September 11, 2012 |

Marla Topliff Expo Exclusive 2012

By Pizza Today


I grew up in the new world crossroads of suburban Chicago. Despite the best efforts of my mother, I was drawn like so many others to the lure of peace and love that marked the ’60s. At the time, I planned to become a grade-school teacher, while secretly dreaming about writing children’s books as my creative outlet.

If someone with a crystal ball had told the teenage me that 40 years later my creative outlet would be in the marketing end of the pizza industry, I would have laughed. If they told me that other people would seek me out to hear my ideas, I probably would have fallen over. Getting to where I am today has been a journey—at times enjoyable and entertaining, at others disappointing and difficult, but certainly never dull.

As I thought about the path that brought me here, I realized that my education really began when I was seven years old in my dad’s toy store. We sold all sorts of other things too, but I really only remember the toys and how much I loved going to work with him. I felt important and special when I was asked for my expert toy recommendations, and customers would frequently return for more tips from “the expert.” It didn’t occur to me at the time, but what I was actually doing was marketing. Today, I wonder if dad knew how much I would take away from an experience that was, to a seven year old, just plain fun.

Max Kalehoff, VP of marketing at Clickable, defines marketing as, “the art and science of creating, delighting and keeping customers (engaged), while making a profit and building enterprise value.” My dad had never heard of Mr. Kalehoff (to be fair, Max hadn’t even been born yet), but that’s exactly what he was doing by letting me be his salesmen, not because he was an educated marketing professional, but because he knew his customers.

This was the basis for my first marketing revelation: Know your customer. The sentence isn’t complex but neither is the idea. My next lesson came a year or so before my first child, Jennifer, was born when my dad opened a jewelry store in Chicago’s Insurance Exchange Building, which had commodities trading on its second floor. By this time I was old enough to grasp how his customer-centered approach worked, beginning with the impact of choosing the right location.

My second revelation: It’s all about the demographics. We found out very quickly that our customers were a moving target and adjusted our strategies accordingly. Monday through Friday we opened the doors at 7 a.m. and offered early-bird specials on the costume jewelry that appealed to the building’s massive secretarial pool. We monitored the trading floor and watched the market carefully, making sure that when the market was good so were our 2 p.m. fine-jewelry specials. We knew our customers and catered to their wants and delights, before they knew they had them.

In 1979, my second child, Samantha, took me home full-time. I loved my girls dearly and when they started school, I started school politics. I spent eight years on the PTA, where I honed my skills in relationship management and mediation, followed by six years with Welcome Wagon, where I became a pro at sales and training (all stories for another time). And then came pizza.

Rosati’s Pizza found me working part-time as a sales rep for a coupon marketing company. When they asked me to come work for them exclusively I jumped at the chance. I loved the Rosati’s family. There was one little catch though: Having no pizza experience, I had to learn the business from the kitchen up. I was pleasantly surprised to find that with their training program was as easy as a pizza pie (although I must admit that, to this day, I still have trouble boxing a pizza).

The Rosati family name stands for quality and their reputation is built on trust. Their philosophies are deeply rooted in rich family values and traditions that go back almost 100 years. Building on this history, we treat our customers, franchisees and employees like family.

When I started with them in the ’90s, Rosati’s was a small regional chain of about 60 stores. We have grown to a national chain of 150-plus since that time, and we did it based on faithful adherence to a few simple rules and a ridiculous but rewarding amount of work. It has been a journey and an adventure, and it will be my honor to tell you all how we did it at this year’s Pizza Expo.

See Marla Topliff at International Pizza Expo® Click Here to Register For Expo!

President of Elgin, Ill.,-based Rosati’s Pizza, Marla Topliff will be giving the Wednesday morning keynote address at Expo 2012 next March. She’ll focus on the marketing and branding successes that allowed 150-plus-store Rosati’s to more than double its number of units in the last decade.