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A beacon in the night

Flashing gadget speeds delivery times


March 25, 2008
By Tiffany Mayer

Topics

When it comes to inventions, the Pizza Beacon is the bright light in the bunch.

Flashing gadget speeds delivery times

beaconWhen it comes to inventions, the Pizza Beacon is the bright light in the bunch.

And that’s a good quality to have, considering its purpose is to show those purveyors of pizza, a.k.a. the delivery guy, where, exactly, he’s supposed to drop off his order.

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“The whole delivery practice between the driver and the customer is a touchy situation,” explained Alex Saban, the Pizza Beacon’s inventor. “(The driver) is hunting and pecking for addresses, they’re searching through neighbourhoods, making some people uncomfortable. This you can see one-and-a-half to two miles away.”

Simply put, the Pizza Beacon is a lit up lodestar. Eight tiny red light bulbs dotting the perimeter of three-inch by three-inch square of plastic flash in a pattern specific to a pizzeria and recognizable by drivers. Equipped with a magnet and suction cups or a lanyard, the hungry occupants of a house or apartment flip the switch to ‘on’ and place the Pizza Beacon on a door or window, signalling to the driver that theirs is the home he should be delivering to.

“If you think about a new driver that’s not used to the routine and they see this red flashing light … you’ve avoided the hunting and pecking, the wear and tear on his car and gas,” Saban said.

The Pizza Beacon is much more than a guiding light, though. Saban, a manufacturer of building materials by trade and based in Virginia, originally invented the beacon as a safety tool. Its first incarnation was actually a stop sign that lit up. However, Saban explained, the road sign business wasn’t easy to break into and the lights went down on that project.

The idea then morphed into the Halloween Beacon, an orange light that could be fastened to costumes so trick or treaters would be easily seen – and avoided – by cars while collecting candy.

The light went off in Saban’s head again when a friend who delivered pizzas called him to complain about the difficulty of finding houses. He developed a crude prototype of the Pizza Beacon and headed to a trade show in Atlantic City with hopes of wowing pizza bigwigs, such as Papa John’s.

“They saw potential and saw possibilities,” Saban recalled.

Back home and back at the drawing board, Saban redesigned the beacon into a sleek three by three piece of plastic adorned with lights and a company logo. His beacon would do quadruple duty: as a signal for delivery drivers, and when it wasn’t beckoning, it would be a fridge magnet and promotional tool. It could also serve as a coupon, with pizzerias offering occasional discounts to Pizza Beacon holders.

The original idea was that the chains would buy the beacons for $2.50 each and sell them to customers for $5. Sounds steep, but when Saban considered the time saved on deliveries, and the money that wouldn’t need to be spent printing paper coupons or producing other un-pizza-like promos to give away, such as footballs or hats, the Pizza Beacon was a good investment.

“We’ve been trained in the pizza business to give it away. This goes against the grain,” he said. “We weren’t getting very far giving (footballs) away.”

Saban called Papa John’s back to let them know the progress he’d made. He was told the company was already developing something similar. The patent office was the one doing the beckoning now and Saban protected his invention.

Since then, he has been hitting trade shows, piquing curiosity at each stop and selling the concept to the smaller, independent pizzerias, including a few in Quebec. As Saban put it, starting small is the only way the Pizza Beacon will get big – an inevitable fate, according to him.

“The Domino’s, the Papa John’s, they’re waiting for it to be accepted in the industry first,” Saban said. “They’ll wait and see if it has staying power, so that’s one year. They want to see if it will last forever. That’s two years. I’ve got 17 years to ride out this patent.” •