I'm troubled. After speaking to hundreds of pizza operators every month and presenting to a thousand last week in Las Vegas, I'm troubled. The messages I'm getting are: "The economy is down and sales are flat or sales have gone south." In hard times, there are still opportunities. You just have to work harder to find them. How hard are you working your plan?

On the morning of 9/11/01, I was in a hotel room preparing for a presentation to the management and crew at Spanky's Pizza in Fremont, Michigan. My sales and crew morale building presentation were going to be fantastic. I was reloading my brief case when the first tower was hit. Time stood still for the entire country, myself included. When I met with Michelle and her managers an hour later we were still numb. Then I heard the most profound thing from the eternally optimistic owner; "No matter what happens in the future, Spanky's will survive. No matter what, we will sell our pizza to everyone in town, even if we have to sell half-baked pies for six dollars. We will be the most affordable place to eat in town." Her staff embraced her positive attitude, myself included. We must remind ourselves we have no control over any geopolitical or economic circumstances. We must constantly remind ourselves of all the things we do have control over and put into perspective what we can't control and let it go, roll up our sleeves, dust off our aprons and get back to working our plan.

According to John Graham, president of Graham Communications of Quincy, Massachusetts, a key sign of problems is businesses have no established marketing plan and take action only when sales lag. Moreover, they balk at spending money for marketing, yet expect big results from small-budget, amateurly produced advertising materials that simply imitate the competition "Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude." Zig Ziglar

Since that infamous day, my radar has been picking up a lot of reasons for sales slippage. I think it's high time we get back to basics and get out of the reactive mode and get back into the proactive marketing groove. Many owners are willing to wait out the current situations and be ready when business picks up in the future.

I wouldn't hold my breath. As soon as you decide business will get better, and act on it, it will.

Remember your first months after opening? You were so energized, optimistic, and pumped up emotionally you didn't even miss being sleep deprived. You were living your dream. You acted as if it were impossible to fail. Here is the secret: With that kind of energy you could not fail. Attitude is everything. How has yours been lately? Are you in a state of inertia?

Nowadays, it's almost impossible to go a day or even a few hours without a media fix. We are seduced by news readers that can explain away anything. They can tell you exactly the meaning of life as well as why customers aren't spending at your store. After a while we believe the message must be true.

This little story comes from the 1930's during the depths of the depression. If you think sales are soft now imagine selling anything when 35 percent of the entire population was living hand to mouth.

There was a man who lived by the side of the road and sold hot dogs. He was hard of hearing, so he had no radio. He had trouble with his eyes, so he read no newspapers. But he sold good hot dogs.

He stood at the side of the road and cried, "Buy a hot dog, mister?" and people did. He increased his meat and bun orders. He bought a bigger stove to take care of his trade. He finally got his son home from college to help him out. Then something happened. His son said, "Father, haven't you been listening to the radio? Haven't you been reading the newspapers? The European situation is terrible. The domestic situation is worse." Whereupon the father thought, "Well my son's been to college, he reads the papers and he listens to the radio, and he ought to know." So the father cut down his meat and bun orders, took down his signs, and no longer bothered to stand out on the highway to sell his hot dogs. And his hot dog sales fell almost overnight.

The father said to the boy, "You're right, son, we certainly are in the middle of a great depression."

If you can identify with this story you're in a lot of good company. Has your plan slipped or been put on hold? Let's change that right here and now. Personally, pizza marketing is the most fun I've ever had with my clothes on. The satisfaction, excitement and rewards of a well thought out and executed winning strategy is priceless. This is the good stuff that tempers the 'ho hum' side of our trade. Let's get back into the box and start off easy with a sure-fire, can't miss tactic before we kick it up a notch. I'm talking Box Toppers. The following is an excerpt from The Black Book by Kamrom Karington. Used by permission from the author. Details of this pizza specific marketing book are available at my website: http://www.bigdaveostrander.com/products.asp.

Box Toppers
Box toppers are a like "stealth" advertising. The recipient has lowered their defenses, in fact, they've initiated the contact – and bang! Like a thief in the night – it's in! Plus, they are getting your ad in a very favorable frame of mind. They have called YOU. They want YOUR pizza. And, they will be looking at it while satisfying their appetite with YOUR pizza. Folks, it doesn't get much better than that.

