It's a snap!

When it comes to winning the game, it takes many hits to win in the end, not just one big home run. These are the words of Bret Witte, director of marketing for Snappy Tomato Pizza. With several innovative promotions, localized marketing and publicity efforts and new management, their 46 locations have made many improvements and are making a name for themselves in their area. Steve Green, publisher of PMQ, and I recently visited the Cincinnati/ Kentucky area and had a firsthand look at some of the things they are doing to establish their brand. They have several great ideas we were able to see in action, so let's take a look at some we saw as well as some events they have showcased.

Snappy Tomato Pizza Gridiron Showcase

High school football is a big event in any state, especially when the top teams are playing. What Snappy Tomato Pizza has done in this arena is put the top two teams in Kentucky high school history (between them they have 23 state championships) together with two other teams who are attracting a lot of attention. The catch here is the two teams do not have each other on their normal schedules. This attracts a lot of media attention for the teams and Snappy Tomato Pizza and the schools get a generous donation in the name of Snappy Tomato. Included in the festivities is the Snappy Tomato mascot who gives out T-shirts and other prizes and gets the crowd involved with interactive games where they can win prizes and pizza.

Putting on an event like this is no easy task, but the rewards are many. Snappy Tomato called in the services of Don Schumacker & Associates, an agency that assisted in setting up the football game. Things they had to address included where the game would take place, when and who would participate. They chose the two best football teams in Kentucky because this would draw a large crowd and get the maximum media attention. The other teams were selected for logistical reasons; they wanted to bring in schools that were close to Snappy Tomato Pizza locations so they could work their way into selling to these schools.

There were several things from this event that benefited Snappy Tomato.  One was that because they were the main sponsor, they had control of the halftime activities. They also had the Snappy logo on all promotional material, sold pizza at the game, had their name on the ticket stubs, were mentioned in media coverage and were able to root a major competitor out of one of the schools and get their product sold there.

Creating Awareness with the Snappy Van

Another way Snappy Tomato has generated excitement and publicity for their company was by introducing The Snappy Van in February 2001. When introduced, it was just a 2001 Dodge Ram cargo van, now it's a mobile billboard advertising Snappy Tomato Pizza wherever it goes (for more info on mobile advertising see Tracy Powell's article "Mobile Market Value" from the Fall 2001 issue in the Previous Issues library at How is The Snappy Van used? Listen to this.

They have the van appear at many of the live radio remotes they are involved with in addition to appearances at nearly all of the local church festivals, city parades, holiday celebrations, high schools football games, etc. Wherever the van goes potential customers can find free pizza samples, prizes like T-shirts, Frisbees, pens, pencils, mini footballs and other items with the Snappy Tomato Pizza logo. Sometimes the van is accompanied by a Snappy Tomato mascot that gets people to play trivia games, Twister and other interactive games that lets them win prizes with the Snappy Tomato logo on them.

All of this centers around a grassroots marketing strategy that focuses on getting franchisees to become involved, more visible and more vocal within their community. The Snappy Van provides a way for the company to give something back to the communities that support them. Bret says the store owners love and get excited when the van stops and makes appearances at their store or in their area.

"It (the van) really helps win their support and enthusiasm to get more involved in their community," Bret says. "One multi-unit franchisee is seriously considering buying his own Snappy Van to further promote his local market, but there are other unique ideas we have tried out this year with the van, too."

One of these ideas is "Dinner on Us." What they do is go to various stores with the Snappy Van, mascot and prizes with the Snappy Tomato logo and pick up 20 or so pizzas. They then go door to door in random neighborhoods delivering these free items. Prior to the night they do this promotion, they send out notices to the selected neighborhoods letting residents know they will be in their area on a specified night. Bret says that on the night they show up to distribute free pizzas moms, dads and kids are often lined up in their driveways yelling and cheering in hopes that they get some free pizzas or other goodies. He also adds that their brand and product awareness has definitely increased in the short time they have run this particular promotion.

Steve and I rode along with the Snappy Van for a "Dinner on Us" promotion night. The van showed up at a Snappy location and was loaded with about 15 pizzas. Once the radio station's car and DJ showed up we went to the neighborhood they had targeted. As the Snappy mascot began knocking on doors, the DJ called the station and announced that the van was in the neighborhood giving out free pizzas. Things were quiet at first, but you could definitely tell when the call-in aired. A few people came out to the sidewalk, one car stopped in the middle of the street for a free pizza and we witnessed a young boy sprint 150 yards down the sidewalk barefooted in very frigid weather. As things began to wrap up several people who were given free pizzas walked back out on their porches eating a slice of pizza and watching things happen. You could tell that this street would remember Snappy Tomato Pizza.

Working with the Schools
and Day Care Locations

Working with the schools has paid off well for Snappy Tomato, too. Among the ways they tap into this market is selling pizza at local school football and basketball games. They also run fundraisers with lots of elementary and middle schools. This allows them to give something back to the local schools and create a loyalty and relationship between franchisees and the school systems.

