On November 17, 1994, I called on an ad in the newspaper to get tickets to the Rolling Stones. The guy on the other end of the phone had lousy tickets, but he mentioned that he was also looking to sell a pizza shop. In a fit of temporary insanity, I bought the pizza shop.
The day after I had the keys in my pocket, five of seven employees walked out on me. The ones that stayed wanted raises. And, I discovered the mixer required a coat hanger to hold the dough hook in place. There I was at 15,000 feet, both engines on fire and my parachute in the laundry.
Ever feel like that? Within one short week I realized that I had bought myself a low paying job. That was the last thing I wanted. The store was doing about $3,000 a week.
I knew there was only one thing that would enable me to crawl out of this hole I had dug for myself…customers, and lots of them. So here's what I did. I rented a mailing list from a local mailing shop (You'll find one in the yellow pages under Mailing Services).
Then I set out to write a letter to send to everyone within one-mile of my store. Now, I realized that mailing 6,000 letters would cost me the same regardless of how many people responded to my offer. It was going to cost me about $1,500. So, it would take at least 100 responses to break even.
In direct mail a 2 percent response is considered pretty good. So, if I even got 120 people, I would come out okay on the mailing. But, I wanted to do more than come out okay. I wanted to kick-start this business and make some money, so my offer had to be good and it had to look like a letter, not a piece of junk mail.
Now like I said a minute ago, it was going to cost me the same to mail these letters whether I got one person to call and place an order or 500. Being greedy, I wanted 500.
Being just like you, I open my mail fairly close to the garbage can so I knew something that had a junk mail look to it would get tossed pretty quick. I figured if my life depended on it (and it did) how could I make sure that my letter didn't end up in the circular file? I would start by getting the envelope opened.
First of all, I won't even risk a paper cut opening anything addressed to "Dear Occupant," so that was out. I rented a mailing list that had real "live" names on them. When a letter arrived at Bob Jones house, it was addressed to Bob Jones. In fact, statistics show that mail addressed to a real person stands a 37 to 54 percent better chance of getting opened than a letter addressed to "Dear Pizza Lover" or whatever.
Now I figure my letter is going to make it into the pile that gets opened, but how do I make sure it gets read? It's easy; just use the 'F' word – FREE…! Promise a bunch of FREE stuff, fast, and make it clear that they are not risking a penny! Here was my headline: "The best pizza you've ever had – 100 percent guaranteed or your money back – every penny. Plus, just for trying us out you'll get a FREE loaf of hot buttered garlic bread, and a FREE garden salad."
People instinctively love a winner, and at the same time, they'll root for the underdog. I figured that at $3,000 a week the "winner" angle was out, so I chose the underdog approach. I positioned us against the "fast-food" pizza guys. I talked about "fresh roasted garlic" and "hand cut" pineapple. Don't ever mess around selling something you're not proud of. Then, I restated the guarantee, gave them the phone number and address and I told them to call.
Also, did you know that the headline of a letter and the P.S. are the first things people read? They are, so I summed up the entire offer and the guarantee in the P.S.
Make it look like a letter
To give my letter that personal touch, I had them printed with the signature in blue so they looked hand signed. Also, an "expiration date" will dramatically increase your response. I'll always honor a letter even if it comes in a year later. I've discovered that about three weeks is a good time frame. If you mail on the first of the month, give them until the 21st, and always have them good until the weekend; don't have them expire on a Wednesday.
Hey – let's shoot for Friday
Now the last thing I asked myself was "when do I want these letters to hit people's mail boxes?" I figured Wednesday or Thursday would be best. That way I'm hitting them right before the heavy pizza-buying weekend. The mailing shop assured me that mailing on Monday would get most of my letters delivered before Friday. They did and we were busier than a one-legged guy in a butt kicking contest.
Have you ever noticed that when you open a letter you almost always pull the letter out from the "flap" side, or the backside of the envelope? So what you want to do is have your printer fold your letters with the headline "out." Then, have the mailing house insert the letters with the headline pointed towards the back of the envelope or, "flap-side." That way, your headline will be the first thing they see when they pull the letter out of the envelope.
Include your menu, even if it's a simple black on white. Just have it tri-folded and inserted behind your letter. Remember, you want the headline to be the first thing people see.
So, how did my mailing do? Well, we prepped up for a busy weekend, but on Thursday night when most of the mail hit, we got hammered and blew through everything we had prepped for the entire weekend. We were so swamped and unprepared, we were making dough and prepping till the sun came up Friday morning.
The weekend was a huge success, but more importantly, within 30 days of taking ownership of this struggling pizza shop, sales were up 117 percent! We were now doing over $6,000 a week and I could see daylight. All told, my $1,500 direct mail investment brought in over $12,000. This direct mail campaign eventually had us doing over $30,000 a week.
Oddly enough, the Rolling Stones ordered my pizza next time they came through town. I like it when things go full circle.
11 Tips For Your Own Direct Mail Success
- Put the recipients name on the letter
- Put the word "FREE" in the headline
- Offer a guarantee
- Make it look like a "letter" not an ad
- Print your signature in blue
- Always use a P.S. to summarize the offer
- Fold letters with the headline "out"
- Insert w/headline facing flap-side of envelope
- Include a menu
- Mail on Monday
- Be prepared!
Kamron Karington's unconventional marketing tactics zoomed his struggling pizza shop from just $3,000 a week to over $30,000 a week ($1,600,000 a year.) He is the author of "The Black Book." This encyclopedia has been called a Ph.D. in pizza marketing. "Big Dave" Ostrander calls it a "must read."
Check out Kamron's amazing secrets online at or, call him at 1-702-363-4724.