Staying focused on what's important

"You have to want to give. Whenpeople see this, they will want to cometo you and will support your business.Once you become familiar with thepeople, you create a family."

Sometimes in the process of doing business, you lose focus of what's important. At the 2001 Pizza Expo in Chicago, I had a father and son who owned a pizzeria in the Chicago area come up to me, introduce themselves and proceed to tell me a little about their store. They went on to tell me about their sales, school lunch programs and that they had several other members of their family who also owned pizzerias. I took their business card and made a note to myself to give them a call and see if they had a story when I had some extra time.

Normally, when I talk to pizza operators about a possible story for the magazine I ask the person I'm interviewing, "What can you tell me that will help others sell more pizza?" I try to find promotions and strategies they are doing that I can describe in detail that increase profits. After all, money is what makes the world go around, right?

Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who owns a local restaurant where I worked while going to college. He said he was going to Chicago to pick up some equipment for his restaurant and asked if I wanted to go. "Sure," I said. "I have this guy up there who sells to school districts and it will make a good follow-up to a story I recently did on selling to schools." I was thinking I would go and find out all the details of how they started selling to schools and do a 'step-by-step how-to' piece on their strategy.

The name of the pizzeria is Rosario's Pizza, owned by husband Biagio Bucarro, wife Francesca and son Chris. They are located in Roselle, Illinois. They are open 4 – 11 pm weekdays and 4 – 12 pm weekends. With the volume of work they have with schools, they are closed during lunch. "Wow," I thought. "If they are doing that much for schools during the day, there's the story." I went by on a Tuesday, which happens to be the one day they aren't busy making pizzas for the kids, did a tour of the store and began interviewing Chris and Biagio. About an hour into the interview, Francesca came in and I began explaining who I was and what our magazine was about. This is where the interview took a different angle.

I told her that I wanted to write about how they got into selling to schools and tell other operators what they were doing, how it worked for Rosario's and how they could use this idea in their operations to sell more pizza. She began to tell me that the way they did things would not apply to others because every pizzeria and their customers are different. Then she told me what it was about Rosario's Pizza that has kept them in business for 25 years in an area where I could stand and see at least two other pizzerias from the parking lot. It wasn't marketing strategies, massive amounts of direct mailings or expensive advertising campaigns. It was creating a sense of community and family with customers.

"Over the years, you get tested by your actions," Francesca said. She explained the reason they have enough business selling to schools, PTA groups, Boy Scouts and others is because they became involved in the community and got to know them and found a need. To get support from the community she says "you have to get to know the community and find out what is needed and see if you can provide it. You have to want to give. When people see this, they will want to come to you and will support your business. Once you become familiar with the people, you create a family."

How do they do that? A quick glance at their wall will tell you. It's plastered with pictures of youth groups they help and thank you letters for their support. Rosario's sponsors several youth sports teams and the local police department's drag racing car. The car is used by the police department as a way to get kids to feel closer and more at ease with police and creates avenues of conversation and interest between them. Rosario's also works with the local Boy Scout groups, which have a camp nearby, and they cater pizzas, panzerottis and meatball subs when the camps meet.

The fruits of all of this community support have been plentiful and have helped build a very successful lunch and youth catering program. PTA leaders, Scout Masters and others know them from their community support. The result of this is the schools and other groups are coming to them and asking if they can cater their events or serve their schools. Who needs a big marketing budget, advertising campaign or massive mailing program when word of mouth works this well?

Sometimes, pizzeria owners lose that sense of family with customers because they stay focused on finding different ways to get customers to come in the store. The important thing is to serve the community where you do business. Help provide the community with its needs and they will help you with yours. Customer service goes beyond your front door. And like Francesca says, "You get tested by your actions over the years." PMQ