Marketing Marvels: Michael LaMarca uses time-tested marketing programs to keep Master Pizza on the map.

 

Founded in 1955, Master Pizza (masterpizza.com) became a household name in Cleveland over the years, growing to 38 stores before the franchise split up; eventually, only the original store remained. However, since taking over the operation, owner Michael P. LaMarca has grown it to six locations in the greater Cleveland area, keeping the Master Pizza name on the map through the use of time-tested marketing programs and a focus on customer satisfaction. LaMarca shares some of Master Pizza’s best marketing ideas with PMQ here.

 

PMQ: Tell us a little bit about the history of Master Pizza.

Michael P. LaMarca: Master Pizza was started by Ken Petti in 1955 in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, called Mayfield Heights. In 1960, Petti and four other partners combined efforts and created the Master Pizza franchise. From 1965 to 1985, the group dominated the Cleveland pizza market and opened 38 stores across the greater Cleveland area. The group was running a franchise before there were any franchise laws and regulations. Around 1985, the franchise split up, and most of the stores fizzled out over time. 

 

PMQ: What makes Master Pizza unique?

LaMarca: We’ve been operating from the same location since 1955 and have held on to our values of serving a superior, fresh and quality-driven product where price is not the motivator.

 

 

Master Pizza loves to give away pizza, mailing out free coupons to new residents or surprising unsuspecting locals with a free pizza delivery.

 

 

PMQ: What are a few of your most popular menu items?

LaMarca: Some of our most popular menu items are our specialty pizzas, which include the Popeye, Three Little Pigs and Pepperoni Passion. Each of these pizzas has won awards and been featured on television, in newspapers and on the radio. I think when you have a nonpartisan judge or judges say your pizza stands out above others, it really goes far compared to an online contest. It’s a recipe for success when you win an award, get featured in the media and market your recent win. People are drawn to the new item of the day and want to be a part of its success.

 

“We typically send out 1,000 menus per week to local residents. We have seen 10% to 20% growth since we started the menu direct mailing program.”
— Michael LaMarca, Master Pizza

 

PMQ: What are the top three ways you market to new customers?

LaMarca: Our marketing plan ensures that we get to potential new customers before anyone else. Our first approach is to offer a coupon for a free pizza in the mail when they move into the area. There are several programs that offer this kind of direct mail service, and I think it's worth every penny. A new resident or new potential customer will use the coupon eight out of 10 times. At minimum, new customers will walk through our door to claim their free pizza. It’s then up to us to retain them.

Our second opportunity comes after we have them in our shop and they’ve tried our product. We have to entice them with even more special offers, and that’s done through our website. We grant them access to exclusive coupons online if, and only if, they are a member and sign up with our site.

Our third and final stage of acquiring new customers is sending our menu with attached coupons through a direct mail program. We typically send out 1,000 menus per week to local residents. We have seen 10% to 20% growth since we started the menu direct mailing program.

 

PMQ: How do you market to existing customers?

LaMarca: The top three ways we market to our current customer base is through our Pizza Points customer loyalty program, social media and a direct focus on personal customer service. Pizza Points is a program we designed specifically for our website. It gives our customers a chance to win many different prizes just by ordering our pizza. The customer must sign up on our website to participate, helping add customers to our email list. Each time a customer places an order with us, he receives a business card-sized flyer in his pizza box. Each card has a random alpha-numeric code that he inputs on our website. The code could be worth 5, 10, 25, 50, 75, 100 or 500 points, which can be used for prizes ranging from food to tickets to a sporting event. Customers can save their points and purchase multiple items or save up for a big-ticket item. We have had customers purchase a whole graduation catering event by saving their Pizza Points! Master Pizza currently has over 12,000 active users of the Pizza Points loyalty program.

Master Pizza is very active on social media with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest and LinkedIn pages. We have built each page up by engaging regularly but not overdoing it. We also have a Master Pizza MVP Text Club.

Additionally, we post contests for free pizza on our Facebook and Twitter pages. A typical contest might read like this: “Win 2 FREE LARGE PIZZAS if you can correctly guess the score of today’s Cavs vs. Bulls game. Guess must be in before tipoff. Good luck, and go, Cavs!” We typically get a few hundred guesses and about 3,000-plus looks and reads.

