Eureka! – Marketing Success Story

Rolf Wilkin knew nothing about Pizza when he borrowed money to buy a failing pizza store in 1992. Now he owns six pizza stores with more on the way and sales are well above the national average.

PMQ features Eureka Pizza this issue because it is a great story of how hard work, long hours, and of course MARKETING can make a big difference in a pizza business.

Although Wilkin didn’t know anything about Pizza, he knew plenty about selling, advertising and marketing. Wilkin got his start by selling advertising for a coupon book to pay his way through college. After graduation from LSU with a degree in Finance, he decided to start his own coupon book in Fayetteville Arkansas where the University of Arkansas is located.

The experience made him appreciate being a salesman. It also presented him with a chance opportunity in January of 1992 when he entered King Pizza to sell the owner an ad in his coupon

book. Instead of buying an ad, the owner asked Wilkin if he would like to buy a pizza store. Wilkin knew how well his coupon book worked and thought it would be a great way to sell pizza. He also remembered a book that he had read a couple of years earlier that had really impressed him. The book was "Pizza Tiger." The story was about Domino’s Pizzas’ Tom Monoghan. If Tom Monoghan could be successful in spite of all of the bad luck he had in the early days of starting Domino’s Pizza, with any luck at all Wilkin felt he could be successful too. In March of 1992 the doors opened under the new name of Eureka Pizza.

"Ok," Wilkin thought , "first I need to improve my pizza." Wilkin decided to learn about pizza from the ground up and attend Tom Lahmann’s American Institute of Baking in Manhattan Kansas.

He soon developed a much improved pizza crust. Then he tasted and tested sauces and cheese products until he settled on Stanislaus and Leprino for the quality he was seeking. "With quality dough, sauce, and cheese, how can I make a bad pizza? Well, actually the answer to that question resulted in the purchasing of conveyer ovens."

Eureka Pizza is now strongly positioned as a very high quality pizza priced below all competition. This formula has been proven successful not only as registered by store unit sales but by periodic telephone satisfaction surveys as well. However, there are plenty of quality pizzas out there in the market! So why are Eureka pizza sales consistently higher than his franchise and chain competition? Wilkin, like so many other successful pizza operators, recognized that high quality nowadays is a minimum requirement if you want to stay in business. The real battle to be won is in the area of marketing. And that is where Wilkin’s experience as a former advertising salesman compensated for his initial lack of pizza experience.

Eureka Pizza Marketing Formula:

Marketing dollars are spent evenly in three areas. One third electronic, one third mass mailing, one third database marketing.

"Radio and TV are important to create awareness and to help make the other three components work. Mass mailing are required to stay at a pace with competition and because they do a great job of showing off 4 color photography. And database marketing…well…that’s sort of my secret weapon." All stores are equipped with Rockland Technology’s Pizza Fast POS system. Each month, Eureka Pizza uses the computer database from the stores POS systems to fuel marketing programs and to provide activity reports.

"Pizza is perfect for promotions," Wilkin says. "It is the ultimate product to promote in the whole food industry. Pizza is fun. Everyone can eat it. And the price is high enough that you can afford to spend some serious dollars and still get you money back from your investment." Advertising is an investment and Wilkin never worries about spending enough to get the job done, even if it means spending more than some standard percentage that was suggested by some accountant who never owned a pizza store.

Marketing Formula

Wilkin also does periodic surveys to see how satisfied his customers are and to find out how his company measures up to the competition. This information is invaluable when it comes to the long term planning of his marketing. He also mails comment cards to lost customers and tabulates feedback from feedback cards located in the lobby of every store.

Perhaps another reason for the success of Eureka Pizza is that money is always being put back into the physical store. Maybe new glass. Perhaps new seating. Quarry tile floors have been added to two store lobbies recently because he says that independents have to do it. The national chains have raised the bar for us. Customers expect to feel welcome in the pizza store they are going to do business with.

Another personal concern Wilkin has is the way employees and customer are treated. Never worry about money spent on air conditioning. Employees are much happier and better to customers when they are cool and if they work in a clean store. And Wilkin expects much of his employees. Every employee knows that the customer is always right. And crew members are not allowed to talk about customers in derogatory ways even when the customer is not within earshot. This attitude towards customers contributes to the company culture.

Wilkin is likely to tell you that this part of Arkansas has a great work force and dedicated employees. He talks about his operations director Ian Scher and how valuable he has been to the company. He asks, "How else could local home-grown companies like WalMart, Tyson Foods, and JB Hunt have created such success without great people?" This may be true, but there is more to his success than location alone. After all, other pizza stores still go out of business here. His success is part product, service, consistent advertising and marketing. If there is any advice he would give to someone starting a pizza business, he would say: "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise."