Help me please! :(

We have a take out-delivery-small sit down pizza, pasta, wings, salads and soon to come hot/cold subs. Been in business 13 years in a small working class town. We were pretty devastated when last week a big chain (pj) opened directly across from us. The first few nights we didn’t feel it but last night was our 3rd worst night on record and it is usually one of our better nights with buy one get one free pizzas. We were down almost 50%. The new chain shop had 5 drivers (we had just 2 but sent one home) on and we just watched them come and go all night long right on the road in front of us. We do not think doing any direct mailers would be wise since most people already know us. Today we ordered all new car toppers since ours were looking tired and broken. Our prices are cheaper than theirs on every item we sell. We try to push the fact that we buy local produce and support all things locals…not sure if people care about this or not when they just want hot cheap food to feed their families. They only thing we don’t do is $10 anyway which we are considering.

Would love to hear some feedback with other shop owners who have been in similar situations.

It is hard to compete against the chains on “cheap”…In addition to “cheap” they put massive amounts of $$s into marketing to put their names “top of mind”…And if you go to battle against them, in the short term you will spend a lot of money without gaining much ground…So you may have to wait for the “buzz” to die down…

You may have to consider raising your prices and your product and going after a different piece of the pie…If the chain store takes enough of the low end, there may not be enough left for you…Does your storefront have “curb appeal”?..Maybe sprucing things up will cause folks that have not noticed you to take notice…Have you circulated a menu lately?..

Good luck…

No chance of getting fancy. We are the working class pizza shop. 3 large specialties for $23.99, large 1 toppings for $6.99, 3 medium 1 toppings for $15.

This is what appeals to the locals. We have enough fancy pizza shops around. Keep the ideas coming though!

It sounds like it may just be a “oh look at the new guy” phase. I would recommend keeping with your current consistency. Mailers are never a bad idea no matter how well known you are, it is about giving them a constant reminder. I am sure PJs is all over the TV, Radio, and mailboxes. Try to never go more than a few weeks without at least mailing to your existing customers. I used to run the local PJ before opening up my shop, so I know that they tend to hit the ground running, but eventually after the buzz has worn off they start to get lazy. It may just be a sit and wait game unfortunately. Although, I did do a campaign locally that (while I am not sure on the legalities of it, it never became a legal issue for me but had the local PJ sharing a few choice words with me). I send out a postcard that said, “When Better Isn’t Enough” and posted our offers. The people we targeted were those in an area that had just received a huge PJ mail out, and we indicated that we accept all mailed competitor coupons.

Nick: I have never done a postcard mailer before…could you tell me how you went about doing it? Did you hire an outside firm to do it for you? Thanks for the kind words. I suppose we should start accepting competitors’ coupons too - even though we are even cheaper than their best coupon. Grrrr. Dang chains.

Stop worrying about what the other guy is doing and concentrate on your game.

  1. No need to be cheaper than the other guy.
  2. If all your marketing is about price you are telling the customer that that is the only reason to buy from you.
  3. Comments above are right. New nationals put out a bunch of marketing and people will try them. The honeymoon does not last forever.


Sometimes people don’t pay as much attention to price as you may think. I remember several people talking about doing studies using coupons at one price point, and the same coupon at a higher price point and receiving similiar results. What they really care about is the perceived value in the coupon. By accepting competitor coupons you are letting the others guys spend money marketing for you, so that your customers will instantly think of you when getting a competitor coupon. Of course, it isn’t “that” simple but, that is the idea.

As far as the mailers there are several ways you can do it. Several companies on the forums here such as[/url] and [url=] do full service every door direct mail campaigns and take the guess work out of it. They do the design, print, and shipping. I actually currently use Mail Shark for some of my work.

Beyond that, you can just order postcards through these companies, and do the mailing yourself (to some people the savings is worthwhile, others consider their time more valuable, but in the end the results when executed properly should be the same). Do a direct mail campaign to all the addresses with in, let’s say 3 miles, from your store locations over the course of 3 - 4 weeks, and then repeat. You may be tempted to hit a larger quantity to start with, don’t. Focus on frequency over reach, and slowly build out. The objective is to keep yourself top of mind over the competitor for a few months. I used to call this my “Competitor Instrusion” plan at PJs, as we did this when any new shop opened up to help keep customers. After this period, consider keeping regular mailings going to your current customers using a address list from your point of sale (if it can’t do that, consider keeping a manual one).

