Madison's marketing mania

What would you do if you opened four new stores in seven months? Chuck Darrah and his wife Melissa, owners of Madison’s Pizzeria in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were faced with just that question.

Madison’s Pizzeria, open since 2000, currently has five stores open and running. Through a variety of marketing, Chuck has made Madison’s a rapidly growing success in the North Hills area.

Marketing Madison’s

As part of his regular marketing plan, Chuck says that he uses local advertisements (penny-savers, home town mailers, etc.) and advertises in the paper. He also is part of a mailing list, Welcome to the Community, which sends out coupons and ads to anybody that moves into town. “We’ve found that people that are new to town are looking for a good place to find pizza and this gets our name out there as one of the first that they see,” Chuck told me. “We pay a monthly fee of $29.95 and an additional five cents for every new resident that moves into a community.”

Chuck also provided dough and sauce for a local bar called Philthy McNasty’s until the second Madison’s opened. On the back of their menu, Philthy McNasty’s had a list of stores that provided it with food and recipes. “When I made dough, I made the shells for the bar and froze them,” Chuck told me. “Each week they ordered the number of shells that they thought they needed for the week and the correct amount of sauce in ounces to go with them. We monitored the quality of the bar through our dough and sauce.” Chuck says that he charged the bar by the shell and by the ounce of sauce. They were required to buy a certain number of ounces per shell that they ordered.

Madison Monster and Drinks

Madison’s also offers a 32-inch pizza for groups. The Madison Monster costs $22.29 and uses six pounds of dough, one two-liter of sauce and three pounds of cheese. “It’s really popular with larger groups,” Chuck told me. “It feeds eight to twelve people. One of our suppliers, Neil Lewis of Lewis Brothers Restaurant Equipment gave us the idea to try a really big pizza. I didn’t have a problem with trying it, but I wanted it to be round, so Neil found where we could special order the screens in the size we wanted.”

Not only does Madison’s offer the Madison Monster and 15 specialty pizzas, which account for around 75 percent of sales, but they also give their customers over 100 types of beverages to choose from. They order the drinks from three different suppliers. “We started selling the sodas one door at a time,” Chuck told me. “It just grew into what we have now. We offer a lot of drinks that aren’t offered in many other places in the Pittsburgh area.”

“With so many drinks to choose from, we do a lot of suggestive selling,” Chuck told me. “If a certain drink isn’t performing so hot, we’ll push it in something like a ‘flavor of the month’ deal.” Where do they store all of these choices? “Each store has two three-door or 32-foot coolers where they keep the drinks,” Chuck told me. “Doing inventory on all of those drinks is a headache though—we do inventory once a week, usually over the weekend.”

Madison Bucks

To encourage students at the local college to come to Madison’s, Chuck hands out coupons called Madison Bucks. Madison Bucks can be used in place of money. He keeps up with the redemption of the bucks through a POS system and counts them once a month. “We give students the Madison Bucks to be used as the equivalent of food,” Chuck told me. “They can be used as a certain amount of money off of an order, or they can be used as tip money for the waiters.” To keep from just giving food away, students can only redeem two at a time. In order to distribute them, Chuck and the rest of the Madison’s owners physically hand them out to students on campus. “If we’re really lucky, we can get into the dorms,” Chuck told me. “When that happens, we can actually tape the Madison’s Bucks onto students doors.”

Wondering how they keep people from counterfeiting the bucks? “The Madison Bucks are purple and gray with the Madison’s logo printed on it,” Chuck told me. “To keep people from creating more, we use a stamp and a sticker. We had a stamp made that says, ‘This dollar bill given to you by Madison’s.’ We also put a foil sticker in the shape of a handprint on the front of the bill.”

Opening

Chuck bought a local pizza franchise and ran it for a year and a half before closing it and opening Madison’s in the same location. “The day after I finished all of the legal issues with the franchise about closing it down, we started answering the phone as Madison’s,” Chuck told me.

After enjoying great success with Madison’s, despite competing in a saturated pizza market (Madison’s is surrounded by almost every major chain and several independents), Chuck decided it was time to open another Madison’s. “I was looking at a location for a second store,” Chuck told me. “I had a couple of friends approach me and say they wanted to give owning and running the store a shot, so the second Madison’s came to be. It’s been that way on every one that I’ve opened.” Inside of seven months, Chuck opened four new Madison’s Pizzerias.

For the day of the grand opening for all five stores, Chuck told me that they offer a cheese pizza for $1.99 to encourage people to try the pizza. “We’ve done this every time we open,” Chuck told me. “With the original Madison’s, we sold 850 pizzas on the first day. We always get a large response with that deal.”

Quality Control

“Obviously, I’m the most particular about the quality of the product that comes out of all five stores,” Chuck told me. “To help with this, Scott Griffin, the general manager at Madison’s, visits all five stores every week to check on the stores and ensure the food’s quality.”

Beyond that, Chuck also makes all of the dough for all of the stores. “I make somewhere between 20 and 25 batches of dough in a week to be sent out to the various stores,” Chuck told me. “This just ensures that the dough is exactly the way I want it done and has the taste our customers love.” Also, each store has all of the same equipment to ensure that the pizza is prepared in the same way in all five stores.

Madison’s has had three different slogans since it opened. The first, “It’s what’s on top that counts,” advertised the superior products that Madison’s used on its pizzas. The second, “Come taste the madness,” focused in on the variety of specialty pizzas that Madison’s offers. The third and current one, “Only at Madison’s,” is an all-inclusive slogan that calls up everything that loyal customers love about the restaurant, from the extensive selection of drinks right down to the 15 specialty pizzas they offer.

Chuck has different types of breadsticks named after each of his daughters. For example, Madison’s Sticks are cinnamon sticks.
Chuck shows off his product along with his wife Melissa and eldest daughter Madison, for whom the pizzerias are named.
One of the main attractions of Madison’s is their selection of over 100 different types of beverages. Each store maintains its own drink cooler, with inventory being done once per week.