Another successful strategy they employ is the Halloween Bag Giveaway, which is in its third year. Reflective Halloween bags are distributed within the community and in the elementary schools. The bags have their logo and a perforated coupon strip at the bottom. According to franchisee feedback, it is one of the most popular seasonal promotions. Here's the beauty of this promotion. By using the Coca-Cola logo and putting some Coke coupons in the bag, Coke pays the majority of the expense. Not only do they get good response rates from the coupons, they are great at generating awareness.

"Win in a Snap" Promotion

Another effective promotion was the "Win in a Snap" promotion they ran in August 2000. Scratch-off game cards were given out with every order and distributed within local territories at sporting events, festivals, etc. Customers could scratch off one of six boxes to reveal prizes ranging from free toppings to free pizzas. When the card, which was now a coupon, was redeemed, the back could be filled out by the customer to enter to win free pizza for one year. This is a great way to collect email and mailing addresses for targeted marketing efforts. Bret says they gave away a lot of free pizzas, but same store sales began to steadily rise during and after the three-month promotion.

"The idea (of this promotion) was threefold: create awareness/trials, increase volume and thank customers," he says. "We were able to achieve this and stores were able to strengthen their databases, all at the same time."

Radio Advertising

Snappy Tomato Pizza altered their regional radio advertising in 2001 to become more locally focused. They also changed formats to reach a wider range of people or potential customers who had a lower awareness of their product. The combination of live remotes and appearing at other events sponsored by the stations allowed Snappy Tomato to reach new customers and expose them to their product.

"We take full advantage of being involved with as many local radio remotes as possible," Witte says. "We will deliver pizza to the remotes and they give free samples of our pizza, menus, coupons and magnets to everyone who gathers for the remote broadcast. Again, we want to be a part of these events where local consumers are gathered. We want to make a stronger local presence than our competitors."

Other Snappy Ideas

When Snappy Tomato decided to make all of their menus the same at all of their locations they were able to create another great marketing application. They limited the Snappetizer (appetizer) menu to just six items. On the Snappetizer menu they offer Snappy Flatbread, fries, wings, garlic bread, pizza bread and cheese stix. All of their locations use Ore Ida fries, Tyson wings with Frank's RedHot sauce and Moore's Cheese Stix. They were able to have these companies help pay for the cost of printing by including their logos beside the items. This not only lowered the cost of printing, it makes the appetizers appear to be of higher quality and gives the impression that they only use the best. They were also able to negotiate the same deal with J.T.M. for their hoagie meats and Dole for the pineapple on their Hawaiian pizza.

While Bret was driving us to one of the promotions Snappy had going on at a day care center, he pointed out another one of the great ideas they have. It's a form of advertising that is effective and relatively low-cost.  As we neared an exit, we passed one of those blue signs that inform motorist what is at the next exit. Usually there is one that has the logos of gas stations you can find at the next exit, one for hotels and one for food. Snappy Tomato found the independent company that erects and maintains these highway signs and had the Snappy Tomato logo placed on the one just before the exit where their store is located. Bret says the cost was about $1,200 for one year. This is a great way to let hungry travelers know that there is a pizzeria right off the next exit and their logo is also seen by thousands of passing locals every day.

Snappy Tomato Pizza has come a long way since opening in 1978. Many of the changes in the last two years have been to increase brand awareness in their areas. They are accomplishing this with a grassroots effort in their own backyard. Employing tools like the Snappy van and mascot and getting involved with the community through the Gridiron Showcase and promotions like Dinner on Us, they are on their way to becoming another pizza success story.

A Little About Snappy Tomato

Snappy Tomato Pizza is a Northern Kentucky based franchise. They are an expanding company and have franchises throughout the Midwest. With several successful business models available, they offer a full sit-down restaurant with a buffet emphasis that also includes a complimentary delivery/ carry out service. They also have convenience store (C-store) units in less populated areas with lower startup and operating costs that specialize in delivery/carry out service. The main concentration of stores are in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area where they have 24 locations. This is where the company originated and has its corporate headquarters.

"Over the last two years, we have done a lot of experimenting with various types of advertising that our company has never taken part in or been exposed to before," says Bret. "We find out what franchisees like, what we deem effective and then initiate those same activities in our other markets."

So far, they have been successful in generating excitement about the company while at the same time increasing store volumes. Last year they saw a nine percent increase in same store sales in the Cincinnati/ Northern Kentucky region. So, what is the reason for this newfound success? You may say it's an emphasis on local store marketing, or as they call it "backyard advertising" (marketing and creating relationships with the customers they are closest to), new and innovative ways to generate publicity and excitement with their area and new management.

About two years ago Snappy hired Neil Stiegelmeyer as the new president and CEO. As the new management was set in place a new approach to establishing their image was instituted. "We had an identity problem," Witte said. "There wasn't any uniformity to the stores. The menus varied from location to location, it seemed that everyone had different signage and many other details had the same problem. When Neil came in, we first decided to make the menus at all of locations the same.  Now we are offering incentive plans to franchisees so they can update their store signage, purchase new POS systems & other equipment.  These programs have been implemented so that we can improve and update each location.  Ultimately, this gets everyone in our system to become consistent, focused on quality and on the same page in regards to our identity."  As one of the franchise owners said, "The difference in Snappy Tomato between two years ago and now is as different as black and white."