Hope this helps!


It sounds like you have a lot of other competition in your town based on your comment “We have enough fancy pizza shops around” but it also sounds like they aren’t a real threat to you as you feel like Papa Johns is? Is this accurate?

Can you also share with us how you have been marketing your business?

With regards to doing a direct mail piece, here are a few thoughts based on comments on this thread.

  1. If you don’t plan on consistently using direct mail and you only plan on doing one piece, I would recommend considering a full color glossy menu, a postcard with a magnet on the back or a scratch off postcard. These are three of the top performers. **However, if you plan on changing your menu soon with the addition of the subs then you may want to wait on direct mailing the menu until the new menu rolls out.

  2. Make sure your piece is professional looking, mailed to the right areas and has strategic offers/coupons/specials. If you don’t you will be wasting your money.

I also agree with UncleNick and Bodegahwy you can’t get too caught up in the competition and need to stay focused on what you do best. I work with franchisees from the top pizza chains and believe me before they come to us the majority aren’t doing anything earth shattering at the local store level that would put you at a major disadvantage marketing wise.

Feel free to contact me at any time to knock heads.

Josh Davis
Vice President of Sales
Mail Shark
Direct: 484-948-1611

Mail Shark has been ranked by inc500 magazine for the second year in a row as one of America’s fastest growing companies. This year we ranked #864. Thanks to all of our customers for their business and support.

Thank you Josh at Mailshark. I actually have a message in to you guys via your website. I am going to start with the tri-fold menu EDDM and see how that goes. Our marketing in the past has really only been with sponsorships, box toppers and sending free pizzas out to local businesses for lunch. We also do ads in the local paper, sell pizzas at a couple local schools at lunchtime and Facebook regularly. We also make a habit of giving free cinnamon sticks out to our better customers from time to time. I cannot say we have ever felt the need to do a direct mailer until someone here suggested it. I look forward to working with you at Mail Shark! ~Melissa

This is a normal thing. PJ is blasting the area with a new store marketing blitz. Sit tight, and do not do anything or make any changes. It feels like you are going to lose everything, and things are hopeless, but take this time to concentrate on your game. Clean the shop (I mean really clean it), Take a look over your employees, How are the uniforms? Appearance? cars?

Put together a marketing plan. Right now, you have a group of customers in your database who are your customers. Focus on customer retention, not new customer generation (there is a huge difference). You can beat PJ with a focus on customer retention, but you will lose badly in the new customer generation game.

For marketing, start thinking about database mailers. PJ has no database. Avoid route mailers and bulk marketing.

Focus on your product. Is every pizza that goes out the door a 10? Are they at least the same? If you aren’t measuring cheese or toppings, you can be sure that customers will notice. It might be a good time to get portion control in place. If you are the only place in town, you can get away with a little inconsistency, but you can be sure that 99% of the pizzas that walk out PJ’s door are the same.

Things will even out after a while. Just don’t do anything right away, and you should pull through.

Thanks Pizzamancer…you made alot of great points. One funny thing we noticed right away…pj’s delivery car toppers were so dang bright on the road. We evaluated our car toppers - which sat in our back room broken, peeling, no power cords, sad. The next morning, we ordered 6 shiny new car toppers in the brightest shade of yellow we could stand. Then, magically, our least favorite employee gave his notice (a blessing actually). We also redesigned and ordered new shirts to provide our employees free of charge. We purchased a marquis sign and 5,000 menu mailers from Mailshark (who have been extremely professional by the way).

I think instead of worrying about someone else’s lawn, as hard as it is not to look, we have decided to fertilize and water our own grass. But I won’t lie, sales are down this week (20-30%) and it’s hard to not feel like we are about to lose our a**. Thanks for the great feedback and letting us know that you all have been in our shoes.