Canadian Pizza Magazine

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Talking tech with Tumblers

A Regina institution dishes on establishing its online presence


Dine in, takeout and delivery are all on the menu at Tumblers Pizza – and so are multiple ways to connect with customers.

Dine in, takeout and delivery are all on the menu at Tumblers Pizza – and so are multiple ways to connect with customers. For many years, this Regina eatery, founded by Jim Baiton in 1984, relied on traditional marketing tactics to build its brand. Chief among these were print advertising and cold calling inactive numbers in the customer database. But times change and so do marketing strategies.

The first incarnation of the Tumblers website (www.tumblerspizza.com) launched in 2004. It has been revamped four times; the current version debuted in 2008. In the years since, Tumblers’ marketing strategy has been rapidly evolving to keep pace with technology. In September, the restaurant broke into the smartphone market, launching an iPhone app.

Canadian Pizza chatted with Reid Baiton, who bought the family business from his father in 2006, about the web, the mobile market, and what the new year holds for Tumblers’ online marketing mix.

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How did you go about designing the website?
I looked at the different options. Obviously there are big companies that you can get to do it, or you can just get someone that’s private that’s really good with websites and computers. I knew a guy just starting out so I took a leap of faith with him. He was a university student that was just finishing graphic design and computer website design.

I looked at the big website designers and they wanted $3,000 to $5,000 for a pretty decent website; I ended up building a website for less than $500.

What kind of things did you talk about while you were in the planning phase?
The first thing was that I really wanted to make sure it was easy to use, that people could navigate, and that it had all the information. That’s the biggest pet peeve I have – websites that are complicated to navigate and that don’t have simple information like contact information. I wanted to make sure there were some pictures up. I wanted to make sure there was a menu on there. I wanted to make sure that [customers] had our specials and were able to connect with us on the social networking level.

We wanted to have an actual video commercial go up into the splash page, but it took too much bandwidth and it wouldn’t load on a lot of people’s computers. That was before people were embedding a lot of YouTube videos into their websites. Instead we did a Flash player that plays the video. It’s smaller, so it loads faster.

How many hours went into the site, from start to finish?
Definitely over 100. I worked with a newer guy, so I had to really let him know what I wanted. I didn’t just say ‘here, build me a website and I’m going to come back to you and pay you.’ I sat down with him quite a bit and helped him design it.

We’ve had four different versions of the website; this is our fourth hard update where we’ve reformatted the website. Everything used to be HTML and there was no audio, then we went and developed it to the point that it’s at now. It’s still in its development phase. Every month we’re updating the site, and then every six months we do something to the website actually giving it a new spin.

How much of the site can you update yourself?
I have to do it with my web designer. He has showed me how to do updates, but with how busy I am and with all the coding that’s involved… I’m not a computer guy, so he does it.

How have you maintained your relationship with your web developer since the site launched?
I have the rights to my URL and the rights to my domain name, so I control that. Then I have a contract for five years with this gentleman. If he doesn’t want to come, I could definitely get someone else to do it.

My website is in Flash, so we’re able to load the website onto an iPhone, onto an Android and onto a BlackBerry very simply. The web server identifies if you’re on a mobile device or if you’re on a home computer. As soon as it sees that you’re on a mobile device, it will actually switch to a different version of the website. When I built that version, I used somebody different because my [web developer] wasn’t too knowledgeable about mobile websites. I had another local university student do the mobile site for me.

The mobile version was a big thing because with it we were able to be on smartphones. Before we weren’t able to because there was so much Flash content on our website that the smartphone wouldn’t load it.

A few months ago, you launched a Tumblers Pizza iPhone app. How are you tracking the impact your app is having on business?
Right now we have 287 users on our iPhone app. We have a location services device so we can tell where they’re downloading the app in the city.

A push notification will actually push to the user screen just as a text message or a Facebook message would on the iPhone. The user has to allow that when they originally download the app. It lets us know their location and it allows us to use push notifications to send out a special. If we want to track it, we’ll do a discount, say $15 off a large pizza, or about half price. Then we’ll measure how many calls we get off that.

The last time we did something was about a week and a half ago and we got about 23 responses. My dad, who’s been in the business for over 30 years, says he’s never seen anything that can be that direct to the customer. They have to read it when it’s pushed to their phone to cancel it. 

How much did you invest in developing the app?
I spent $1,500 on it and then I probably spent about five hours of time with the developers. They didn’t really know restaurants well, so I made sure that I got everything that I wanted.

What do you see happening with your web strategy in the new year?
Online ordering – definitely I see that. I’m going to invest more time and money into mobile because people are spending more time on their smartphone as opposed to spending time on their home computer. I think the wave of the future is the smartphone – people are going to do a lot of their purchasing with them.

We did a Groupon and through that, we ended up getting a lot of new customers. A lot of these people are web savvy. Our Urbanspoon rank went up, our Facebook likes went up, our users on our app went up. We did the Groupon right after we launched our iPhone app and we only had about 20 [app] users. After I did my Groupon, we added about 200 new users in a week. Without even looking at any stats, I can see that on the smartphones is where I need to be.

The iPhone app was originally going to be $10,000 to design and eventually it came down to $1,500, so I could afford it.

If you could give one piece of web advice to other restaurateurs, what would it be?
A website is a must – you have to have one.If you’re not on the Internet, people aren’t going to see you. It would be like not having a sign on your building.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited and condensed.