Direct mail gives Boston Pie a sales kick

When you allocate half of your annual marketing budget to direct mail, you better make sure that every mailing campaign is well planned and supported by your managers and crew.

So says Dominic Benvenuti, director of operations for Boston Pie, Inc.

This Domino's Pizza franchise creates and distributes more than one million postcards, tri-folds and door hangers each year, at a cost that matches the amount of money it pays to Domino's for national TV advertising.

"The most important consideration with direct marketing is that you have the service to back up your offer," says Benvenuti, who together with partners David Jenks and Shawn Brunelle own 12 stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. "This is not an inexpensive way to advertise, and in order to make it work you need planning and communication," he says.

At the end of the day direct marketing can work wonders for a pizza chain, Benvenuti says. Although it is difficult to measure redemption from a menu mailing, Benvenuti says a strong, creative piece sent to the right audience at the right time can produce a lift in sales by as much 20 percent.

With these results, it's no wonder Boston Pie is sold on direct mail. The company expects to generate about $6.5 million in revenue in 2002, a 10 percent increase over 2001. However, the company likes to measure its success "not so much by total revenue, but more by steady increases in order counts," says Benvenuti.

In terms of mailing frequency, Boston Pie initiates two to three major storewide campaigns per year, and five to six smaller, targeted campaigns based on a specific product or audience.

Over the years, Benvenuti has learned what works and what doesn't. The most successful direct mail offers are those that present a package of products, such as a large pizza, wings and a beverage, all bundled together for one price. Benvenuti calls this the "value meal" deal and he's not ashamed to say the concept was borrowed from McDonald's.

A recent example of the combo offer was the bundling of a large pie and a side of a new chicken dish for $14.99. "Our idea was to take the items a family would buy to make a complete meal and then package them together for one special price," explains Benvenuti.

What doesn't work in a direct mail offer is to slash the price back to a point where the customer may feel the product has lost its value. "We are careful about discounting too deeply, because it devalues the product and it's hard to get back to full price," says Benvenuti.

Direct mail is often timed with holidays or seasonal opportunities, such as the beginning of summer, the start of football season, Halloween night and the day before Thanksgiving, to name a few. "Direct mail is the best way to take advantage of the times when convenience is top-of-mind and people are thinking about eating out," says Benvenuti.

An annual favorite promotion is to hit households with a mailing piece around mid-June when school lets out. The message to parents is this: You have a houseful of kids that need lunch. Here's a special to kick off the summer. Another favorite offer that draws attention is the "no sales tax" day on April 15, tax day.

Boston Pie's biggest direct mail campaign of 2002 was launched September 2 and was scheduled to run through October 15.

When Domino's corporate introduced its Buffalo Chicken Kickers in early September by delivering the new side dish to Jay Leno, Governor Jesse Ventura, local firefighters, policemen and sports teams, and other notables, Boston Pie saw this as a good opportunity to piggyback on the publicity stunt and accompanying national TV spots.

Benvenuti designed a mail piece and timed its delivery with the debut of the spicy chicken chunks. In increments of about 5,000 to 7,000, he began mailing a total of 250,000 color tri-folds promoting the new dish to every deliverable address in the communities served by his 12 stores.

But like every other mailing effort for the chain of stores, before a single word of copy is written or postage stamp licked, Benvenuti meets with his store managers to solicit their input. They talk and agree upon special offers, pricing, products to promote, audiences to target, and needs of the customer. He plans the direct mail campaigns at least a month in advance.

Targeting the right market makes all the difference in the world in a mail campaign. What are the criteria for selecting an audience? "Who's not ordering, and who's worth going after," says Benvenuti. Among the groups to be analyzed for specials are families, couples, college students, late-nighters, and the business lunch crowd.

Another important task is to look at staffing needs and forecast the increase in order counts likely to occur as a result of the promotion. "It takes training and preparation to have a strong marketing program," Benvenuti offers. "Your people have to be ready. What you don't want to do is spend marketing dollars to show customers that you can't perform."

Boston Pie uses Rancho Santa Margarita, California-based Melissa Data as its direct mail partner. For the Chicken Kickers mailing, Benvenuti tapped into Melissa Data's Online Occupant List service to select and download the quarter-million names.

The software database allows Benvenuti to target households by ZIP codes, or ZIPs in a radius of a specific store location. The lists cost between $6.50 and $9.50 per thousand records ordered. The file consists of more than 98 million addresses nationwide.

"It takes training and preparation to have a strong marketing
program," Benvenuti offers. "Your People have to be ready.
What you don't want to do is spend marketing dollars to show
customers that you can't perform."

"The best thing is that I can search and create a customized list and then download it from the web directly into my own database site in less than 10 minutes," says Benvenuti. "This real-time online ordering makes my mail campaigns fast and easy."

Then once he creates a list, he passes the entire database of names through Melissa Data's MAILERS+4 postal automation software. He says he uses MAILERS+4 because it is an easy way to CASS-certify the standard mailings with the current ZIP+4 and carrier route codes for the fastest postal processing. The result? "It saves time on delivery and we are able to reduce postage costs to about 13 cents per piece," says Benvenuti.

With the current Domino's Buffalo Chicken Kickers promotion, Boston Pie is rewarding customer service reps and managers with camcorders and DVD players for their sales achievements. "We never launch a campaign that each team member can't benefit from," Benvenuti emphasizes.

Individuals will be rewarded based on the volume of Chicken Kicker dishes they can "suggestively sell," says Benvenuti. Two managers and two crew managers will be given the big prizes at the end of the contest. Smaller prizes such as movie tickets are passed out for hitting other goals.

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