2011 June: My Turn

I spend countless hours explaining the difference between advertising and marketing to my top managers. Advertising has many forms and the results can usually be measured quickly. Community marketing involves planting seeds, watering them and patiently watching them grow. For a pizzeria that expects to be in a community for the long term, community marketing is the difference between “the pizza place” in town and “just another pizza place.”

Since 1993, I have had two goals. First, our pizzeria was going to bake the freshest and finest pizzas every day. I believe that we’re only as good as our last pizza. The second goal was to become a household name within our community. In the last 18 years, I can say that we have achieved both. In today’s volatile economy, I have found that community marketing costs far less than traditional advertising — and it’s much more effective. We are able to build relationships and customer loyalty through our community programs that are not possible with traditional advertising.

The first thing that I did in 1993 was to reach out to the schools, sports organizations and youth groups throughout town. I offered a 50-percent off “youth price” on pizzas delivered to schools, concession stands and all youth events. This gave us huge exposure at youth events all over the city and allowed people to actually eat our pizza rather than just see our banners. Today, 12 months a year our pizza is sold at concession stands, our banners hang at every park/school and every student in the town eats our pizza at school events.

I developed our “Love at First Slice” fundraising program to help youth groups raise money and to deepen our reputation as being “The pizzeria in Malden.” Last year alone we helped raise more than $80,000 for local organizations. Every Wednesday is our restaurant fundraiser night. Groups take home 10 percent of the sales and we get a chance to showcase our pizzeria to families throughout the town. We donate hundreds of free pizza cards throughout the year to organizations running raffles. This ensures that our name is present at all fundraising events and has brought in hundreds of new families.

We have developed a “buy one, get one” fundraiser piece that organizations sell for $10 each. The groups have raised tens of thousands every year selling these. The food cost has been affected, but compared to the volume of business that this fundraiser has produced it is worth every penny (and the families are grateful to us for helping their children). These programs have significantly increased our sales and made us the No. 1 community-based business in Malden. We have been recognized countless times by the city government, Chamber of Commerce and school department as being a shining star among Malden businesses.

For the last three years we have offered our Make Your Own Monday. Every Monday, the kids get to make whatever pizza their parents order. They receive a kitchen tour and an official Pisa Pizza Makers diploma. Again, it drives sales and loyalty up while costing us next to nothing. Our mascot, Pepe Roni (who we bought at Pizza Expo in Vegas), makes an appearance at local parades and sporting events throughout town. Our Facebook page has 4,000 fans and allows us to run fun contests and create an instant buzz.

Overall, I credit the success that we have had over 18 years to great pizza and our continued community involvement. I feel that community marketing is more of a marathon where as much of today’s advertising is a sprint. Pisa Pizza is here for the long haul and will continue to fine-tune our community marketing plan.

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