Innovative loyalty programs that keep customers coming back
Marketing is not a one size fits all process. Demographics such as number of homes, income and employment opportunities play a part in successful marketing. A recent survey aimed at small town pizzerias discovered that the overwhelming majority of these operators say they love the personal interactions with customers and community in general. If you love it, capitalize on it — make people love you, too. These personal relationships are the basis and advantage a small-town pizzeria has over a larger player.
To quote Sesame Street: “Who are the people in your neighborhood? They are the people that you meet when you are walking down the street each day.” That is your target market.
We look at tactics that work from three such operators:
• Melissa Rickman, Chef and CEO of Wholly Stromboli, Fort Lupton, Colorado
• Cecil Ison, CEO of Ison’s Family Pizza, Batesville, Indiana
• Scott Anthony, Owner / Operator of Punxsy Pizza, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania
These marketers realize that WOM (word of mouth) is not a lost art. In a small town where neighbors know and talk, they are much more likely to get a recommendation where to eat. Those who create media relationships also gain an avenue to get the word out and make people talkative about your activities. Ison tells us: “A successful tactic is our local radio station. We host a local sports show on Monday night called Coach’s Corner. We also sponsor local school broadcasts, running commercials throughout. I can always tell if a commercial is working if either a new or limited time item is on and sales spike.” Small town sports are an essential marketing avenue as every kid, parent and grandparent loves to hear about their friends and family. Why not throw a little pizza talk in the conversation? Ison also donates food to first responders and the hospital. He states, “We are always taking part as sponsors at the local sports clubs. I take pride in hearing from teachers and parents that kids only want our pizza. We remind customers that we are proud to be part of Batesville.”
Rickman concurs: “Never underestimate the power of people. Support them and they will return the favor.” Find out what is important to your community and do what you can to help further that cause, even creating your own events to support it. When other businesses set up shop, be the first to support them. ‘Support local’ goes both ways. Just as Ison’s presence is known at local sporting events, Rickman is present at local events such as a “Taste Of” event or chili competition. She recommends, “anything where we can feed some folks, we are there with our branded ‘easy up tent’ and all of the trimmings. We bring our atmosphere and hospitality. We hand out branded grocery bags, T-shirts and cups. Our secret weapon is a free sample of our award-winning bread pudding — mom’s recipe, of course.”
I, aka Punxsy Pizza, endorse this. For 19 years, I have annually held a fundraiser supporting our local volunteer fire company – something everyone needs. It’s turned out to be a win-win for everyone. Our 2019 event sold over 5,400 pizzas in a day with 100 percent of the profits donated. This brought us much free publicity from several regional media outlets. Know your community and associate with key organizations.
Once WOM and TOMA (top of mind awareness) are in place they must be maintained. For Rickman, she refers to her recipe for success, called the 100 percent rule. “All of the things mentioned are important, but unless you commit 100 percent to these things, 100 percent of the time, at 100 percent volume it won’t matter. You can’t execute excellence part time. Be different, unique and bold.” She explains, “Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. What are you doing that no one else is, and then knock it out of the park! Our hook is our East Coast theme and our Ginormous 24-inch Stromboli.” Mainstream operators tout a signature dish.
Ison’s marketing reminds customers that their pizza has done well against heavyweights in the business at various pizza competitions. ‘When you get an Ison’s pizza you get quality’, is a phrase he’s overheard on several occasions. All three of these operators are regulars at Pizza Expo, seeing the advantage of continual education and bringing new ideas home. Just marketing the fact you’re among the one percent of pizzerias rubbing shoulders with the best at an international event is big news in a small town.
Customer replacement is challenging in small markets. The truth is that people move, die or for other reasons aren’t customers anymore. Ison plans a new venture with local realtors that will give each person buying a home a meal of breadsticks, pizza and cookies as a welcome gift. Anthony also has a new mover’s program, sending a mail invitation to new persons in the area to try a free pizza. The enclosed letter also tells them the story of his pizzeria. He reports an 80-percent redemption rate with 60-percent retention. Rickman focuses on local relationships to motivate new persons to come to her establishment. She emphasizes, “We make sure our food is made with the best ingredients around. We partner with companies that share our values, from the micro brews on tap, to the locally distilled spirits, cheese, tomatoes and the olive oil we use. We develop relationships with these businesses. We know who we are “partnering” with to provide the elevated experience that is Wholly Stromboli.”
Does technology make a difference in a small town? We all concur with Rickman’s words: “Technology provides us with the data that we need to navigate these tough times,” she says. “What is our labor cost? How are sales year over year, month over month, week and day? Are we moving in the right direction? Add to that the changing habits of our guests. Online ordering adds a level of upselling. “Enhancing the guest experience,” we call it. That is impossible over the phone. It provides ease of ordering and improved accuracy. From on-boarding employees, scheduling, timekeeping and payroll, we’ve gone totally paperless. I would caution you to consider your brand when introducing technology to your guests. It was important for us to maintain the personal touch, not to lose sight of the humans in all of it.” Most POS systems along with online ordering platforms allow for consistent branding.
Ison adds: “To be completely honest we are just getting up to speed on the tech side. My son is helping us with making videos for pre-training new employees and we have added Instagram to our Facebook postings. Making the jump to a POS system with integrated online
ordering was a great decision to make. We market the online ordering a lot.”
Social media’s use of images, videos and live feeds is proving to be an invaluable tool in connecting with our customers. After all in a small town you are the ‘face’ of your business, so be seen. People want to invest in a person, not in a company.
Small Towns: Where everybody knows everyone (and everything).
SCOTT ANTHONY owns Punxsy Pizza in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.