshop, set for Feb. 18 in Columbus, Ohio. The third-annual event is a daylong, two-track seminar designed for pizza novices and experienced operators looking grow their businesses. The workshop precedes the 2006 North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show, held Feb. 19-20.
Known in the industry as "Big Dave," Ostrander jokingly called the workshop a "bring your own apron party," since some segments of the beginner's track will involve hands-on work with food. But he
NAPICS Pizza Operators Workshop
"If you're a new operator or you've been in the business for less than a year, you're probably in what I call the 'EO' mode, the employee-owner mode," said Ostrander, describing operators who work long hours and run every aspect of their businesses. "For people who've been doing this a while, we're going to talk about leaving the EO mode and promoting yourself to CEO."
Experience is an excellent teacher, Karington said, but it's the best teacher when it's someone else's experience.
"The quickest way to chop a decade off your learning curve is to sit down and listen to somebody who's been down the path you're about to take," he said. After selling his four-unit pizza company several years ago, he became a full-time marketing consultant and penned the "Black Book of Pizzeria Marketing." "If you want to get to the short cut, you've got to sit down with people who've already blazed this trail. You've got to get out of your operation and be with people who know what you're going through."
One workshop, two tracks
For operators ready to open their own pizzerias or who've been in the business for less than 18 months, Ostrander, Karington and dough expert Tom "The Dough Doctor" Lehmann will lead a Business Basics track. Included in this segment is detailed discussion led by Ostrander on what's necessary to get started, operational tips for making your pizzeria run smoothly and how to market a new business. Lehmann and Ostrander will spend nearly two hours with attendees in a full-functioning pizza test kitchen working with real product. If you've got dough woes, bring them all, Lehmann said.
"I'll be showing them little cheaters, as I like to call them, to help them handle heavy crunch periods until they improve their dough-handling techniques," said Lehmann, a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kan. "I'll also discuss dough-mixing techniques and various problems that are encountered in start-up operations. Some of those problems include getting different sized pizzas to bake consistently, things veterans have overcome."
Following the test kitchen, Karington will teach operators how to market their businesses.
"Maybe you're running a good operation already and you've got making pizza down, but there's no business coming in," he said. "Well, you're probably not connecting with the customers in your trade area. So we're going to go over the four major steps you have to address to persuade someone to try you out the first time."
The second track, Taking Your Business to the Next Level, will begin with Karington teaching in-depth marketing plans and tactics to "steal customers from your competitors." Speaking like a military commander, Karington said he will teach operators how to combine their advertising and marketing efforts "into a swift, blinding, violent campaign. If you're going to attack a competitor, you'd better come in by air, land and sea and cold-cock them. We're going to talk about how to do that."
Lehmann said he'll talk to operators in this track about menu expansion. The opportunity to add items like focaccia and calzone to a menu represents a chance to add variety for new sales opportunities.
Ostrander will instruct operators on the very thing he wished he'd learned much earlier in his career as owner of Big Dave's Pizza: how to let the business work for him and how to hire the right people to help make that happen.
"This is going to focus on maximizing profits and creating lines at their doors, the very things that will give them the freedom to get out of their
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Throughout the "Next Level" track, seven pizza operator experts will be on hand to answer in-depth questions and facilitate small-group discussions. Karington called the chance to sit and talk at length with other operators who are still in the business an unrivaled opportunity.
"I guarantee there's not a question that you've got that can't be answered in that room, because you're going to find somebody there who has that issue down cold," said Karington. "You're going to be meeting with peers, with people who've had blazing success, but who also know what it's like to make mistakes and overcome them."