Incredible pizza

With Chuck E. Cheese a top 25 pizzeria and current king of the hill of child-targeting pizzerias, you might wonder who could ever dethrone them. There is actually a pizzeria that's on the edge of taking Chuck E. Cheese by storm. With a combination of incredible ideas and incredible fun, the Incredible Pizza Company just might have what it takes to become king of the hill.          

Through games, food and events, Incredible Pizza uses birthday parties, prizes, "credit cards," lock-ins and more for some incredible marketing.          

Never heard of the Incredible Pizza Company? Maybe you haven't heard of them yet, but they're coming. Incredible Pizza Company is an all-inclusive, family-oriented pizzeria that incorporates fun and games into its overall theme, all under one roof. Rick Barsness, owner of Incredible Pizza Company said that with their selection of arcade games, go-karts, miniature golf, bumper cars, simulators and bowling they're shooting for an age group slightly older than Chuck E. Cheese. They renovate old Wal-Marts, K-Marts and grocery stores because the square footage that's required for the restaurant. "The weather actually helps us," Rick says, laughing. "If it's cold or raining or someone just wants to escape the heat, being indoors gives them a respite from the elements." Check them out online at www.incrediblepizza.com.

Grand Opening          

Once the building is completely renovated, they have a two-night grand opening where they invite members of the community to come try the buffet for free along with free play on the games. On the first night, they bring in construction workers, pastors and families to test their system and work out glitches. On the second night, they invite Chamber of Commerce members, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other non-profit organizations to test the equipment again. "By the end of our opening, we have 8,500 people walking around the community and saying good things about our business before we're even open to the public," Rick said.

Pizza and Games          

Incredible Pizza Company centers around one central theme: 1950s fun. Everything in the restaurant is reminiscent of the '50s, from the four themed dining areas to the clothes the employees wear. The dining areas include a 1950s diner, a drive-in movie theater-themed area, the kid-favorite gymnasium decorated for a sock hop and the adult-favorite Leave-it-to-Beaver family room dining area. "The gym is a lot of fun, really busy and noisy so the kids like it," Rick said. "The family room area is a lot quieter. Parents and grandparents inevitably find their way back to that room to sit in peace and quiet."


          

According to Rick, the most unique thing about Incredible Pizza Company is that most of the people that come in the restaurant are there for the food. While they're there, the customers are likely to play the games, but half of the sales are in pizza. In true buffet-style, the customer is offered every pizza imaginable. There's also a bakery that offers deserts and pasta. The pizzas only stay on the buffet about 12 minutes and if a customer wants a pizza that's not there, it will be made for them and within six minutes, delivered to their table. The percentage of revenues from food versus entertainment is about 50/50, with a food cost of 30 percent and a labor cost of 25 percent.

While the games may not be what draws customers, they offer a great chance at additional revenue. Besides a wide variety of arcade-type games and ticket games, Incredible Pizza also has a sampling of family games, including miniature golf, go-karts, bumper cars and even bowling alleys in some of the stores, all designed to add to the store's revenues.          

Rick said that they work closely with their insurance company to cover their bases legally. They spend between $200,000 and $300,000 annually on training and a lot of that training has to do with safety. Insurance requires them to have daily inspections on a lot of the riding games such as the go-karts and bumper cars. A log has to be kept on every car for the maintenance done to each car.

Birthday parties          

Birthday parties are big business at Incredible Pizza. Depending on the locations, each restaurant has between five and 12 private party rooms and hosts about 150 birthday parties a week. When a child chooses Incredible Pizza as the place for their party, they're well rewarded.

          

The party deals start at $8 per child for a minimum of 10 children. That $8 includes the buffet, drinks and $5 on their Incredible Credit Card for fairground play. See below for more information on the credit card. Each party also receives invitations, a helium balloon bouquet, and the all-important "I'm Incredible" sticker.          

"With the party deal, the birthday child gets a huge smiley face sticker that says "It's my birthday and I'm Incredible," Rick said. "Our employees are trained so that when they see that sticker, they recognize them. They wish them a happy birthday, they bring the child to the front of the line and they get to pick out their own prizes – just all kinds of special treats for that person, because it's their birthday."

Prizes and Incredible Credit Cards

To play the games, customers purchase an Incredible Credit Card when they walk in the door. Customers can put any amount of money on the card. When you get ready to play a game, you scan your card and the amount of the game is deducted. If the game awards tickets redeemable for prizes, customers can store their tickets on the card. The card has two barcodes on it. How much money a customer has is tracked on one; the amount of tickets that have been won is tracked on the other.

Customers can choose to cash in tickets immediately for smaller prizes, or store them for a bigger, better prize. "We offer just about anything you could want as prizes," Rick said. "Stereos, VCRs, CD players, toys, backpacks and iPods to name a few. You name it, and we probably offer it as a prize." For more information on how games can help your revenue, read Choo Choo Charlie's: Redemption Games Have A Powerful Pull at www.pmq.com/mag/2002fall/games.shtml.          

