Catering corner

What do you do when the pizzeria down the street throws In the towel? Though we don’t sit around with voodoo dolls of our competitors and a box of pins, none of us loses sleep when a direct or indirect competitor goes out of business.

Recently, a restaurant not far from us closed down. At first, I didn’t give it much thought. But I saw a flier in front of my health club. I was going to work out and was surprised to learn by a note on the door that they were moving about five miles away.

Little did they know that driving a mile to exercise was about as much workout as I could handle. Considering they didn’t even bother to let me know in advance or entice me to follow them, my loyalty was lost forever. A savy competitor placed a flier on their window after they had vacated. The headline proclaimed: “Ready For A Change? We Honor Other Club Memberships.” The salesperson (they like to be called a fitness counselors) even hand wrote his name: “Ask for Brian.”

I would imagine the leads Brian received from this stealth marketing maneuver ranked tops of his career. A marketer’s dream is to be in front of a qualified prospect at the exact time he is ready or motivated to make a buying decision. It would like being the only food concession at an NFL game. You know you’re going to sell some pizza. This little health club marketing lesson got me thinking about all the things you could do when a competitor goes under. And if you’re around this business long enough it will happen.

Ring, Ring

Whether to order a pizza for delivery, ask for directions or book a catering, most of our marketing is designed to get the phone to ring. What would happen if your “just closed” competitor’s phone number was rerouted to your pizzeria?

I would move Heaven and Earth to acquire that phone number. Though he may not have been successful enough to survive, there are still qualified pizza customers with that number close at hand. The cumulative effect of advertising through yellow pages, magnets, coupons and box toppers could translate into a significant chunk of change for you. The 50 bucks a month for the phone line could be worth an extra couple of thousand dollars in business a week. That’s a nice return on your marketing investment.

You have two options to acquire their main phone number. Each has its risks and rewards. If the number has not been forfeited to the phone company, you could call your competitor and try to work out a deal to purchase the number. If you’re perceived as the reason he went out of business, you may never get the number.

You can also contact the phone company and put in a request for the number. If your competitor’s number was 717-123-4567, they’ll put a flag on it and let you know when it comes available. You’re not guaranteed that inadvertantly someone else gets the number. Try hard to befriend your former competitor. It’s cleaner and easier.

Once you succeed in getting the phone rerouted, make sure that line is answered with a generic greeting: “Pizzeria, may I help you?” Once your competitor’s customer/prospect starts asking questions, you can work in that you’ve taken over the number into the conversation. Some customers will not order from you, but I’d create a stick script, a script used to get your former competitor’s customers to become yours. Here’s a sample:

“Yes, this used to be Gino’s Pizzeria, but unfortunately he closed down last week. We are now handling the calls and would love the opportunity to serve you great pizza. We have a special for all of Gino’s former customers. When you order any large two-topping pizza, we throw in a two-liter of Coke and an order of cheesy bread for free. Would you like to take advantage of our special?”

As in my flier example from the health club, I would create your own flier to tape on your former competitor’s door. You might want to put a strong “tear-off” offer at the bottom. You just print the offer continuously on the bottom and use scissors to cut strips. Then your future customer just has to tear off the last side for a coupon to your pizzeria.

This works the best when you can get the blessing from your former competitor. It would be worth paying a little for permission to hang a large banner directing customers to your pizzeria. Make sure your offer is strong enough to get that prospect over to your place. You’ll want to send someone over daily to check on the flier and put a fresh one up if the old one gets torn down.

I would not stop with acquiring the phone number. If you can reach your former competitor, you should discuss how you can help him make a few extra dollars in closing. What about purchasing equipment? You’ll walk away with a great deal and he’ll be closer to finalizing liquidation and moving on with his life. From ovens to mixers, there are many pieces of equipment you might be in the market for or could store for a future expansion.

Don’t overlook hidden assets. Your former competitor’s customer list will probably end up in the trash. You might be able to buy it for next to nothing. A combination of his database and an endorsement letter can bring you a flood of new customers. If he’ll agree to let you use his name in a letter to his former customers, you can make out great.

Start your letter with a powerful headline: “I Have Some Bad News & Some Good News.” Then get Gino explaining about the shutdown and have him make a strong offer to try your pizzeria.

Here’s another headline: “After 13 Months Gino’s Pizzeria Is Forced To Shut Their Doors, But I Want To Give You A FREE Pizza As A “Thank You” Gift For Supporting Us.” Then explain in Gino’s voice what happened and that he’s arranged for all of his customers to get a free pizza from you. The free pizza can only be redeemed once and a great way to make new customers. Make sure you write the letter or hire an experienced copywriter. The letter has to be well crafted.

Now take out a pair of scissors, cut this article out, and stash it in a place you can always easily find. When one of your competitors closes, you’ll be armed with a stealth marketing action plan that’ll bring you profits your other competitors will overlook.