2011 January: Ask Big Dave

You’ve got questions … our expert has the answers. Submit your questions via e-mail to Jeremy White (jwhite@pizzatoday.com) — make sure to put “Ask Big Dave” in the subject line. We’ll pass the best questions on to Dave each month for his highly sought after advice.

Q: Hey Big Dave, I’m a small independent. I have been in business over five years. We pride ourselves in making literally the freshest, best tasting pizza in our area. We don’t take any shortcuts. All ingredients are top of the line and lovingly assembled and baked. One of the biggest pizza companies is opening in my small town and I’m afraid they will steal our customers away with their deep discounts and national advertising. What should I do?

–Richard and Roxana Wiley Mamita’s Pizza Ridgeland, South Carolina

A: Richard, I know your operation. I helped you develop your recipes and menu. I know how fantastic your pizza is and how hospitable you and Roxana are to all of your guests. That is not enough. You must constantly tell your customers why your pizza is so good. Customers love to tell stories, good or bad. Does the average person know that you use only the finest vine- ripened, not-from-concentrate tomato products? Your sauce contains zero sugar because the tomatoes are naturally sweet. Do you tell them enough that you make your hand-tossed pizza dough every day? Or that you select and hand-cut all of your veggies and buy the leanest pepperoni made? Or that you and your bride made a conscious decision to make the best pizza the low country has ever eaten? That decision means that your pizza will never be cheaper to make or sell.

I’d do a big mailing to all of your existing customers reinforcing their loyalty and also create a USP (unique selling proposition). When it comes down to it, we all compete on price or quality. I recommend stealing their grand opening thunder by honoring their specials. I’m also a huge believer in risk reversal. Put your money where your mouth is: guarantee your pizza by promising a full refund if it doesn’t live up to expectations. I came up with a guarantee that stated I would immediately replace any competitor’s pizza with a similar Big Dave’s Pizza for free.

Q: For the past six years I have owned and operated a mom-and-pop style pizza place in suburban Columbus, Ohio. Recently I opened a high-end pizza restaurant in Durham, North Carolina. Durham is very sophisticated, and the Duke University campus is within my view. Our demographics have changed to a very educated, worldly mix of students and PhDs. I’m having trouble hiring the right service staff, front of the house and delivery drivers who will over-deliver customer satisfaction. Where do I start?

–Robert Giuliani Enzo’s Pizza Co. Durham, North Carolina

A: Hi Robert. You are searching for applicants with the service gene. Some people have it and some people don’t. If your applicants have the personality of a turnip, please don’t put either one of you through the pain. It’s way too frustrating. Once you have identified staff that understands they are in the hospitality rather than pizza business, they are trainable. Most QSR and pizza contact people have received little or no serious training. They are assigned to a senior person and then left to their own devices. Your job is to train, train and train them some more. They are the face of your entire life’s future when they serve guests. Once these people get their groove on, let them loose. Encourage them to SIN (solve it now) and TLC (think like a customer). Truly reward and recognize their extra efforts. Your customers will feel the love and experience the WOW factor. u

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

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