The games mainly come from Brady Distributing out of Charlotte, North Carolina, but have to be altered in order to read the cards for a cost of about $250,000 total. Each game has a computer program that ties it into the main POS system and keeps track of each person's money and tickets.

Community events          

IPC is very involved in the community. Aside from sponsoring the regular little league teams,  soccer teams and the local YMCA, they also invite non-profit organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs, foster children and the women's shelter to come to the restaurant allowing those less fortunate to have an incredible time.          

Besides the charity events, they also host different competitions throughout the week. They also have miniature golf championships and karaoke nights.          

"The kids are just great to watch with the microphones," Rick said. "During karaoke, we give away free game play or tickets to everyone that gets up to sing. They can sing anything they want as long as it's kid friendly – the lyrics have to be clean."

Lock-ins     

Aside from parties, lock-ins are the next big money maker at Incredible Pizza. According to Rick, they have two versions of the lock-in: a miniature version and a full-length version. The shorter one starts at 11 at night and goes until 2 in the morning. For $10 per child, the child gets a $10 game card, access to the buffet and drinks. The children usually bring extra money for once the card is empty.          

The longer version of the lock-in goes from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. and costs $20 per kid for one game of mini-golf, one time in the bumper cars and one go-kart or simulator experience. For both lengths, Incredible Pizza requires one counselor/chaperone for every 10 students and a 100-person minimum. Outside of the lock-ins, they also regularly host something called Project Graduation where parents and youth groups rent out the entire building for the night to give kids a clean, safe place to go on their graduation night.

Other marketing techniques          

Incredible Speller: grades K-6. Teachers receive free pencils for each student, stickers to place on their graded papers and a chart to follow each student's progress. If the student gets a perfect score on a spelling test, they're given five dollars in game play and if they make perfect scores the entire year, they get 100 game tickets to be redeemed for prizes.          

Math Facts: grades 1-5. Teachers are given a stack of five-dollar free game play certificates to be awarded when the teacher feels that the student has mastered their math facts.          

Incredible Readers: all grades. According to the number of books that students read, they receive an amount of free game play. For example, if they read five books, they get two dollars in game play, if they read 10 books, they get four dollars in game play and if they finish 15 books, they get six dollars in game play.          

Perfect Attendance: all grades. For every grading period, each student with perfect attendance receives five dollars of game play, while a student with perfect attendance for the entire school year receives a $10 certificate for free game play plus a free buffet and drinks.          

Caught Being Good: all grades. The teacher is given a stack of $3 game play certificates to hand out to students once during the year when they are "caught being good."          

Trades for Grades: all grades. Any student that improves their report card is eligible for this one. The student brings in their report card and receives free game time according to their grades. For straight A's, the student gets four dollars of game play, for A's and B's, the student gets two dollars of game play and for any grade improvement at all, the student receives one dollar of game play.          

Fundraisers: all grades. Incredible Pizza will donate up to five hundred five dollar game cards to any school or organization that requests help with raising money. They have to be sold for face value during a two-month window. At the end of those two months, any remaining cards have to be returned to Incredible Pizza. Also, tracking forms are provided and must be returned with the remaining cards. Each school is allowed only one fundraiser per school year and non-profit organizations are allowed one fundraiser per calendar year.          

Loyalty program and email marketing: Using a punch card, Incredible Pizza tracks the number of times that someone comes in. After they've eaten there five times, they get the sixth buffet free. They also have an email-marketing program set up where they send out coupons and announcements for what's going on in the store that weekend. "Our customers can opt-in for the newsletter on our website," Rick says. "They can also sign up in the store, but if they do that, they're still sent an email that asks them to opt-in to the mailer."          

Military, Fire and Police Appreciation: To show their appreciation of men and women in service organizations, Incredible Pizza offers a special to their families. With a military ID, children can get a seven-dollar meal that includes the buffet, a drink and a five-dollar game card while adults get the same thing for eight dollars.

Employee benefits          

To encourage his employees to aggressively go after email addresses for the newsletter, Rick said that there are weekly drawings for a $25 cash prize. Employees are entered into the drawing every time they get a customer to sign up for the newsletter.          

Managers are on quite an effective bonus program. The managers and shift leaders split 10 percent of the month's profits among themselves: this has on occasion been as high as $10,000 going to between 12 and 16 managers. Outside of managers, Incredible Pizza also starts out paying employees 25 cents higher than the local wage, which is usually minimum wage. "This practice coupled with our interview process usually allows us to get the cream of the crop since they realize that they're getting paid more, right from the start," Rick said.          

Through a combination of marketing techniques and old-fashioned fun, Incredible Pizza is attracting some incredible profits. You can see that IPC is truly cruising down the main street to success. So be on the lookout – they're headed to an old Wal-Mart building near you!