The independent's advantage

Chef Danny Wolf creates a unique recipe for pizza success.

"Building sales is easier when you're an independent community pizzeria."

Danny Wolf has been on both sides of the fence. Once a pizza franchisee, he much prefers being an independent operator. Now, he's raising sales to levels higher than ever before and having much more fun.

PMQ was very fortunate to follow Danny Wolf around his Manassas, Virginia store for a week this summer to document the things he's done to dramatically build his pizza business. Get ready for some new ideas. Danny Wolf never stops thinking about new ways to sell more pizza. He was the perfect PMQ interview. All we had to do was get him talking and write fast.

Danny Wolf set out to reinvent the pizza business for himself. You can increase your success by learning Danny's overall approach to marketing: It's not necessarily the ideas he comes up with that create the success, it's the people he comes up with that make the ideas succeed.

The reason Danny thinks the way he does may be the result of his unusual background for a pizza operator. He earned the degree of Chef from La Verne Ecole De Cuisine, a culinary arts school in Paris. He has worked as a corporate chef for Marriott specializing in opening new hotels and when he served in the army he prepared meals for foreign dignitaries including some at the White House during the Reagan-Bush years. Other cap feathers include a respectable showing at the world pizza championship in Italy last April and the Pizza Today Best Pizza Recipe for an exotic pizza this year at the Northeast Pizza Expo. He earned an MBA from Alabama's Troy State, but most notably Danny is always thinking and always talking with his customers. His style of building sales probably needs its own name and so we will call it Wolf Marketing.

What is Wolf Marketing?

The way Danny markets is simple. It goes like this:

  1. Recruiting in the lobby. Talk with your customers. I mean really talk with them. Find out what they do and what kind of connections they have with other people. While that customer is waiting on his or her pizza, get them talking about what they do, where they work or what they know.
  2. Find a way to work with that person that will create a winning situation for the both of you. Danny will help anyone that would like his help, and all that he asks in return is the chance to sell more pizza.
  3. Instead of spending a lot of money to get customers to come to his store all at one time, Danny creates and follows through on 15 or 20 simultaneous sales building programs.

While you may see a customer in your lobby, Danny sees the customer AND the hundred potential customers that this one person can personally influence into buying a Wolf's pizza.

Danny believes that every day at least one customer walks in the door who holds the key to a 500-pie order. What about the next customer who walks into your store? You may not know which ones are the most important prospects, but Danny has a way of finding out. "You have to talk with your customers and open them up. If you're not a talker, get someone in your place that is. Otherwise, you'll be letting pizza sales walk out the door."

Here are some real-life examples of what Danny has done at his store just during the last two years with customers that are results of in-store conversations. Remember! The following is not necessarily a list of what you should do, but rather what works for Danny Wolf given the unique opportunities of his store. You have unique opportunities as well and the customers in your lobby can help you find them.

Danny Wolf — Master Lobbyist

Once, a municipal judge was waiting in the lobby for a pizza. As Danny finished making his pizza he asked if the judge knew of anyone interested in delivering pizza? The judge just happened to be looking for employers willing to place those in his work-release program. Now, Danny boosts his delivery staff with the help of a customer with whom he just happened to strike up a conversation.

Danny explains how the system works. "I work with the judges and sheriff. Any time they get a work-release person, they refer them to me. Even though these are only short-term employees, it helps. Don't worry! My drivers are not hardened felons. These are more likely to be slow ticket payers and many are only guilty of being behind on child support. Maybe they need a permanent job. I have had five of them work for me so far and they have all worked hard and because they were under court orders, they were always on time."

Printers buy pizza too

"I believe in bartering as much as possible," says Danny.
"Printing would be too expensive for me if I didn't trade pizza for part of my printing. My (Breakaway) POS system allows me to put a credit balance into my computer for each printer. I just put their orders on the tab while I stretch my printing dollars."

