Pizza Rita's version of David vs. Goliath

Papa John's is coming! Just the sound of this brings fear in the hearts of some pizza store owners. Remember that Goliath was beaten by a precisely placed stone from wee David. Pizza Rita in Spokane, Wash., heard that one of the Goliath's in the pizza industry was coming to their turf and accepted the challenge. Guess what? The outcome was Papa John's taking a shot right between the eyes from one of the David's of the pizza industry.

Brian and June Dickmann, owners of two Pizza Rita stores in eastern Washington, know what it takes to win against a competitor that has sent many other less prepared pizzeria owners to bankruptcy court. Doing what you say you will do and providing great service and food on a continual basis is the policy Brian says they have lived by for the last 11 years. In this time, they have seen several pizzerias, such as Little Caesar's, Pizza Time, Pizza Haven, Roxy's and Stuft Pizza, come and go.

"Papa John's arrogantly came in here believing they could march in with the success they were having in other areas of the country and outsell us smaller independents," says Brian. "We do $1 to $1.4 million a year and we didn't get here with arrogance or rolling over to die when some of the bigger chains came to town. We let our customers, service and employees do the talking for us." What helped Brian win the battle against his new competitor was applying his policy and using Papa John's mistakes against them.

Papa John's used two aggressive strategies in an attempt to gain a foothold in Pizza Rita's territory. First, they positioned their store in a former Little Caesar's building near Pizza Rita and North Central High School. This was a strategy they used to attract hungry teenagers from the high school, who happen to be some of Pizza Rita's best customers. By placing their store near the high school, they could then begin to target this customer base with promotions aimed directly at the students. The location they chose made them a new and convenient alternative to the established Pizza Rita location.

Papa John's promotional strategy went right into the heart of the student population. They placed small stickers with free pizza, cheese sticks or soda offers on every fourth bottle of Coca-Cola sold in vending machines at the school. Now when students purchased sodas they had an incentive to try the new pizza giant in town. Pizza Rita showed no fear in the attempt to grab their customers. Because Pizza Rita has always accepted competitor's coupons, they welcomed the promotion. Since Papa John's paid for the printing and distribution, Pizza Rita now had a free promotion at Papa John's expense. Pizza Rita also offers a free pizza to anyone who buys an unsatisfactory pizza from any competitor. If students did use the Papa John's coupons placed on the sodas to try a new pizza and were not satisfied, Pizza Rita would be right there, like an old friend, to make sure they got what they wanted. Backing up this guarantee is what Brian says makes Pizza Rita the pizza choice for the people in Spokane.

Pizza Rita began to benefit from Papa John's promotion and mistakes shortly after the coupons were issued at the high school. Papa's first mistake came when they put up resistance to several students who tried to use Papa John's coupons. Unfortunately for Papa John's, the damage was compounded by the fact that a writer for the high school newspaper was there on one occasion. According to an article that Staff Writer Danielle Lillemon wrote that appeared in the school's newspaper, the new pizzeria handled their new market poorly (straight from the mouths of babes). In the same article, she said that when she visited the new Papa John's location the service was slow and employees "were not very friendly." She went on to tell of how a customer came in Papa John's to redeem a free pizza coupon while she was there and was asked for ID to get his free pizza. She said that this was not mentioned on the free offer. What may have done the most damage was when she wrote of how employees mocked the customer after he left the store. (You never know who's watching.) In that same article, she sang the praises of customer service at Pizza Rita. This, according to Brian, sent customers with Papa John's coupons flocking to Pizza Rita.

Pizza Rita seized this opportunity and went to work. With a small investment of a Polaroid camera, they took pictures showing customers getting what they want; a great, free pizza with a coupon supplied and distributed by Papa John's. They displayed these pictures on a large banner made from the bright, green coupons "thanking" Papa John's for their assistance in promoting Pizza Rita. They posted a "thank you" letter in their store addressed directly to Papa John's and even sent one to the Papa John's store manager. "When one pizza shop thanks another in big letters in their front window, it gets noticed," says Brian. "Which is ultimately what we want. Papa John's even sent a couple of their employees over here to see what we were doing. In just three weeks, Pizza Rita accepted more than 300 of the coupons Papa John's issued on Cokes.

Brian explains that his crew never speaks negatively about customers, whether they are in the store or not. He says that they continually strive to be as pleasant and fast as possible and it reflects in the loyalty of his customers. He says that this is how a small guy can beat the big chains, along with recipes that he thinks taste better than the uniform taste of chain pizzas.