If you have pets and you feed them with canned food, have you ever noticed what happens every time you hit the can opener? They come running even if you're just opening a can of green beans. They have associated the sound of the opener with food.

In 1906, Ivan Pavlov conducted "conditioning" experiments on dogs. A bell was rung just before food was given to the dogs, and after a period of time it was observed that the ringing of the bell alone would increase the rate of the dogs' salivation.

  • Food      =      Salivate
  • Food + Bell      =      Salivate
  • Bell (only)      =      Salivate

This is what's known as Classical Conditioning. Associating an unrelated event (stimulus) to an outcome (take your choice). K-Mart figured this out with the "blue-light" special. It didn't matter what was on sale, people flocked to the scene, regardless, and started grabbing stuff. And classical conditioning works very effectively in advertising.

For example, many beer ads prominently feature attractive young women wearing hardly anything. The young women (Stimulus) naturally elicit a favorable, mildly aroused feeling (Response) in most men. The beer is simply associated with this effect. (I knew a teacher that would walk out the front door just about every time the phone rang. She thought she had to go out and monitor the hallway).

The strongest application of classical conditioning involves emotion. Research confirms that human emotion "conditions" rapidly and easily. So, while you can trick your dog into drooling and acting even more stupidly than usual, you (all of us) fall victim to the same psychological triggers.

Now, the reason I'm bringing this up here is this: Box toppers arrive in the home while the recipient is hungry. They look over your box topper while they are satisfying that hunger. They are looking at your ad while they are salivating over your pizza. They are going to put that ad aside for the next time, when they feel that hunger. They are associating you (your pizza) with a very satisfying event. You cannot get your ad in front of someone under any more favorable conditions.

So, while most people do whatever they can to block out advertising, you've been invited to come into their home and make your pitch. I'll say it again – Folks, it doesn't get much better than that.

The Big Three use them on every box. What does that tell you? They work. They come off the box and go right on the fridge. For a penny or two you've just saved a stamp, and a door hanger.

Distribution – is FREE!

Next time they want pizza, your offer is hanging right there. But let's not get too crazy here. Box toppers should NEVER have steep discounts on them. Box top discounts should be in the fifty cents to one-dollar range. People will get offended if they just paid 12.99 for a pizza and you have a $9.99 offer for the exact same thing taped right onto the box.

If your large one-topping pizza sells for $12.99, have a $12.49 offer. If your two-pizza deal is $18.99, use a $17.99 or $17.49 offer. We're not trying to generate new customers with steep discounts. We simply want to keep some of that "top of mind" awareness. And, make another impression to help "hardwire" your name into the customer's mind. Typical offers are:

  • One topping at XX.99
  • 3 Topping at XX.99
  • 2 Pizzas at XX.99
  • You can also use a FREE offer.
  • FREE Bread Sticks
  • FREE 2-Liter
  • FREE Salad

That way you don't discount at all. And, they have to order again to get the freebies. It's not unheard of to not discount at all. You heard me right. You simply put your regular menu price on the coupon. Most people, most but not all, don't really know exact prices anyway. If they just paid $12.99 for a one topping pizza and the box topper has a coupon for a large one topping at $12.99 they'll figure they got the $12.99 deal this time, and now they have a "coupon" to get it again. What luck.

Box toppers are usually 5.5" by 8.5". An 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper cut in two. Your printer will print them 2-up. This means you can print two totally different box toppers at the same time. Most box toppers can be printed on one side only, saving you money. If you feel it necessary, you can print your menu on the backside.Alternate different offers every three weeks. Use the offers that work best for you.

Use these words:

  • NEW
  • NOW
  • FREE

Attaching: Please, don't use so much glue that there's nothing left of the box topper by the time they get it off. One drop of Elmer's glue, or a tiny dab of glue stick will do the trick. If you have your logo printed on the boxes, place the box topper – so your logo, or most of it can be seen. Otherwise, place it on the bottom, right hand part of the lid.

I know these are things owners think of, but when you turn a couple of kids loose with box toppers and glue, crazy things can happen. Show them how you want it done.

In closing, pizza marketing is developing a plan and working it. The tried and true strategies are the best. Next time we'll delve into some of my Silver Bullet – Down and Dirty Tactics.

If this article hasn't answered all of you questions and you want to discuss it further please visit my website at www.bigdaveostrander.com and post a question or call me at (888) BIG-DAVE.

Copyright  2003 Dave Ostrander, all rights reserved.