Pie Guys’ Pizzeria in Austin, Texas, does its homework, offering both entertainment and top-notch pies to a college student clientele.
By Andrew Abernathy
Serve up almost any pizza to a group of college students and you can consider it eaten. However, if you give those same students something fun to do at your store, they’ll text their friends. Sticking true to this marketing philosophy, the operators at Pie Guys Pizzeria (pieguyspizza.com) in Austin, Texas, have kept busy in their first year of operation near the University of Texas main campus. With themed events such as Props to Peddlers Night, Band Night and even Free Beer Tasting Night, husband-and-wife owners Michael and Darla Willoughby approach the pizza business almost as social scientists trying to predict what sparks the most interest in Longhorn country college goers—even if it means hosting a pizza eating contest or catering a very charitable, but very public, underwear run. We tracked down Michael to take a gander at the Pie Guys’ marketing syllabus.
Q: Why do you come up with theme ideas for your pizzeria?
A: We’re in a very dense area; there are probably 40,000 students within five blocks of my restaurant. To be honest, we’ve found that students are not eating out because a restaurant has good food; they’re going places to be entertained. Of course you have to have a solid product—that’s a given. But the college environment is an entertainment environment. We’re about to roll out something new right now. We’re having our restaurant redecorated by the customers. We’re giving a $25 gift certificate per week for the best pizza box design, and that will make up the decor of the restaurant. The best ones we choose are going to be on the wall.
Q:Do you do a lot of research for your marketing?
A: Well, I come from a business growth and development background. So I’ve kind of been sitting on the sidelines observing the students to see what attracts them. We have a loft upstairs where we bring students and hold focus groups. We ask what they look for in a menu and in things like live music—because in Austin that’s a must. We’ll develop ideas like 25-cent beer night. A lot of our specialty pizzas are developed in focus groups. With a student clientele, you find that things like Doritos and guacamole do well as toppings.