September 20, 2012 |


By Jeremy White

Last week, I sat in a pizzeria in my tiny hometown, listening to the proprietor regale a small crowd with stories.

The restaurant’s owner, a squat, balding man with a stubby cigar forever hanging out of his mouth, doesn’t look like a person you’d turn to for information. There he was, nonetheless, telling a room half-full of eager ears ways to save and invest money.

I’m allergic to smoke — can’t stand to be around it — but I sat there, sneezing and sniffling, intent on toughing it out. Why? Not because I wanted advice on saving and investing (though I could certainly use it), but because I wanted some time with this particular restaurant operator after his gallery dispersed. I wanted to ask him specific questions; questions I then hoped to incorporate and answer in future issues of Pizza Today for the benefit of our readers.

I’ve known this guy since I was a kid. But I never, until that evening last December, realized how impressive a business he had built. In a town of only 2,500, and despite competition from other pizzerias and restaurants, he managed to build a $1 million business.

How? He didn’t have the cheapest pie around. But he had the best, and that quality was enough to make a blue-collar town buy his product over the next guy’s.

I didn’t want to talk to him about quality, however. You know quality is important. Instead, I wanted to ask what he did to build his business. How did he market it? What resources did he use? How did he determine his location, or what to put on his menu and what to leave off it? His trials and tribulations, I figured, were very similar to those of most independent pizzeria operators.

What he told me, in a nutshell, wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. I wanted to uncover short cuts, secret phenomenon’s that would net big profits with minimal work. That’s not what I got. Instead, I received a nose-full of smoke and an ear full of this: “You get what you pay for.”

He preached quality until he was red in the face, literally. Too many operators try to take short cuts, he said. Too many want to make their numbers look good and forget about the importance of quality.

Quality, he insisted, was the single most important thing, more significant than marketing, menu variety, ambiance and even customer service.

I’m definitely not here to espouse poor service and champion a no-need-for-marketing mentality. Without good service and well-planned marketing, in my opinion, an operator is rolling the dice.

At the same time, your customer service and marketing can be dynamite, but you’ll never see a repeat customer if you can’t make a quality pizza. Don’t let yourself fall into a cheaper-is-better mentality. Success comes with a price, but it’s a price well worth paying because the return on investment often is high. Buy the best and set your prices accordingly. You may not make as much profit per pizza, but you’ll likely sell more pizzas and come out ahead in the end.