The greatest challenge for any independent pizzeria is getting the word out, also known as marketing.
Most of us think that as long as we make a great pizza and provide friendly service, customers will come back again and again – and tell their friends and families. But that’s not a marketing plan: that’s a company mission statement.
A marketing plan consists of new customer acquisition, lost customer reactivation and customer retention strategies, to name just a few elements. The vast majority of independent and chain pizzeria owners don’t have a clue about how to attract a customer in the first place and know even less about how to keep them coming back.
We put all the responsibility on the customer to come back to see us. Most independents will copy the chain restaurants, send out thousands of glossy flyers with coupons and hope that sales will follow. The best-case scenario for unaddressed ad mail is a three to four per cent response rate with 96 to 97 per cent waste. That’s not what I’d call an efficient sales strategy. It’s more like a lot of wasted money.
As an independent pizzeria owner, your job is to make sure your customers remember you. With their busy family and work schedules it is very easy for them to forget you. Customers have lots of choices of where to eat and where to spend their money. Why should they choose you over any one of those options? That’s the big-money question: why are you special and what can you offer your customers that other pizzerias can’t or won’t?
The answer to that question is your unique selling proposition, or USP. If you are unable to answer that question then your customer really has no compelling reason to spend their money at your establishment over another. After all, if you as the owner don’t know what sets you apart, why should the customer?
Give customers a bunch of reasons to visit you. Do you make your dough on site and prepare everything fresh? If so, it’s important to let your customers know that, especially if your competition is mostly large chains that prepare very little product on site. Do you offer a gluten-free or vegan option on your menu? Are you open for lunch or late at night? Do you offer catering? Do you have a take-and-bake option? Is your chicken whole muscle while others are using chopped and formed chicken? Do you make and blend your marinara yourself while your competition uses sauce from a can? Do you use 100 per cent dairy cheese while the other guy uses a soy cheese? Is your mozzarella low fat?
Everything inside your store is a potential marketing strategy: even simple things like having a uniform for your staff and maintaining a spotless restaurant are marketing strategies. Your level of customer service is vitally important as well. Do you treat each and every customer as you would like to be treated? Better yet, does your staff? All it takes is one bad employee to sabotage your business and cost you thousands of dollars in future sales. How you handle complaints is another marketing strategy. Mistakes happen, and just one upset customer who isn’t well taken care of can easily tell hundreds or thousands of others about it through social media and damage a stellar reputation. You really need to think of everything as marketing if you want to be successful in this business.
New customer acquisition strategies and lost customer campaigns are important but customer retention can make or break you. It costs eight to 10 times more money to attract a new customer than it does to reactivate a lost one, and in comparison, very little to keep your existing customers coming back again and again. Marketing isn’t just one or two or three different things: marketing is everything you and your staff do in your shop and how you interact with each customer. It’s a daily battle that you must win if you want to survive in this industry.
If you give customers valid, compelling reasons to continue to order from you, and if you make things right in the event that someone does drop the ball, then you’re certain to stay on the winning side.
Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine Chef of the Year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, owner of Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg and a director for the CRFA [now Restaurants Canada] from 2009-2013. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis. For more information, contact her at email@example.com.
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