Topper's Pizza – Marketing Power Players

In 1904 Giuseppi Toppazzini created a bread dough in Italy that he would one day use at his new "Toppazzini Bakery" in Sudbury, Ontario.  Giuseppi had a son Bruce who carried on the baking tradition.  Bruce Toppazzini handed the recipe and bakery to his son Ron.  Ron, with his sons Kelly and Keith Toppazzini used the recipe as the basis for what Topper's Pizza is today.

Since 1982, when the first Topper's Pizza was opened, Ron has retired, leaving Kelly, age 36 and Keith age 33 with the Toppazzini legacy to live up to.  They have seen success, near failure, and success again.  How they arrived at the point they are today is a lesson in making adjustments in a competitive marketplace.

If any family would be capable of making adjustments, why not the Toppazzini?  Ron Toppazzini was a master baker.  The Toppazzini family bakery was an institution in Sudbury where three generations of Sudburians and Toppazzinis together helped define what tasted good.  It was only natural that the Toppazzinis would eventually go into the pizza business.

Topper's Pizza was initially so successful that within just three years, there were 5 Topper's Pizza stores.  By the early 90's they had reached the peak of their store growth, having expanded and franchised to 14 locations.  During the growth spurt, it seemed as though whatever the Toppazzinis did worked… then came a period of stagnation.  A new store in the North Bay area only took business away from a neighboring store and sales everywhere began to meander.  Some stores were closed.

Now the younger Keith Toppazzini says in retrospect, "It was hard to see that we were messing up when sales were going up.  To much early success may have prevented us from seeing our mistakes because we didn't really know at the time we were making them.  Only after years of blaming the economy and the competition did we decide to do a little market research."  When they did a focus group, they were very surprised at what they found.  In fact, it shocked them into a very important course of action.  "Until we did the research, we didn't realize that we were not as well loved as we had imagined.  In 1994, we hired pizza consultant John Correll.  That was really a turning point in our company.. Since then, we have become a totally different company."

Topper's Pizza re-invented who they were.  Starting with operations, service, image, menu mix and their marketing, their efforts have paid off.  Now they are at the top of their game again.  They have increased their sales, tightened controls, and built an attractive franchise package that has been very rewarding to their first three franchisees.  Topper's has employed the industry's most qualified experts in management, accounting and marketing to help them prepare for the future.  Now they are poised and ready to compete in a market they have wanted to go into for years:  The millions of pizza eaters who reside in Toronto and all of Ontario.  That's where half of all Canadians live; and Canadians eat more pizza per capita than Americans do.

Topper's 10 station call center allows anyone in Sudbury to use one phone number to order pizza.  Topper's has just begun a new database marketing program that will take advantage of their existing customer data.  For example, when a new caller is identified as a new customer, a special new customer welcome kit is sent with the pizza order.

School Lunch

Topper's Pizza dominates the Sudbury School System.  It used to be that once a week was hot dog day.  After lobbying successfully, the Toppazzinis were able to turn hot dog day into pizza day.  They have to be competitive in price, but they feel it is worth the effort.

Topper's Pizza is sold for $6.50 to schools and cut into 10 slices and sold by the school for $1 a slice.  The profits are used by schools for field trips.  The concept has been fairly easy to sell, especially given the nutritional superiority of pizza over hot dogs.


Keith's wife, Emaan Toppazzini, picks the lucky winner of the "Pizza For A Year" contest.  There is always some sort of contest going on.  Not only does it provide an element of excitement, but also provides Topper's Pizza with more customer information for their database marketing program.  The contests are always easy to enter and they give the carry-out customer something to do while waiting.  Box top, radio and mailers are the usual methods of promotion.

Good Ideas!

Topper's has always been an aggressive marketer, thinking of new ways to keep their customers & prospects thinking about them.

The heart-shaped pizza idea is certainly not new, but Topper's planned ahead with a box-top and promoted the idea with good success.

The "Yes/No" marketing tool is good to use from time to time.  It gives customers the chance to express themselves and it projects the idea that you care about them.  For years Topper's has worked hard to stay in the schools.  A recent survey shows that Topper's was Sudbury's favorite pizza, especially with huge school age kids.  That strategy is certainly building for the future.

Stretching Marketing Dollars

Keith & Kelly have done a great job of getting sponsors to offset the cost of printing.  They call key suppliers and sell them on having their logo included on the new high image marketing materials.

Kraft donated 18 Sony portable CD players.  Hubba Bubba donated 10,000 packs of Sour.  Topper's last big printing run had $1,000 in subsidized advertising dollars.  The new look in advertising has paid off with higher advertising response.  And in the long run, with advance planning and working closely with suppliers, high image marketing is not more expensive than the simpler marketing of the past.