2010 January: Buy It Now

When Scott Gittrich founded Toppers Pizza in Champaign, Illinois, in 1991, he didn’t look for prime locations for his shop. After all, in the early 1990’s, 95 percent of his stores’ sales were delivery. But as his pizzerias became more popular and expanded into several states, he started rethinking how Toppers interacted with its customers.

“Back in the ‘80’s, we used to open locations in sort of hole-in-the-wall places,” Gittrich explains. “But as we’ve become more successful, we’ve decided to open Toppers in more prominent locations.” This geographical change also meant changes for his customer interactions. Rather than being 95 percent delivery, Toppers now attributes 30 percent of its sales to carryout. And a big part of a customer’s in-store experience is spent at the counter.

The counter is the “point-of-purchase” spot, usually shortened to POP.
And if all you’re using your POP counter for is your register, you’re missing out on a powerful way to increase your bottom line and better connect with your customers.

If you’re already making a pizza sale, is adding on a few cents here and there at the checkout really that big of a deal? Gittrich says it can be. He recently relocated one of his stores only six blocks from where the old store sat. But that short move took it from an area with almost no pedestrian traffic to a spot that had a lot of people walk by. “That store saw an 18 to 20 percent sales increase that can be attributed directly to the move,” he says. “The sales boost has all been at the counter.”

The natural inclination for store owners is to place only high-margin “impulse purchase” items at the POP counter. But this isn’t always the most effective use of this prime store space. In fact, Gittrich says he doesn’t really worry about the profi t margin of the items at Toppers’ POP counters, because “it’s all gravy,” he says.

“We have priced our pizzas so if they’re there to buy a pizza, we’re already making a profit,” he says. “So even if they just buy a few sodas, which aren’t a high-margin item, that’s still basically pure profit for me.”

Even though you shouldn’t necessarily worry about the margins on every item at your POP counter, do try to limit your space for things that either make money directly or boost your brand presence. If possible, leave the pick-up items like napkins, pepper packets and utensils in a sidebar area.

Izzy Ginzberg, CEO of Monetized Intellect, a business and marketing strategy firm, says he advises clients to run a few retail experiments to make sure they’re matching their POP items with what their customer base wants. He recommends choosing an assortment of items items. Then watch. “For one week, keep track of what sells in the space each hour. You may find in the mornings you should have high-volume items, then during the afternoons, you should switch to some high-margin items.”

Ginzberg recommends having someone –– it could be just a trusted friend or an employee –– sit in the store and monitor your clientele and what they buy. It may be time-consuming, but it will give you a better idea of your clientele and what they buy. “You may discover the three corporate clients who order by phone are the only ones who buy soda,” he says. “Then you know you can move those to a fridge in the back and use that space in front more effectively.”

It makes business sense to have those impulse purchase items like sodas, brownies and mints at your POP counter. But you should also consider using the space for promotional items. Gittrich places material at the register that informs customers about specials with Toppers’ add-ons. After all, you can’t really stick piles of bread sticks or hot wings at the cash register, but you can still sell them at the POP counter.

“We train our people to suggest the add-ons and point to the promotional material there at the counter,” Gittrich says. He likes to have his items photographed nicely and reproduced well to appeal to hungry buyers picking up pizza. “We even have a contest for team members to encourage them to sell the add-ons,” he says. “We’re doing a lot of business that way at the POS counter.”

And don’t be afraid to get creative and leverage local or regional popularity. Consider creating new trademark items for the counter. If you have a popular brand, try creating t-shirts or bumper stickers. Or begin selling jars of your pizza or spaghetti sauce. “You might just fi nd that ‘our exclusive pizza sauce’ sold by-the bottle for $10 a jar translates into an extra $2,000 a month in profit,” Ginzberg says. And in doing this, you’re not just building your bank account — you’re building your brand, and business, as well.

Creative ways to use your POP space
There’s nothing wrong with offering sodas, candy or plastic-wrapped baked goods at your counter. But that isn’t the only way to make a few extra bucks in that space. Here are a few creative ways to use your point-of-purchase area:

? If you have a popular local brand, consider selling t-shirts with your logo and/or slogan prominently displayed. Don’t go too cheap creating them, though — stylish and witty are always plusses.

? You can also sell bumper stickers, or even give them away with orders at a certain price point. They’re cheap to create, are free advertising, and build brand loyalty.

? Do people die for your spaghetti sauce or breadstick dip? Don’t just sell them in those tiny packets. Offer them by-the-jar at your counter.

? Create a “pizza club” — have people sign up and give you demographic information, then reward them with email coupons throughout the year. Consider offering a drawing for a free specialty pizza among club members each month.

Alyson McNutt English is an award-winning freelance writer specializing in home, health, family, and green topics. She is based in Huntsville, Alabama.

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