2011 December: The Singles Game

With three corporate pizza behemoths in her backyard — not to mention a dozen other independents, Jeannette Magaro, owner of Mia’s Nikoli’s Pizza in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, knows creative and strategic marketing is a must if her eight-year-old shop is to secure customers and profits.

The “big boys,” as Magaro calls them, can splash their national name on television during Penn State football games and prime-time shows, offering promotions and prices Magaro’s outlet cannot match. Rather than concede, however, Magaro has kicked her marketing into overdrive, touting Mia’s Nikoli’s neighborhood vibe and local roots at every turn; it’s the surest way, marketing experts say, to counter the big boys’ power.
With her husband, Ricci, running the store’s operations, Magaro focuses her efforts fully on attracting business. She makes regular visits to local hotels, often with a pizza in hand, to curry favor with staff and fashioned a cross-marketing venture with a local sports memorabilia store in advance of Super Bowl Sunday.

“You need to have that personal touch the large chains can’t have,” Magaro says.
Mia’s Nikoli’s 2010 “Fall Sports Campaign” stands as Magaro’s most inventive, revenue-generating turn to date. The restaurant provided sports-themed water bottles, outfitted with the pizza shop’s logo and info, to fall sports teams, cheerleaders and band members at Trinity High, a 600-student school located three blocks away. For 30 cents, the wholesale cost of the water bottle, students can fill their bottle with a beverage. The program immediately exceeded Magaro’s expectations, as dozens of students patronized the pizzeria for their refill and food.

“We have students in here every day buying pizza and subs. We’ve gotten close to 100-percent participation from the band alone,” says Magaro, who has recreated the program with Trinity High’s winter and spring programs as well.
While restaurant owners have long been advised to divert two to five percent of sales to marketing efforts, a benchmark more the result of habit than any proven formula, Kip Knight, head of California-based KnightVision Marketing, urges single-store operators to focus less on percentage and more on desired outcomes.

“Regardless of the money you have, think about the goals you have, the competition you’re facing, and the metric you’re trying to push, whether that be the average ticket, increasing the customer count, or referrals,” Knight says.
With a goal in mind, operators can then explore the creative ventures capable of producing results. While every operator will have his or her own goals, these three cost-effective, strategic avenues can maximize the single-store’s marketing dollar and give the local shop an edge:
Reward existing customers. Consider consumer perception of cell phone companies. While many carriers devote exhaustive efforts to securing new business with introductory offers, customers repeatedly express discontent with the company’s follow-up, which drives customer dissatisfaction. Pizzeria operators shouldn’t make the same mistake, particularly with their most profitable, dedicated customers.
“Incentives are the way to show you care. That keeps customers loyal and prompts the word-of-mouth marketing that is gold,” Knight says.

Pizzerias should capture testimonials and encourage a referral system, says Jon Schallert, a Colorado-based marketing consultant. Simplified by technology and social media, restaurants can gain credibility and resist the urge to react to competitors. “It’s as simple as saying, ‘Forward this to a friend. You’ll get A and they’ll get B,’” Schallert says. “Set up a system in which the loyal customers get rewards for repeat visits and encouraging others.”

Resist giving away margin or money, but rather something of perceived value, such as complimentary bread sticks. Whenever possible, defer the reward to a future visit. And don’t be shy about throwing in the occasional surprise.
“The element of surprise can bond a customer to your store,” Schallert says. “Not only will they come back, but you can bet they’ll talk about you.” Seek publicity. Studies show that consumers believe newspaper, TV and radio well above paid advertising. Devote time to pitch your pizzeria’s unique or quirky qualities to the media, specifically local outlets. The publicity translates into free advertising.

A Lakewood, Colorado pizzeria, for example, has collected mounds of media attention for its food challenge: eat an 11-pound, 28-inch pizza in two hours and earn $1,000. In creating a signature item, people remember the pizzeria’s dare and spirit. “Ask yourself: ‘What’s newsworthy in my business?’ Then, tell people about it,” Schallert says. “The big chains won’t do this because they’re on the corporate program. You’re not.”

Value face-to-face opportunities: Never afraid to ask someone to try her product or to pursue a potential partnership, Magaro mingles with places that host children’s parties, such as pottery studios, to create beneficial relationships.
“If you don’t open your mouth, you don’t know what you can come up with,” Magaro says. “The face-to-face interaction is hard work, but so much more effective.”

Such opportunistic, personalized ventures, Knight says, are those that swing considerable favor into the independent operator’s direction.“There’s no reason the single-store operator can’t be strategic and cost-effective at the same time,” Knight says. “As marketing’s evolved, he who has the most money doesn’t win the war.”

Maximizing  Social Media’s Pull
Marketing’s version of sweat equity, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter can be tailored to a specific market and engage customers with the restaurant. Operators can invite customer photographs, highlight promotions, or champion charitable causes, all of which cements customer interaction.
For ideas on best utilizing social media, visit Facebook’s Marketing Solutions page, which features dozens of real-world case studies from business owners using Facebook to their benefit, as well as mashable.com, which offers a range of social media resources and guides.

Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.

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