Need some feedback

Wanted to get some input on a decision I am struggling with, and see what others think about it.

My Background:

At 23 years old I was an Area Supervisor overseeing 2 Papa John’s restaurants. My store (before I became the AS) was #2 in Comp Sales and FLM across the 59 stores the franchise owned. After some incidents occured that started to make me feel very misused by the company, I decided to take my savings and open up a DELCO store in Aug 2011.

When I first opened up, it was bad… and I mean bad. My recipes that I thought were fantastic, were being knocked down. My attempt at trying to use deck ovens as an initial cost saver, came back to bite my hard in the ass. The fact that I opened with no working capital for marketing? I was dancing in the streets if I hit $1,000 for the WEEK. Of course, all this led me to operating my store with myself doing everything on the inside, and family members helping with deliveries for just tips.

I came here looking for advice, and being the educated person I am I took the advice given to me. I listened to some of the harsh criticism, and worked on reworking things. I continuously tweaked my recipes, got advice about concerns with it and my sauce from the tank, invested in a conveyor oven and a walk in cooler, and started planning all the marketing I could.

Around March of this year, things started looking up as I did some free pizza marketing to local businesses, and I went from 600 - 800 a week, to about $1,300 - $1,600 a week (I know, that’s nothing but it was a start). My wife and I had our wedding on April 28th, and with our plans to start a family we put our extra money that we had been holding on to for wedding expenses into marketing the business, and gave ourselves a strict deadline to see improvement.

Now as of today, we’re nearing almost $4,000 a week (due mostly in part to a campaign with TheMailShark.com) which was over the threshold we had given ourselves. While it is still not “a lot”, it is a significant improvement (in my mind considering some of the losses we took at the beginning), and it is enough to pay overhead expenses (including the lease on a new Point of Sale, and our marketing), but still requires my free labor and that of some family members (though we do have part time employees that help on the weekend).

My Question:

Since the product change up, I am constantly getting positive reviews and feedback from customers. In fact, in the past several months I have received way more phone calls or Facebook comments in regards to what a great product we have, than anything even remotely negative. The biggest hurdle now is I am reaching my exhaustion point. Our daughter is due in the beginning of December, and I am finding it hard to plan local store marketing while stuck doing all of the day to day.

My current part time manager is my old assistant manager from Papa John’s, and I have been seriously considering having here take over a good portion of the day to day operations, almost like a General Manager, to leave me to focus on meeting with schools, churches, businesses, etc and planning different marketing events, customer days, etc, as well as allowing me to do the deliveries so that my family members do not have to be burdened with them anymore.

In addition, I am also thinking about expanding my menu to include basic cold cut subs (right now we just serve Pizza, Wings, Breadsticks, 3 salads, and sodas), as well as expand my salad selection and add on a few more flavors of wings, to increase current customer ordering as well as procure new customers (as we do lose a lot of business due to not having subs).

So, I apologize for some portions that seem like rambling (I just wanted to make sure you all had the picture I have), but I would grealty appreciate the feedback of operators here. I respect the opinions of people on this board, and highly value all feedback.

I can’t remember where I came across this so I can’t give proper credit.

There are generally two types of owners in the pizza industry. First is the owner/operator who spends the bulk of his time working IN the business. He does all the daily task that keep the place making food for the customers. He works side by side in he kitchen with his employees.

The second is the owner/organizer who spends the bulk of his time working ON the business. He does all things that GROW the business. This would be things like planning marketing strategies, public relations visits, procuring the best vendors and so on.

It looks as though you are looking to make the transition from the first to the second. I found there was a transition period where I really didn’t want to let go of the daily task but knew it would be better for the store if I did. Although I still make the occasional pizza and wash the occasional dish I know my time is more valuable than what I would pay someone else to do those jobs.

If you can spend an hour and gain a customer who will spend $100 a month you are way ahead of where you would be washing dishes.

Best of luck with your transition to owner/organizer.

Sounds like you have the quality product that is needed. And you obviously know that help is just a keystroke away in developing additional quality menu offerings. And there is no question in my mind that you are committed…busted your hump for a couple of years already, without a payoff.

Questions: Do you have customer seating? What’s your market…size, mix (residential, commercial, industrial), age, income? Who are your competitors, and for those that are independents, how respected are they by the market? How do your prices compare with others (are they high enough)?

None of us expect to reinvent the wheel, but maximizing your “market share” and keeping your prices high enough to reflect the higher quality of you product may be the key for you.

Daddio,

Thank you very much for that insight, definitely a fantastic way to look at it!

Piedad,

Q: Do you have customer seating?
A: No, we are strictly delivery and takeout, a little under 1,000 sqft.

