With a commitment to fast and contactless service, first-party delivery and menu innovation, Toppers Pizza has continued to appeal to qualified entrepreneurs looking for a brand that stands out in the thriving pizza segment.
Whitewater, WI (RestaurantNews.com) Toppers Pizza, the pizza chain with 69 corporate- and franchise-owned locations in 12 states, started when former Domino’s manager Scott Gittrich came up with a simple idea — do pizza better. After working his way up from delivery driver to assisting a Domino’s franchisee with more than 20 locations, Gittrich saw an opportunity to put more care into the offering from the corporate brand and decided to start his own pizza company. Gittrich created Toppers with a focus on fast service, technology, menu innovation and quality ingredients. Today, this formula has turned Toppers into one of the fastest-growing pizza chains in the country.
Now, as the pandemic creates an even stronger demand in the segment, the brand is offering smart, experienced operators the opportunity to capitalize on the well-positioned concept and build something special.
Why Toppers Thrived During the Pandemic
After a year of COVID-19, the pizza segment remains one of the rare winners in the food industry. While much of the restaurant industry has struggled throughout the pandemic’s turbulent business climate, the quick-service pizza sector has actually benefited from the shift to predominantly off-premise dining. Toppers, in particular, is in a prime position to appeal to this changing consumer demand.
From the early days of the brand, Toppers has been committed to providing convenience to customers through advanced technology, which includes a proprietary e-commerce platform and digital POS system. Those commitments have created a strong infrastructure that allowed the brand to adapt quickly during the pandemic and the unprecedented landscape.
“We were the first to offer contactless pickup and curbside delivery in our segment after the pandemic hit,” said Gittrich, CEO of Toppers. “I point this out as a testament to our urgency and commitment to technology — we were nimble, and we punched way above our weight, which led to incredible results.”
Thanks to these advancements, 73% to 78% of Toppers’ sales have come through digital channels over the past several months, said Gittrich.
“Overall, our same-store sales increases are up 20% to 30% on a weekly basis, and we’ve also continued to open stores during the pandemic,” said Gittrich. “We opened our fourth store since the pandemic began, over a period of the last six months.”
How Toppers Supports Franchisees Through First-Party Delivery, IT and Menu Creation
When the pandemic first hit, Gittrich says the Toppers franchise family responded with unity, urgency and care. “Going through a crisis can bring people together, and because of the way our brand’s culture and team operates, we came together in a really wonderful way that helped us thrive,” he said. “That support carries through to this day. There were obviously challenges, but we are able to see some of the positives now coming out of it.”
Toppers’ robust corporate team, which is much larger than most brands its size, includes eight developers and an IT department larger than any other in the company. This allows for a high level of support in which franchisees’ voices are heard and decisions are made based on feedback from the field.
“The Toppers team is incredibly hands-on when needed, with people in every department, including operations, training, marketing and social media, just a phone call away,” said Bill Stayduhar, a multi-unit Toppers franchisee in North Carolina and one of the brand’s oldest franchise owners. “In addition, franchisees receive evaluations four times a year from the corporate team. While that support is there, they also listen to our feedback and give us the freedom to make decisions based on our individual stores. That support infrastructure, which is much more advanced than many brands our size, has really allowed us to continue thriving over the past year as demand increases.”
The brand works hard to position franchisees for success in every way possible. For example, Toppers franchisees are able to tap into the brand’s first-party platform through their POS, which means they have the ability to save on fees associated with third-party delivery apps and maintain a higher level of consistency.
“The competitive landscape has changed for the indefinite future,” said Gittrich. “The move to e-commerce has been growing since the mid-90’s, and we don’t see that changing. We’ve dedicated ourselves and doubled down on those things that create advantages for our franchisees, such as technology, first-party delivery, curbside pick-up, menu creation, commitment to quality and a variety of fun, bold flavors for customers.”
Toppers takes the quality ingredients and innovative concepts often seen in the fast-casual world and offers it to customers through the quick-service delivery segment. That means franchisees are constantly staying ahead of guests’ expectations and tastes with menu innovation. Over the past few months, the brand has continued to roll out new menu items, including a Vegan Menu system wide, Vegan Topperstix and a recent addition of prime rib as a topping option.
How Toppers’ E-Commerce Platform and High Quality Menu Positions the Brand for Future Growth
Looking ahead, Gittrich predicts 2021 will see the Toppers franchise network continuing to grow as the economy and restaurant market share bounces back. “The economic environment is going to be conducive for franchise development, real estate selection and overcoming labor challenges,” he said. “The opportunity for us to grow our concept is as strong as it’s been in my career and certainly in a long time. High-quality, hand-made fresh food delivered with an incredible e-commerce experience is exactly what today’s consumer is looking for, and we are here to give it to them.”
This explains why Gittrich says the level of franchisee inquiries Toppers is receiving is as high as it’s been in five years. “It is an exciting time, and it shows people recognize the well-positioned value of our type of concept as more and more entrepreneurs look to start their own business and work for themselves,” he said.
Now, Toppers is continuing to look for qualified entrepreneurs in key growth markets across the country who are eager to join a thriving concept in a booming segment.
The investment range for a Toppers Pizza franchise is $314,075 – $530,000. The AUV for fiscal year 2020 was $1,030,000+ for stores open five years or more. For more information on franchising with Toppers Pizza, visit: https://www.toppers.com/franchise/.