Refining the recipe: Leading a pizza legacy brand into its best future

Refining the recipe: Leading a pizza legacy brand into its best future

By Michael Poates/President - Mr. Gatti's

With the pizza industry at an already staggering $46 billion of market share, any single brand's attempt to carve out a slice of the action can seem daunting, if not impossible. So while Mr. Gatti's has been a player in the pizza segment for

Mr. Gatti's President Michael Poates. Photo provided. 

nearly 50 years now, our goal is to operate the brand in a way that keeps us relevant for another 50.

To do that, we have learned that change is often necessary to keep guests excited about returning again and again. Then, their stories of excitement also attract new users to the brand.

Born again a half-century in

Over the last 38 months, we, at Mr. Gatti's, have spent time, money and resources to accomplish the following goals:

  • Re-energize our menu.
  • Optimize restaurant platforms through our corporate portfolio locations.
  • Modernize restaurants system-wide.
  • Holistically support for our franchise community. 

The over-arching goal of all this effort has simply been to kickstart our franchising endeavor. Toward that end, one of the most important, albeit tedious processes was reviewing our mission-critical legacy decisions and initiatives. 

We wanted to look at each of these through a different prism that overlays the legacy impact and risk to the Mr. Gatti's brand. So, we were asking questions like, "What has been the legacy impact of a prior decision?"  "Was it a cost versus quality issue?" 

We reviewed both positive decisions and initiatives, as well as those that created pain points in our brand's life. We wanted to understand why a decision was made, its residual effect in protecting the brand, and the perceived value of a quality experience a guest would have readily noticed.  

Through all this research, development, and listening we gained a better understanding of what drives our loyal guests, as well as what will attract new guests and where we should position ourselves in the crowded pizza and family entertainment segment. 

If you are looking to do the same, here are a few items that worked to help us reboot a legacy brand. 

Earn the credibility first

If you want your brand to last for generations to come, you must establish your branded reputation with your guests, as well as your corporate and franchise teams. Then, your job is to ensure that you have cemented that reputation in place. 

Any restaurant that has been able to not only survive, but to thrive for years, does so because they have found that key aspect that sets them apart. For Mr. Gatti's, we focus on two things that keep our guests coming back:

  • We serve a high-quality product, made fresh every day. 
  • We focus on quality family entertainment by providing a place for families to create new memories together.  

In earning credibility with your guests, keep your door open. Don't let the hierarchy of your organizational structure keep you from hearing the truth about what is happening out there, including feedback from team members who interact with guests daily. 

This vital information needs to be integrated into your decision-making process, as systems ensure consistency if they are followed. Be careful not to inadvertently reinvent the wheel instead of using the one you have here, too. I have seen lots of companies become "process-rich and action-poor."

Influencing change through excitement beats mandating it through directives

Aside from pleasing your guests, as a leader you must ensure that the entire system is excited about any upcoming changes. This includes everyone at headquarters and on through to your entire existing franchise network. You must ensure that you're not only properly communicating changes, but also fully explaining how they will benefit the entire system long-term. 

It's essential here that when you are delivering this message or messages you must also make plain to your audience the benefits they stand to receive as a result of the specific changes. In fact, get to that quickly!

So whether your brand is modernizing existing locations, introducing "the latest news" menu items, or debuting an entirely new platform, be sure to communicate clearly and frequently so that everyone is on the same page. 

One way to jumpstart franchising and new location openings is to start small and enlist your fan base's support, then execute your plans with perfection and grow into your overall strategy.  Each new location that joins the family is a "brand celebration" that must be touted and used as an invitation for the next. Build excitement while you are a catalyst for change. 

Protect your future by investing in it

Investing in the future of your brand and your network ensures that the brand will continue to grow, while simultaneously protecting it from competitor intrusion and erosion. Franchisors who want to re-energize a brand must put in the time and effort to ensure that growth. 

Modernizing can still be cost effective and simple. So remember to support your modernization efforts by:

  • Updating your look.
  • Creating menu news.
  • Refreshing your website and signage. 
  • Employing high-def photography.
  • Re-vitalizing your mobile app. 

Opening corporate-owned locations can also allow you to test and tweak the refreshed platform until it is perfected.  

Finally, be certain to "show" franchisees why you're making these updates and how your investment will ultimately build more confidence and excitement in existing and potential franchisees for your brand's new direction. 

Granted, none of this is easy. However, taking those hard first steps to boost your brand into its next chapter will ensure success now and well into the future. As leader, your job is to make sure the process is always fun, even when it's not. 

Inset photos: Provided

Feature photo: iStock

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Franchising & Growth, Menu Boards, Mobile Payments, Online Ordering, Operations Management, Workforce Management

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