Raising dough

Timothy Deaver, company manager of TJ’s Pizzeria Cafe (tjsmenu.com)—a five-unit chain with locations in Franklin, Oak Ridge, Sparta, Wantage and West Milford, New Jersey—is an example of an industry professional who makes business that stimulates nonprofit groups for the better, especially in a weakened economy. For almost three years, TJ’s has raised funds for organizations in its respective communities with its popular “Dough Raisers” and pizza punch cards. The company has built a reputation of whittling away profit margins to help community groups—charities, public servants and sports teams—that need the occasional financial bump. As a result, Deaver and staff members at all five of TJ’s locations have seen consistent sales growth in the past few years and created a positive impact in the communities the chain serves. As Deaver points out, making a difference in a small corner of New Jersey was the original reason for opening.

How do you help out the community?

Our Dough Raisers started about two and a half years ago. It’s a way to help out the some of the groups in our community. From the beginning, the whole concept of TJ’s was to create a restaurant that was really involved with the community. We want to do as much as we can for nonprofi t organizations. Because of the economy, a lot of nonprofits are not surviving, so we reach out to help whoever needs it.

How do the fundraisers work?

The organization sets up dates and hands out flyers to promote the Dough Raiser. For anyone carrying that flyer who makes a purchase for dine-in, carryout or delivery, we’ll give back 20% of the sale to the organization.

How do you choose the organizations TJ’s supports?

We advertise the Dough Raisers, so a lot of the time, groups come to us—I get emails, phone calls, everything. We try to build it up for the people in the community on our end, too. We actually have a format that groups can go through to help market the Dough Raisers as effectively as possible. We regularly support local fi re departments, EMTs, school organizations and athletics. The organizations we work with range from the Knights of Columbus to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Do you offer other fundraising programs?

Organizations can purchase pizza punch cards from us, and we don’t make any money on the printing. They cost 80 cents each and sell for $10. So they make $9.20 on every one that sells. They’re mainly geared toward pizza purchases, and each customer who receives 10 punches can come in and, if he orders a pizza with one or more toppings, can get a second pie for free. Overall, it’s a value of $110 to the consumer. There’s actually a waiting list for these cards. They expire after six months, and we usually let two organizations in a town have them at once. Sometimes, we’ll allow three, depending on how many cards are sold to each group. Organizations generally buy 80 to 100 cards, and they move them quite well.

Do all of your stores cater to similar demographics?

They’re very similar markets. I think our Sparta store is the most different than the others—it’s in a little higher income area. For our other stores, our customers tend to range quite a bit; we cater to construction workers who come in with hard hats for lunch, high school students, and business people who come in wearing a tie to pick up dinner for their familes.

Do you offer regular specials?

Our Family Combo is our bestseller. It’s a large pizza, 12 wings, a two-liter soda and garlic bread for $17.95. Our Complete Meal Deal is also popular; it offers a choice from six entrees and six appetizers with a salad and garlic bread for $10.95. Those are available every day. Every Wednesday night, we offer a large pizza starting at $7.99.

How’s your profit margin with these combo specials?

We’ve set up our combo meals with a reduced portion. For instance, a normal order of mozzarella sticks comes with six sticks; with the Complete Meal Deal, we give four. The profit is still there, and it’s still filling for the customer—we’ve never had a complaint about the portions at that price.

Does your menu change frequently?

We do menu changes twice a year. We’re always adding a new product. We meet with our regional managers and decide what we want to bring in or take off the menu—it’s a lot of work. You have to reprogram the POS and reprint the menus. So we run things on special for a while, and if an item moves, we’ll add it to the menu at all of our stores.

Tell us about your social media efforts.

We link to our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages on our website and use these to help promote our Dough Raisers. We call our YouTube page TJ’s TV; that’s where we put commercials and video from Dough Raiser nights at the store. I manage most of the social media right now. It’s just a way to show how we’re interacting with different people in our communities.

What are your thoughts on coupons?

Coupons are like football plays—you keep using them until they stop working. Then, you figure something else out. The best ones for us have been $2 off an $11 purchase and $5 off a $35 purchase. First, you have to get customers spending money. Second, the coupon needs to be easy to figure out; $2 off a ticket is about the easiest thing possible for both the customer and the cashier to figure out. We keep our coupons online, and customers can have them directly emailed to them. It’s an incentive for them to keep coming back.

 

Do you have a favorite marketing tool?

I say our best marketing tool is our menu. We use it as a box topper and as an insert. Whenever you get a menu into someone’s hands, it gets him thinking about what he wants to order. We run ads, and those bring in their own results, but whenever someone can receive the menu, either by direct mail or as an insert piece, he can sit and hold it. We’ve used radio, we’ve used TV and we’ve sponsored a local sports program; these have been great to get our name out there. But I think just getting the menu out into the community is the best way to get people in our doors.

Does TJ’s have a five-year plan?

We’re looking into expand the TJ’s brand with new owners. We want to grow into more of a regional chain, and we’ve already started that this year. We sold our Oak Ridge store late last year. While it’s a different owner, the business still sticks with the TJ’s menu, guidelines and marketing programs. They’ve had great success so far. We’re hoping to do more of the same—basically unleash the name of TJ’s.

Andrew Abernathy is PMQ’s associate editor.