January 1, 2013 |

My Turn: Michael Shepherd, Michael Angelo’s Pizza, Kenton, OH

By Pizza Today

‘Business as usual…’ is what I used to say when people would ask how things were going. It simply meant that I was making a living. It meant that, on any given day, I could tell you within a 10-percent margin of error what my days sales were going to be, which employee I could count on to be on time, and which customer would be in to get his weekly usual. Sometimes, it also meant that I could send out a mailer or insert and be guaranteed an increase in sales. Usually it meant that most of my awesome staff were grateful they had a job and wanted to keep it. Customers were excited to see what we were up to and they loved to hear about our pizza travels or watch us on television. My patrons bought my pizza because they loved it — price was always secondary.

But that was before the recession. Now I see huge daily sales swings. This week a Tuesday may be $4,000 and next week it might be $1,700. Traditional marketing is dead. Customers are short on money and will not tolerate any price increases. At one point, a customer broke down in tears upon realizing that our pizza prices had gone up.

My annual turnover has gone from a handful to dozens and I can’t get a decent application to save my life. Money means little to today’s worker. My pizza makers make nearly $12 per hour if they complete their training, but most won’t because as they have told me in the past: “I don’t want to work that hard because you will expect it from me all the time.” Wow. Even a single word of correction or discipline and the employee walks.

Much of my marketing has revolved around the accomplishments of my pizzerias and myself. I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel the world competing and have been on numerous television shows. One online review of my pizzeria said that we were our town’s “Claim to Fame.” Many patrons now take their business elsewhere, because they think I am out of touch with them.

So, after nearly 20 years in the pizza business, I think I can safely say that things are now upside down. We must start adapting and start thinking way, way outside the box in order to survive. Alternative marketing methods like social media, networking and cross promotions are now the cornerstone of my marketing.

My trainee hats are printed with “Newbie” in big bold letters. They can move up only by completing training. Pay raises won’t motivate them, but trading that Newbie hat in for what ends up ultimately being a“Master”hat sure does. Sadly, I am also finding ways to operate with less employees. I am building a smarter menu with higher value perception to help keep my prices down. I am finding cheaper packaging and buying more in bulk. I still refuse to reduce portions or quality.

My communities have been hit hard by the bad economy. Capitalizing on my newsworthiness was a great marketing practice in the past, but not today. Anti-capitalist and anti- establishment sentiment are growing and customers are paying close attention to how my pizzeria spends its money. We have to be aware of the social and political atmosphere of our communities. Say or do the wrong thing today and people will take their hard earned pizza dollars elsewhere. It almost seems like I am learning how to be in business all over again. Welcome to the “new” business as usual!