October 1, 2016 |

Standing Out

By David La Martina


Attracting customers takes more than great food and service

Hello Pizza MinneapolisIn today’s market, great food and friendly staff aren’t enough. You’re competing with  up-and-coming and well-established restaurants, not to mention snack shops, convenience stores and supermarkets. A quality product will get you far with customers who walk through your doors, but getting them there in the first place is no easy task. Following are a few tips from restaurateurs, franchisors and other industry experts on capturing customers in a saturated market.

Many restaurateurs are loath to mingle with fickle online reviewers, but positive reviews work massively in your favor. “Over 50 percent of restaurateurs see reviews as more influential than traditional advertising, and more than a third of diners won’t go to a restaurant with less than a four-star rating,” says Mandy Yoh, head of communications for Review Trackers.

Review sites also offer ample opportunity to engage with customers, address complaints and learn more about what’s really attracting their biggest fans. “A restaurant could have a five-star rating, but the reviews will still have negative elements,” adds Yoh. “You have to dig into the reviews to understand your strong points and weaknesses.”

As for specific sites, Yelp presents the greatest opportunity for boosting business, and a one-star jump can result in as much as a nine-percent increase in revenue, according to Yoh. Still, you’ve got to use it right to reap the rewards. “Yelp is the number one place on the Internet for people to find a new restaurant, but it’s like fire,” says Kamron Karington, Repeat Returns founder and CEO. “It can heat up your sales or burn your place to the ground.” Photos and customer interactions show up at the top of Google’s search results, but even top-ranked restaurants will turn away customers if their Yelp pages are ghost towns.

TV and newspaper ads can still be useful, but social media is king, and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are all but essential in communicating with new and existing customers. “We spend about 75 percent of our advertising budget on social media, and most of that is on Facebook,” says Brian Petruzzi, founder of 1000 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza. “Compared to TV, we get a much better ROI and much lower cost per view, and we’re able to target and segment our audience better.” Petruzzi also gives each of his franchisees their own Facebook page, allowing them to tailor their messages to local audiences.

When it comes to content, videos have far higher success rates than images. “You can convey a lot more in a 30-second video than in a static image,” says Petruzzi. What’s more, social apps and sites tend to give preference to videos in their search results.

Of course, social media needs to be just that –– social. “Some people just treat it as an advertising medium, but people don’t open up Facebook to see ads,” says Karington. To create a genuine connection with your customers, you’ll need to post about your own life, new employees and upcoming events. Once you’ve built that connection, you can “cash in” every once in a while with a promotional.

As important as online marketing has become, your physical storefront is still crucial for drawing in new business. “The exterior look of your shop is crucial,” says Al Ryan, director of operations for Firo Pizza in Lawton, Oklahoma. “You want people to turn their heads when they pass by.”

Of course, not every shop will have the funds for a fancy exterior –– and that’s okay. “You can spend all the money you want on the building, but ultimately you need to design around a theme,” says Ryan. Whether you’re selling rustic Neapolitan pizza or classic New York-style pie, the look and feel of your shop should be appropriate, unique and memorable.

As for signs and window clings, most shops should keep clutter to a minimum. “By the time people get to your business physically, they’re already ready to do business with you,” says Karington. Promotional signs keep big chains congruent with corporate advertising, but they do little for the small franchise or mom-and-pop shop.

Drawing in first-time customers is more than half the battle, but retaining their loyalty still takes work. The best ways to keep them coming? “Every business should have a loyalty program, but most don’t,” says Karington. A loyalty program is a great way to capture contact info, track customers and customize offers. You can also offer big discounts only to customers who haven’t come around in a while, instead of throwing away money on people who would have dined with you anyway.

Social media also shines in staying top-of-mind among current customers. Contests, giveaways and gift card offers can quickly go viral, especially when you require people to like or share to reap the benefits. Similarly, local events — particularly fund-raisers — are excellent opportunities for smaller shops to integrate themselves into their communities and retain business.

Ultimately, gaining and retaining customers in today’s pizza market is a matter of carving out your niche and communicating your unique qualities to as many people as possible. “You can’t be great at everything, so you need to focus on the total experience that makes people comfortable and makes them want to keep coming back,” says Ryan.

David LaMartina is a Kansas City-based freelance copywriter who specializes in the finance, food and health industries.

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