New Customer Early Detection System

Who's the first to know about new customers coming into the area? It's the real estate agents and the U-Haul dealers. That's why Danny has a program for both groups. When a local real estate agent sells a home it's customary that they give their new homeowners a basket of fruit or flowers, usually costing over $25. Danny has been successful in getting many agents in Manassas to switch to the idea of giving them pizza instead. "These days," Danny explains to them, "nothing is more popular than pizza and what is going to be more useful to a family in the middle of a hectic move? It's an easy sell because it's cheaper than flowers."

He offers a gift certificate that the agent buys for $12.50 with a value of $17.50. He really likes the idea that the first meal in their new home is from his place. They get a large one-topping pie, bread sticks, salad, a 2-liter bottle of Coke and of course, a menu. As for U-Haul and the other truck and trailer rental places, when the clerk lets him know about the new arrival, they, along with the customer, are going to be getting a free pizza.

He also sends a free pizza or two the first day of the real estate school that is held each month in his county and usually gets orders that are paid for during the rest of the week. And it's a great way to stay close with this important group. Especially when they can become ambassadors for your pizzeria.

Not your regular kids birthday party Danny didn't want to have the same kind of "get-them-in, get-them-out" birthday parties that everybody else does. Here's one kids will remember and talk to their friends about.

It all started in a conversation with the owner of Manassas Clay, a local company that makes pottery. First, the kids and parents eat at Wolf's pizzeria, and then they learn how to make a pot. It's a joint public relations success for both of these businesses working together. The parties are obviously booked during the slow times of the day.

Toys for Tots program

"We are proud to advertise that we are an official Toys for Tots drop-off-point," Danny says. People can come by and drop off toys or give them to his drivers when they deliver pizza. "The program is sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps, who are great to work with, he adds. They will even make a free banner for you to display in your store. This program was worth hundreds of advertising dollars and worked great in making his pizza business closer with the community."

Marketing co-op with theater, art studio, and other event-based businesses
The idea is to join forces with other businesses that agree to cross-promote. His biggest negotiating chip is his ability to promote their events with his box toppers. In return, they have his menu's in their businesses. He only does one box topper at a time so it doesn't become junk to his customers. When one of these businesses he associates with has a wine tasting, local artist or some other event, he is there with free samples to find new customers.

Kid Stuff $3.99

He sells about a hundred a week. It's a special par-bake pizza that is quick and easy to fix and Danny adds that the kids "love 'em." Especially since it comes packaged with a soda or fruit drink and the extra kids stuff you see in this 10-inch pizza box. They also offer Tyson's chicken dinosaurs as an alternative to the pizza. It's priced so that they meet their regular food cost goals.

Free foods to local radio stations.

Give the DJ's free food and they could plug you all day. The car dealer he was working with had a remote broadcast from his dealership and asked if Danny would offer some free pizza certificates to give away if they mentioned Wolf's Pizzeria on the radio. He said yes and started working with the radio stations on other events as well. If you listen to any of the Manassas radio stations, you already know about Wolf's Pizzeria.

Class demo in school

"I work with schools and day care programs and give them free demos, but the program that works best is when the kids come by bus to our store on a school field trip," says Danny. "Especially when we can schedule it during an otherwise dead time. The kids pay $5, they get a tour of the store and then we teach them how to make a pizza. They make their own six-ounce, six-inch pizza, take a picture of it and then we cook it. While they are waiting on their pies, I entertain them with some Throw Dough. By the way, if your not aware of Throw Dough it is a wonderful product and Toni Gemignani has a great video that will teach you how to dazzle the kids with it. When the kids are finished, they get a diploma for completing the Wolf's Pizza Boot Camp, a letter to Mom and Dad and of course, a menu."

Boy Scouts to Scout out New Customers

When Danny asked the Boy Scout Troop Leader what it would cost for his group to put out 5,000 door hangers he probably undercharged Danny by asking for $100. That and a pizza party was enough for them to get a new group of people into Wolf's store. The boost from door hanging was a bonus.

