As the sole owner, I took a near-bankrupt pizza restaurant (buying during/after bankruptcy would have complicated the purchase) with a dying brand image (2008 collapse was very brutal on them) and quickly turned it into a Top-Rated Independent Chicagoland Pizzeria on a small business budget. It only took a few years to do this despite refusing investment dollars to build it faster which would have lowered my ownership stake. I believed in what I was doing, so I didn’t want to give up my share of ownership at a low valuation in light of the fact that this is a very competitive market.
Do you realize how competitive the Chicago market is with pizza? We have some of the biggest pizza critics in the nation and everyone loves their pizza differently, so it’s rather impossible to make everyone extremely happy. I actually shopped pizza franchises for years before settling on building my own. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any confidence that those pizza franchises would succeed in such a competitive market like Chicago. Sure enough, new data is proving my belief to be correct with the closing of Pie Five Stores in Illinois as they have given up trying to compete in this market. This is an extremely tough market and I’m showing you firsthand how I overcame it.
Upon taking over, we immediately focused on fixing the food and overall menu within the first year. The cost structure was completely wrong and the value for what you were buying was non-existent. We did this all while improving the controls for food/labor costs. These were the first fixes necessary before we were even thinking of a Grand Reopening, where we could tell the locals that we are under new ownership. First, we wanted to fly under the radar and fix as much as we could. The food was amazing and we have a great Chef. However, as most will tell you, that wasn’t enough. Just because you have something amazing doesn’t mean anybody knows about it.
Even after the Grand Reopening (using traditional marketing methods), NOBODY knew of us (and Yelp refused to take down the old Yelp page of the old business, making it seem like we are still the old business with terrible reviews). What we learned was traditional marketing was simply a shotgun blast approach that could not be analyzed for improvements. With traditional marketing, I had no idea who was actually engaging with it or whether they would be a good fit as a customer or not. Being able to target your key demographic is important unless you’re filthy rich with an unlimited budget. Traditional marketing, the marketing that everyone does, just brought some people in, but it didn’t build an image or customer loyalty. It ended up being a lot of wasted money. It didn’t give us any competitive advantage since everyone else was doing it and their budgets were bigger, so many were able to do it better than us. Money was more important than strategy with traditional marketing. We didn’t really gain traction until we developed a real online strategy (and data-driven infrastructure). This took years to tinker with and perfect. Take a look at the current results.
I spent years coding, testing, analyzing, re-coding, testing, analyzing, etc… We were committed to it month after month and finally, everyone knew about us and our amazing food. It was at that time that our brand became strong and customers, many whom are 10+ miles away started driving a great distance just to dine with us. Our story isn’t finished there, it’s only beginning. Our strategy is for long-term, not just short-term. We have a lot more that we will be doing in the future as our vision is not nearly complete. Did I do all of this by myself? Of course not, I built a team to assist, but I had to first build the foundation by myself. Some of these new team members are actually experienced restaurant operators (you could call them my own competition in some ways). We’re not just a marketing team of interns with zero real experience, all while claiming to be experts. We’re a restaurant group in many ways. We’re not selling you hopes and dreams without proof that we know what we are doing. Our resume speaks for itself, a near-bankrupt restaurant in a highly competitive market turned success story. This is the real deal. This is the American Dream.
With years of experience and an understanding how the online world works for our industry, we have become a one-stop shop of resources that you need to navigate these dangerous waters. We focus primarily on restaurants simply because it’s our core competency. However, we’re also testing out strategies that are showing success with all types of businesses from doctor’s offices to manufacturing (B2C and B2B), Amazon companies, etc… Our network of team members has enough perspective to assist in many areas.
Did you catch that about my team members? Some of my own team members are also competitors of mine? Do you realize that doesn’t bother me in the least bit that they know my strategies?