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* Randy Blair is the owner of Pizza and Pipes, a restaurant in Santa Clara, Calif.
Though I've read a lot of stories about sales dropping at major chains, my single-unit operation continues to enjoy modest sales increases, despite being located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Sometimes I think my place is somewhat impervious to the recession, because we are a comfortable neighborhood restaurant. We don't have much tile or stainless, but we have character and a solid bond with the community. That's produced many loyal customers, the kind of business relationships I want to have.
One key reason for our success was a seminar led by marketing guru, Jeffrey Gitomer, at the Las Vegas Pizza Expo two years ago. In his presentation, Gitomer differentiated between businesses that have loyal customers, and those that have satisfied customers. A satisfied customer, he said, is one who will shop price, seek coupons and probably return with the right incentives. But a loyal customer, he added, is one who will sing your praises, refer others to you and help you grow your business.
Get 'em to Love You
Loyal customers also are those who've had memorable experiences at your place. When I asked myself whether my customers' experiences were memorable, it inspired me to make some changes, such as these.
* Stop mailing out coupons or spending money on advertising any longer. Take that money and sink it into marketing promotions that generate word-of-mouth advertising, the kind generated by loyal customers.
* For us, going the extra step for birthday celebrations works much better than maintaining a database and mailing out gift certificates like we used to. We welcome parties for all occasions with open arms. We also give birthday parties a free bottle of champagne if they dine in on their birthday (ID required but no reservations required). We also offer smaller discounts or free appetizers or desserts for people who dine in close to their birthday. Imagine celebrating your birthday at a restaurant three days after the actual date, and you still get free hot wings. You might remember that.
* Think about what would be fun and unusual for your guests and your staff. This summer, when sales are down, we've got a special plan. Recently, my 4-year-old was watching a video in which children were all wearing crazy wigs. I thought that looked kind of cool, so I am going to buy a bunch of colored, clown-hair wigs and offer a special deal once a week, month or whatever works, for anyone willing to wear the wigs while dining.
I can see it now ...a dining room full of yellow, red, green, orange and purple heads, all munching my pizza. Guess I might have to take a picture, make a poster and build that promotion. Think kids will love it? Think it will be memorable?
"Make the experience at your place consistent, fun and memorable. Be the kind of place the average family wants to visit over and over."
* Use your imagination and consider what you could do differently. My store does a huge daytime catering business for three school districts. We started with one district and built it up one school at a time. We also have mini-pizza lunch specials and offer a happy hour Monday through Friday. We do corporate catering for more than a few small and large businesses. All catering orders get extras that most of my competition does not provide.
We also run in-house and carryout specials every night of the week. The biggest discounts fall on Monday and Tuesday, followed by smaller ones on the weekend.
* Charge for delivery -- they'll gladly pay for it. Our wage for starting drivers has risen to $9 per hour, but our drivers use their own vehicles and must carry a minimum of $250,000 liability coverage. On top of that, my company must be named as an additional insured on their policy.
To offset these costs, we charge $3 per delivery. When we tell people that they can save $3 by picking up their order, guess what? Ninety-nine percent of the time they say, "That's OK, you can deliver it!"
* Sweeten the deal. We put chocolate mints in every box, just like you, right? No? You don't? When it's time for Mom or Dad to order pizza, guess which pizza kids want: the one with candy or the one without?
Activity Breeds Activity
I believe there always needs to be something going on at my restaurant. People must know they will have a good time, get good food and good service. They must know that there is a chance to have something memorable happen.
Consider what it is that will make your customers talk about dinner at your place -- and don't be afraid to consider something unusual, such as this idea from a newsletter I get from restaurant consultant Bill Marvin. He suggested that if you know "Joey" is coming in to your store for a birthday celebration, then write, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOEY" in colored chalk on the sidewalk outside your front door. Think Joey will remember that?
Some quick ideas that may make dining at your place memorable:
* If you offer counter service like I do, deliver the pizzas to the tables.
* Clear away empty pizza pans and plates ASAP. Customers will appreciate the attention to their table.
* Offer a variety of reading materials.
* Have a separate play area for kids.
* Install changing tables for babies in restrooms, and stock it with wipes and diapers.
* Get bibs for the kiddies and supply coloring activities.
* Give away tickets to local sports events.
Though it may not seem like it's producing any results at first, these efforts add up over time and serve to distinguish your place from others.
Feed Your Mind
Also, study word-of-mouth marketing techniques and apply what you learn. Visit PizzaMarketplace.com often, and read other foodservice industry publications. Buy Jeff Gitomer's book. Attend seminars. Buy more books. Talk to customers. Ask for their opinions and listen to their answers. Above all TAKE ACTION.
I'm finally at the point where I don't have time to implement all things I want to do. If you are not in the same position, then get busy making changes.
Make the experience at your place consistent, fun and memorable. Be the kind of place the average family wants to visit over and over.
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