I recently read a customer review where the person said they loved Toppers, but they preferred to eat at a local place! I have to admit that I didn’t know how to feel about that. I’ve always been the renegade little guy fighting the big chains. WE are the local disruptor that does it better and whom people love more. How the heck was this person lumping Toppers in with the chains?
On the other hand, I felt pretty proud about it. I guess I always dreamed of being hated by the chain hater purist. You can’t be that person without doing something successful, right? What people say and what they do are often different. My guess is that this person says he likes to go to the mom and pop, but then he pulls out his phone and logs onto Toppers.com and gets his favorite house pizza!
I don’t live too far from Madison, Wisconsin, so I’ve had the chance to ask a lot of people in Madison where they eat pizza. At one point I realized that nobody ever said Pizza Hut even though Pizza Hut had 11 stores in that city! Once I realized this interesting dichotomy, I started in earnest asking everyone I met from Madison who their pizza place was, and to a person they “refused” to say Pizza Hut. Finally one day I asked a guy where he got pizza and he broke my streak. He said Pizza Hut. He has no Pizza Hut shame!
I don’t care what the Italians might claim, pizza is truly an American food. I guess maybe hamburgers are in the same category. Little “hole in the wall” pizza places are awesome. I love to stop at little pizza places and try them out. There is a place near my home called Blue Moon that I love. It’s in Lake Mills, Wisconsin if you’re ever in the area. They have a sourdough, shallow pan crust and use a good tomato sauce. Good stuff.
However you feel about it, the number of independent one-off pizza places is shrinking. In the last 4 years, while QSR* Pizza overall has grown 2.8 %, independents have declined 5.9% while chains have grown 13.2%. This is a long time trend that results from consumers simply continuing to demand what chains have to offer: convenience, quality consistency, technology, fast service, cleanliness, value and great locations. Chains have and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
Just how much runway do pizza chains have? The answer to this is one huge reason why I am so excited about our future and the third reason why Pizza is a growth Industry for some. About 95% of hamburger restaurants are chains. Only about 65% of Pizza restaurants are chains right now. Is it unreasonable to assume that Pizza will get to 95% chains? I don’t know what the number will be, but I feel confident that we will continue to steal from both independents and the Pizza Huts of the world.
We have created a real sweet spot: the “little guy” that people are proud to call their pizza place and the chain that delivers what customers and franchisees want.
I’m proud of our food, our people, and our place in the Pizza Industry. We’ve just been recognized as the 5th fastest growing pizza company in the United States, so there’s no getting around our status as an up and coming chain. We just need to stay true to our roots while we ride this thing. We owe it to those poor souls in Phoenix, Seattle, and Atlanta that are jonesing for what we do.
Still a lover and aficionado of the little pizza places too,
*QSR = quick service restaurant