Q: What’s your market…size, mix (residential, commercial, industrial), age, income?
A: I have a large trade area, that I will inevitably have to narrow down in the future but at this time is manageable. It includes approximately 60,000 residentials, approximately 2,000 businesses, no real industrial. Average age for the area is high 50s, income from the sections very from $20-30k in the lower areas, mid aroubnd $50-60k, and high end around $90-100k.

Q:Who are your competitors, and for those that are independents, how respected are they by the market?
A: In the above mentioned area I have 9 Chains that deliver to a large portion of my area (1 Papa John’s Pizza, 3 Domino’s Pizzas, 2 Hungry Howies, 1 Little Caesars, 2 Pizza Huts). In addition there is 1 well established full service italian restaurant that does delivery and carry out, 1 coal fired pizza place that does dine in and carry out only, and 4 other local independents that are not as well represented. We are personally gaining traction however, as us along with one other local one (the coal fired place) were mentioned in a newspaper article searching for the best pizza in the area.

Q: How do your prices compare with others (are they high enough)?
A: My prices are mid range for my area, not as low as Domino’s and Little Caesars, but not as high as the two sit down restaurants. Using a 14" pie as a base, my regular menu price is $9.99 for cheese, $1.00 per topping, $14.99 for specialties. However I am currently running a $12 up to 5 topping or specialties. To be honest, from observation I certainly don’t think I would be able to raise pricing any more than that being a strictly delco, as all the others are in line. The only ones higher are the full serve restaurants. For my full pricing I have my menu on Facebook, http://www.unclenickspizza.com/facebook

In my first business, letting go was very hard, but it is essential for growth. I agree with the ‘work on not in’ your business.

Once we open, I plan to work in only as long as it takes to create procedures and policies, then I’ll replace myself, and start working on growing it.

Hey Nick. First, awesome ad on the back of Pizza Today mag! Second, thanks for your shout out to Mailshark. I am in the process of doing an awesome menu with them right now! Third, my husband and I got married on April 28th out on Boca Grande (we are originally from Naples but now in NC). Finally and most important, congrats on the impending birth of your daughter!!

My husband bought his first pizza shop (with NO food experience whatsoever) in 2008. He does what I think you’d like to do. When he had 1 shop, he MAYBE worked 20 hours a week and managed to take a decent paycheck. First thing we learned is to take care of the employees. We pay bonuses to managers based on sales, performances, etc. We offer our people perks that chains would not offer. We buy diapers for employees’ new babies, free lunches for staff, help drivers pay for new tires when their cash flow is tight, buy gift certificates for their favorite store or restaurant for their birthdays, give them all free uniforms. Their hourly rate may not be the most competitive, but they love these perks. For advertising, we never did any mail stuff until Mail Shark (and that awful chain opened across from us). For advertising, We find a locally owned business, call them around 10am and say we are going to buy you lunch today. Our cost is small to send over a couple pizzas but the rewards we reap go quite far. We bank on “warm fuzzy feelings” rather than boring old mailers or print ads. My husband spends time every week comparing food costs between a couple of different suppliers. Sounds like if you like your manager, you need to sit down with him or her and have a heart to heart. Maybe offer some type of ownership?

You are growing and this is great. Have you considered HOT subs? Often times, your ingredients can be kept frozen. Chicken parm, meatball, chicken bacon ranch, chicken philly use stuff you probably already use for pizzas? My point being, keep it simple, consistent, friendly and make sure your local community knows your heart and soul goes into your product. Support local charities. I am personally not a big fan of extensive menus - too much overhead. Lots of luck to you. Port Charlotte is a great community.

VAScotty,

Thank you for a reply. I am finding that letting go is a bit of a hard thing, but I know it’s the right thing and needs to be done. Your input is very reassuring to that fact!

Eatmorepizzanc,

Thank you for those kind words! I appreciate it. Boca Grande is a beautiful place to have a wedding! The information about your husbands start is really helpful, as it does seem to be a lot like what I want to do. I agree in giving out free product, calling school front offices, businesses, churches, etc and asking to bring a free lunch, and I definitely believe that by bringing it personally it will mean so much more. As will me personally going to talk to them about fundraiser opportunities, and personally attending events that we sponsor and cater. With your information I do feel reinforced in my original thoughts, thank you!

As far as hot subs, I have thought of that. Right now my oven is only 32x40 (Lincoln Impinger) so it is a bit smaller, and I only have the one conveyor. I want to offer several cold subs and additional salads in order to expand “non oven” items, to increase productivity to help me afford another oven. Do you use a microwave or a small oven for your subs, or do you use them on your traditional oven?

We run the hot subs through the bottom conveyor at a slower speed in one store and in the other store we run them through a half turn. They come out pretty good either way. Best of luck to you!