Ask Joey

In our industry, there is one constant issue we all ask ourselves about: how do we get more business? How do we get more customers to buy our pizza? How can we get more people to recognize we have a great product that once we get it into customer's mouths, they will make us their pizzeria of choice? All of us try different approaches to meeting that goal. Overall, we want to expand our market share. There is one area where I think our industry as a whole is behind the curve…online ordering.

The pizza industry has not embraced technology as rapidly as other markets. Why? Is it the cost? Is it because we are not savvy with computers? Could it possibly be the fact that we don't have the time or energy to invest because our stores have us stretched to the hilt? I believe one or all of these issues count, but the most important factor I see is that customers are not using their computers to order pizza yet! Yet is the key word in that statement.

Why invest in this technology if it is not bringing us customers today? Who really knows how to set up a website that will get traffic and then drive traffic to our stores? These are two totally separate questions that you need to consider in respect to the real goal, selling more pizza. Getting people to invest in the future is not easy, but believe me, eventually we will be fighting one another to get a foothold in that arena. The future will be not how many doors we can hang, but how many people we can get to order online. You will be battling to get hits on your site. And the best way to be prepared for the future is to learn what it takes to be ahead of the game. It's not here yet, but I would caution you to take steps to develop a web presence in order to prepare your brand for when it does.

Our website has been in existence for six years, and it is constantly developing and changing. That also means we are constantly investing in those changes. At this point, we justify some of the cost by driving our overnight delivery business ordering through the site. At the same time, it is a deficit spend for us because it can only drive so much business. We still do not have the ability for a customer to use the site to order even though we do have our whole menu available for them to view. The amount of call-in business off of the web is extremely small. People are not there yet. Even when it does become a stronger driver for business, we will have to reinvest in the site constantly.

I guess my advice to you as an independent operator is to start to make yourself more aware of what is available for you in your market and what other competition is doing online to try and bring folks into their stores. Look at market-driven online order companies like www.epizza.cc to hitch onto in order to offset the development cost for you individually. Look at national brands at www.papajohnsonline.com, www.dominos.quikorder.com, and www.pizzahut.com. This will give you a good idea of what the major brands are developing and what you might look to do in the future.

I would be cautious as far as the amount of money spent on developing the online markets today, with a conscientious effort at keeping abreast of how the balance of the industry is developing in this area. When customers start buying in greater frequency, then you can bet we'll be jumping in the bandwagon, as I hope you will to. Until then, take the time to have some vision for the future of your brand. It pays to be aware of what is developing even if it doesn't reward your business with new growth today. If you have any questions or needs, please e-mail me at wingman@lanova.com.