The new age of Minimum Service Restaurant Marketing

I’ve been eating at Justine’s Pizza since I was a kid, so I had a pretty good idea of how things worked from the customer angle. So, when I bought the Fort Collins location I had a big head start. It was the perfect prototype for how a small pizzeria worked, so I really just had to change things back to the Justine’s way and I’d have a great start. However, even at its best Justine’s was super old school, which I loved, but we needed to take things into the digital era. I have a ton of competition and I needed to maximize every dollar I spent. I also needed to completely overhaul the Marketing, which was exactly what I’d been doing for the past seven years.

This was the first time I looked at a business top to bottom and evaluated the marketing from every perspective. I’ve been in digital marketing for years but this took things down to the bare essentials. Product-People-Atmosphere. Before anything else I had to take a look at these three key factors to a small restaurant’s success or failure. It didn’t take long to realize in our case we needed to fix all three. I repeated it to myself constantly, those three things, Product-People-Atmosphere.

  1. Fixing the product was easy, switch back to original everything, exact processes, recipes, everything. That includes dropping all non-Justine’s products the previous owner had added. Wings, Sandwiches, Fried Appetizers and all sorts of non-money making deserts.
  1. The Atmosphere took a lot of hard work, new paint, menus, wall art, Point of Sale and the list goes on. It’s important to know that I didn’t spend a ton of money; I just used great colors and creative decorations. I also put all the employees that were friendly and nice up front. I made it clear that Justine’s needs to be a happy place.
  1. The People. Well, when I bought the place there were a few gems that still work for me today but the majority of the employees were depressing. Not bad people but not social people that were fun to be around. Hiring is tough and I’m sure they seemed great at the time but they had taken that place down. My wife’s a lawyer and wasn’t having any firings but all the bad apples on the team were gone in less than 2 months. Pizza is fun and simple, one sour person on the team can ruin the good vibes.

At the same time I started evaluating the marketing efforts and return on investment above and beyond the big 3.

I was somewhat horrified; on top of issues with the big three the previous owner was spending way too much on all the wrong things. I immediately put an end to all the old ineffective expenses.   Namely, the coupon books and costly rewards programs. These coupon book advertisers were hitting me and my staff pretty hard with walk-ins. After months of telling them I had no use for coupon book marketing they now leave us alone. It wasn’t right for the product I was selling, a premium pizza with a premium price. The only people using the coupons were my current customers, so I started handing those out with pizzas instead. For rewards we built a punch card for our old school customers and a simple inexpensive digital one.

At this point, and it didn’t take long thanks to a renewed attitude around the shop and a nice article in the Coloradoan, Justine’s Pizza Fort Collins started to get some nice momentum. Sales were up about 40% in 3 months, way ahead of schedule but still not enough. Even though I’m in the website business I wanted to sit on my heals and see how well we could fix things organically. This is a pretty old-school enterprise and it needs to work, in many ways, the same as it has since 1971. So I immersed myself in the pizza business, not pizza marketing. That time was now over and it was my marketing hat I had to get back on. We started with simple social media marketing while we got our new website setup. We saw immediate growth. We started advertising on Yelp, we saw more growth. At 6 months our sales had almost doubled. It sounds amazing and it is pretty good but keep in mind the previous owner was losing a lot of dough. Even when things are good the margins are tight. So, onward to the next level, online ordering and payment.

There’s a portion of the population that will only order online. No joke, I don’t think that’s the case with my customer base but that means I’m missing out on all those people. So, we added it. And without even marketing it we started getting an order a day, then two and so on. It saves us the phone call, the P.O.S transaction and provides our customers with a simple way to save and reorder the same thing over and over. It may sound strange but that’s pretty much what I did for 30 years at the Loveland Justine’s. Once we added some online promotions and pointing our online traffic to the online ordering it was over, online ordering at our little pizza shop was for real.

Newsletters, Mobile App, SEO, Rewards programs, we’re putting it into full affect now. We’re using everything I learned in the marketing world to make the most of the current increase in profits and sales in the minimum service restaurant industry. However, a simple plan for marketing for the previous owner and I may not even own this restaurant. He, like many of us had to learn things the hard way. There are too many bad choices out there to waste your money on. And not nearly enough time to do what’s necessary. When the previous owner put if for sale he said, “it needs somebody who understands Marketing.”

This is why I’ve changed my entire marketing company to represent minimum service restaurants, anywhere that doesn’t have waiters and waitresses. Readymade, turnkey marketing that is proven to work. The same tactics and strategies we’ve used at Justine’s Pizza Fort Collins to double our business in 8 months.

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