Finally, we believe that good, old-fashioned personal customer service is the best way to market to our current customer base. This is more important than any coupon, tweet, post or marketing tool you will ever use. There are several options between your customer’s home and your shop. If we are fortunate enough for them to walk through our door, we feel we should bend over backwards for them. For example, we try as often as possible to walk out the customer’s order to their car, especially if it is a larger order, without being asked. We stress developing relationships with all of our customers. We build relationships with our customers so that, when they are in need or something special happens in their lives, we are right there with them.

 

Pizza eating contests on site and giveaways online attract the attention of Master Pizza fans near and far.

 

PMQ: What has been your biggest marketing challenge over the years? How did you overcome it?

LaMarca: My biggest marketing challenge has been learning when and how to market during certain times of the year and coming up with a yearly marketing plan. During the busy times of the year, our marketing focus is based on getting our name and message out to the public. For example, we’ll run ads with minimal coupons or offers but state that we’ve won several awards. During the slower times of the year, we’ll be more aggressive with inserting offers in our marketing material while running our basic marketing plan, which includes direct mailers and online marketing.

When you are approaching certain times of the year, you need to be aware of who you are marketing to. For example, in May, June and December, you should be pushing catering or some larger specials to offer for graduation and holiday parties. In late January or early February, your marketing should be directed to Super Bowl Sunday with large pizzas and wings on all ads. The only way to learn these trends is through experience. We’re all busy during certain times of the year, but the only way to gauge how to handle it is to go through it and adjust the following year.

 

PMQ: Tell us about one of your most successful promotions and how it worked.

LaMarca: The most successful promotion by far was when we offered $1 pizzas on our one-year anniversary at our second location. We posted it on the website and social media. We knew we were going to get hit, but we didn't expect to do over 1,400 pizzas! That town has only 4,500 residents. Our sales were already decent prior to the event, but afterward we immediately saw an increase in tickets per day and sales, and we built an immediate customer base. We didn’t worry so much that our food costs were a little more than the acceptable 30%— we looked at the whole event as an advertising expense.

 

PMQ: How do you get involved with your local community?

LaMarca: We believe that we need to be interwoven into our communities. We offer the city, churches and schools in our community special offers above and beyond our normal specials. We are heavily involved in the local Chamber of Commerce, and I serve on its board of directors. Members of our company volunteer to help with the annual golf outing and other events.

We also set up stands and sell pizzas at the local fairs in our communities. It’s more than getting our product out to the residents; it’s our chance to introduce ourselves and start making personal connections.

We also donate pizzas to fundraisers for student groups and local charities. We feel that giving back is an important part and a responsibility of doing business and improving your community.

 

“We’ve seen our online ordering business take off from about 2% to 3% of our daily sales to about 10% to 15%. Our average ticket online is about $4 to $5 higher on average. It also helps reduce the strain on our phone lines during the peak hours.”
—Michael LaMarca, Master Pizza

 

PMQ: Do you offer online ordering?

LaMarca: Online ordering works very well for us. We’ve seen our online ordering business take off from about 2% to 3% of our daily sales to about 10% to 15%. Our average ticket online is about $4 to $5 higher, on average. It also helps reduce the strain on our phone lines during the peak hours.

 

PMQ: Can you share some tips for those who are struggling with marketing their pizzeria?

LaMarca: Look at marketing as an ocean—waves constantly coming in, with a big wave every so often. Marketing should have the same approach: constant waves and, once in a while, you need to make a big splash.

I also suggest having an annual marketing plan to refer to. Don’t plan for Super Bowl Sunday the last week of January; it should all be in place with minimal adjustments in November or December. You should have all the planning, ordering, scheduling and adjustments set at least a few weeks prior to the Super Bowl. Keep records of how things went and make adjustments for the upcoming year. You need to look at every holiday, local event, sporting event and pop culture event as an opportunity to market your business. Marketing should provide your company a map of what’s to come, not a reflection of what you should’ve done. 

 

Liz Barrett is PMQ’s editor at large and author of Pizza: A Slice of American History.