Fundraiser for Manassas Baptist Church

MBC College and Career Ministry raise funds while bringing new customers to Wolf's Pizzeria. Certificates are printed which offer a special price and announce that a donation will be made for every certificate redeemed. Several groups have already signed up for the program next year.

Solo vocal guitar Friday night

It seems to be easy to find musicians willing to earn $25 an hour and a free pizza. It probably brings in an extra $250 to $300 in additional sales. He usually has the music there for three hours and it always consists of kid-friendly folk music. "It works even better when you put speakers outside," says Danny. "It slows your turns, but increases overall sales."

Enter to Win Free medium Pizza Promo

"I get with local chiropractors and similar locations that would like to have a box in their lobby that allows customers to win a free pizza. They agree to buy one pizza a week for the prize and we give them the box," says Danny. "We set theses boxes all over town. I get free advertising and one medium pizza sold a week, plus almost always a new guest. I have had doctors call on their own, wanting to participate."

Hungry Kids after School?

Once a guest mentioned how nice it would be if the kids could come home and just order a pizza and not have to worry about paying for it. That's when he created the Kid's Club Prepaid Buyer's Card. "I just put it together on the PC." It reads like this: This card is redeemable for a One large one-topping pie and one 2-liter soda. This includes taxes and tip. "It just makes it easier for the kids to get pizza." He also ran contests in the store to see who could sell the most cards.

Help from Vendors

Cross promoting is another way of looking at what Danny does so well. Helping others to achieve a goal while he achieves his. No wonder Danny has found that it also pays to work with pizza distributors and manufacturers as well.

Free Samples for the asking

There are some great vendors out there that are glad to help if they know you want to be aggressive in your market. "The La Nova Wings guys have been great. I called up and they sent me some free wings to sample with customers to see if I wanted to get into the wing business. Now I'm in the wing business and they have a customer for life. Anchor Foods is another great vendor."

Free in store advertising with Anchor

He uses Anchor products for some of his appetizers because he likes the way the product holds up for delivery. "If you don't have appetizers, start," he says. "My average guest check is $17. I am not just pizza. You will increase your tickets very easily with little effort. Anchor works well with me. They send me updates on product samples and all the Point-of-Sale material I want. They even have a custom menu if you use their products. You can go to their web page, fill in some blanks and they will mail you free in store point-of-purchase material!

Coke machines in the schools.

Wolf's Pizzeria does a promotion with his local Coca-Cola Company. They place 30 free Wolf's Pizza stickers throughout a 90-day cycle that end up attached to cans of Coke which are purchased through the high school Coke machines. When a high school student buys a Coke from the machine, they win one of thirty large pizzas, a Coke tee shirt or breadsticks. "Coke places posters all over the schools advertising both of us. Theses winning stickers can only be redeemed at our store for carryout or dine in. We also have the tee shirts here and Coke pays for the posters, stickers and tee shirts," says Wolf.

Danny Wolf shows how an operator can increase his chances of success by REALLY working with customers and REALLY working with vendors. By participating in this story, he will be hearing from other pizza operators who will bring cooperative opportunities with them.

Thanks Danny Wolf for opening your store and sharing your story with PMQ. Danny came to our attention as a reader of our magazine and appreciated hearing about other pizza operators before him.

Two Bonus Danny Wolf Ideas

Bet you never thought of this one To get the very best product and save time on operations, Danny sourced out his dough making to a local pizza retiree. His personal vendor makes Danny's dough according to his specs and it's delivered three days a week. The service, which Danny talked the retiree into providing, has worked well for over two years. Danny pays 21 cents for a small dough ball and 41 cents for a large.

EXCLUSIVE PMQ SECRET REVEALED!!!

Bread Sticks from Heaven
Mention Wolf's Pizzeria in Manassas and you'll hear talk of his bread sticks. They are award winning. What would you expect? Danny is a real chef. His secret. (Bread them in Pizza Crisp or Krispit)