2011 October: Ask Big Dave

Amir F.
Detroit, Michigan

A few years ago I would have said that it was a novelty that we wouldn’t be talking about by now. I didn’t understand it. Boy, was I wrong. Once I started to get requests to assist new and old locations that wanted to get into the Neapolitan game, I knew that this was the real deal and was here to stay. But I was under-qualified to help. Though I’d eaten and enjoyed Neapolitan pizza in the U.S. and Italy, I didn’t have the basics down.

So I went to Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza in San Francisco and went through a very hands-on course. Since then I have helped open several wood-burning operations and have two more slated to open by the end of this year.

The beauty of Neapolitan pizza? It’s likely that no one is doing it well in your area yet. It raises the bar so high that competition is discouraged. I truly think that in the right demographic area, hand-crafted, artisan, Neapolitan pizza is indeed the next big thing.

I’m getting tired of working more and more and making less and less. I’ve watched my sales steadily drop since the major chains in my town started offering $5 to $10 pizza deals. How did you compete against them?

Luke Bailey
Davison, Michigan

Hey, Luke. Many years ago I was taught to make great pizza. I was (and still am) quality driven. Right after Pizza Today did the first nationwide survey, Big Dave’s Pizza was ranked the 25th busiest independent operation in the country. Within a month, company came to town in the form of a major chain! They were offering the world’s fastest delivery as well as a low price.

After they opened, I was absolutely sure my long-standing customers would not forsake me after one taste of my new competitors. I was dead wrong! I watched as my sales started going south. I knew that if I didn’t change my ways (I was the slowest and most expensive in town), I would suffer both financially and emotionally. So I decided to go for broke and became a guerrilla marketing maniac.

I hired in as a driver at 40 years old and worked long enough to understand my competition’s operations. I gave my notice and within a week or so I reconfigured my kitchen layout. I then instituted a high sense of urgency in every aspect of my operation.

My next step was to standardize sizes and get an iron grip on portioning. Once I started weighing cheese and implementing portion control scales on the make line, I was ready to rumble.

Lastly, I decided to use my competitor’s unique selling propositions (USPs) against them. After I got a grip on my portioning, I decided I was in a position to match all published pricing by accepting anyone’s coupons or offers. I got the word out with a big splash in all the local media outlets, then I sat back and waited.

Four years later, the fast delivery operation gave up and closed down. It seemed they couldn’t deal with a competitor who guaranteed 20-29 minute delivery. Three independents also threw in the towel. I had increased my market share substantially.

Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. monthlycontributor to Pizza Today.

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