Fashionable marketing

As a pizzeria owner, you are always looking for new ways to market your brand and attract new customers. Although your marketing budget may be tight, T-shirts could be a worthwhile expenditure. Not only does it feel great to see people wearing your designs around town, T-shirts emblazoned with your logo help to get your name out there. We talked to operators and experts to find out how T-shirts can improve your business, and what factors you should consider before purchasing.

Branching Out

Marketing materials such as box toppers, door hangers and fridge magnets are effective ways to advertise your business. But the owners of Rounders Pizza in Athens, Texas, find that T-shirts also do the trick. “Our shirts speak for themselves,” says Bryan Justice, general manager. “You have to find something that will get people’s attention.” Located in a small town with 12,000 residents, Rounders is a ’50s-themed pizzeria that attracts an older crowd, but the T-shirts are designed to win over the younger generations. “The goal was to come up with something people would want to wear,” Justice says. “We learned, after failing at several designs, that people wouldn’t buy a shirt advertising our brand unless it was cool. Not many people, let alone young adults, want to wear something that resembles a uniform.” Rounders sells shirts for $10 in-house and gives some away at special events; employees even throw them out to the crowd at local rodeos. The pizzeria’s catchy slogan, “The best piece in town,” has become a local hit—and led to greater exposure: The Athens Daily Review has named Rounders as the best pizza in town seven out of the last 10 years. “It’s absolutely the best marketing decision to date—we even have people calling to order shirts as Christmas gifts,” Justice enthuses. “If you want to be on top today, you’ve got to be creative with your marketing.”

On Display

The owners of Lost Pizza Co. ( have found a way to  display T-shirts that’s fun and keeps the customers coming back for more. The pizzeria, with two locations in Cleveland and Indianola, Mississippi, has sold T-shirts since opening day, and its operators keep finding new ways to market them. “We knew selling T-shirts would be a great way to advertise and get our name out,” says Preston Lott, partnered operator. Lott also looks for unique ways to display their shirts. One location has shirts hanging from the ceiling on a clothesline, while another has shirts displayed in an antique refrigerator. Lott notes that he doesn’t make much profit from T-shirt sales, but he marks them up just enough to cover printing and shipping costs; profits instead come from the increase in business that T-shirts encourage. The small-town pizzeria also gives shirts away to churches, schools and organizations for donation or auctions. “We aim to be very involved in our communities, so this is a small way we can help out,” Lott says. “We like to think our T-shirts reflect the atmosphere of our restaurants.” 

As Lott has realized, how you sell your T-shirts can be as important as what you’re selling. Frank Kingston Smith, vice president of Showline Promotional Products in Scottsdale, Arizona, says, “The point of purchase is a very powerful thing. The easiest way to get customers to buy the shirts is to have them folded in a case where the customers check out. The T-shirts can be displayed in as many colors as the operator likes.” Smith also suggests that operators have employees wear the shirts so that people can see the merchandise. “Seeing the T-shirt in use is the best encouragement for people to buy,” Smith notes.

Marketing and Design

In Annapolis, Maryland, Ledo Pizza (, known for its square pies since 1955, has been offering T-shirts on its website since 2001 in response to customer inquiries. “Our original intent was to produce a collectible for our loyal customers so they would be able to express their passion for our product,” says Will Robinson, vice president of marketing. Printed with designs unique to the brand, the shirts are sold on the Ledo website for $12.95, plus shipping and handling. Ledo markets this deal on box toppers and links on the website. When considering T-shirts, Robinson’s advice to other operators: “Make sure they look good.” Lost Pizza Co. uses social media such as Facebook to publicize T-shirt promotions; operators post pictures of new designs and remind customers when they are coming in. They also sell T-shirts via the pizzeria website. Many pizzerias offer online storefronts that can help market your products to clients via the Internet, so if someone were to see a shirt that he likes at the pizzeria, yet doesn’t have the money to purchase it right away, he can buy it on the web at the pizzeria’s online store. When designing T-shirts, try to make them unique and appealing to many different age groups. “We started with our simple logo design, which was a hugehit,” Lott says. “It was a simple, one-color shirt, and we could not believe how well it went over. We immediately began thinking of new ideas.” Lost Pizza Co. also tries to incorporate the towns in which they are located, and markets to younger customers. “Our latest design is a glow-in-the-dark T-shirt for the kids,” Lott continues. “We had several customers asking for children’s shirts, and we wanted to think of something fun and different. These new shirts have been a huge hit with the kids and will soon be available in adult sizes as well.”

T-Shirt Tips

If you’re looking to create T-shirts, a manufacturer can take away some of the stress and help you with the design. “Making your own branded shirts isn’t that complicated,” says Joseph Grape, director of operations for Color Vision, a T-shirt manufacturer in Edgar, Wisconsin. “Any simple graphics program on your computer can work. Many embroidery and screen printing companies also have a graphics department thatcan help create a design and branding for the pizzeria.” When pricing T-shirts, an operator should consider the costs and his marketing budget. “I would suggest selling T-shirts for at least 50% over cost,” Grape says. “You’re offering a specialty product that’s only available at your pizzeria.” You can also use T-shirts for promotions and giveaways. “There are not many cons in using apparel as a marketing tool,” Grape says. “It can be a costly campaign, but a shirt or hat will last for years. Let’s face it, we are what we eat, so why not wear it, too?” Also keep in mind your clients and what they’ll be buying when ordering T-shirts. “Be creative and let the shirts reflect your atmosphere and your food!” suggests Lott. “Start out with a small order. This will help you get an idea of how well the T-shirts will sell and what sizes will be your big sellers. It is important to get your size order down so you do not end up with too many of a size that doesn’t sell well.” If you’re ready to invest in T-shirts, remember to pick a design that will bring the experience of your restaurant to everyone who sees it. Use your logo to draw people in and catch their attention when passing someone on the street. Once you have your shirts made, display them in your pizzeria where your customers can see the merchandise. If you have a website, make sure to offer them on the Web. Update the status on your Facebook page to let customers know you now have T-shirts, and include pictures that show the designs. Once your T-shirts are available, be ready to start selling!

Unlike traditional advertising, T-shirts are like walking billboards and have a long-term effect. Having your pizzeria name or logo on your apparel that’ll be seen by everyone relates people to your business. “Significance in branding your restaurant is about having a design or artwork that tells a story about the experience,” says Chet Goldstein, owner of Campus Collection in Northport, Alabama. “Investment in a material product becomes a conversation piece.”

Kristie Warino is a PMQ editorial intern.