2 Pizza Shops: A Shrug vs. We’re Your Personal Kitchen

grayjay.jpgEveryday, I read about local businesses who want “protection” from big box stores and franchises and they lament how they can’t seem to make it in today’s environment.

Like this way-too-tame Gray Jay up near Glacier Park’s Bowman Lake, it’s almost as if they expect someone to give them something.

In many cases, their customer service, staff training, organization & demeanor are the real reasons they are struggling with competition from franchises and big corporate.

A few weeks ago, I talked about a local pizza shop that seems to stay open despite their best efforts to ruin their business. Today, I have another story about pizza, and thankfully, it isn’t just about them.

Wednesday night, my oldest was settling in from his return home for Thanksgiving break from the U of Montana (Missoula). Apparently they don’t serve pizza at college<g>, so he, his brother and my wife decided pizza was on the menu that night.

Normally, I go get the pizza because delivery is just too slow at this place. I know, I know, I should just get it somewhere else, but in a small town, there are only 2 places. The other is a corporate place that usually understands service and serves decent pizza, but the family simply wanted something different.

So they call the pizza shop that I spoke of previously and they ask for delivery, as I’m in the office on the phone with a client so they don’t want to bother me.

90 minutes later, I hear someone call my name from upstairs, and shortly, I drag myself up the stairs to see what’s up. My wife asks me if I mind picking up the pizza. Of course, I remember that it was to be delivered, so I ask what happened. She says she called after it didn’t show up and they said they “forgot to deliver it”.  I guess that left them incapable of delivering it now, so they said if we just come pick it up, they’ll give it to us. So, rather than send a kid to pick it up and take the chance on them trying to jerk him around, she wants me to go get it.

Of course, I do as I’m asked<g>. Besides, me and the dog hadn’t been on a car ride that day and she simply can’t maintain her sanity without a daily ride. It should be noted that this pizza place is maybe 4 miles from my house, probably less. It isn’t as if they had to take a 45 minute drive to get it to us.

When I get to the pizza joint, the guy over by the oven asks me if I’m here to pickup or order and I tell him I have pizza to pickup.

“Name?”, he says.

I give him my name, he grabs them off of the oven, asks a coworker if I’ve paid and upon hearing that it’s free, hands them to me without a single word, without “Man, we really messed up, sorry about that”, without “Next time, we’ll <do whatever>”, without asking if I need cheese or peppers (which should be out where I can grab them anyhow).

Instead, he kinda shrugs his shoulders at me and walks away.

I’m standing at the counter just plain stunned.  Everyone in the place disappears behind the ovens or somewhere and if I wasn’t in Montana, I’d be standing there listening to the crickets (there are no crickets here), it’d be so quiet.

Fast forward 3 days.

Today, I’m on the phone with yet another point of sale programmer (it must be a POS week) who happens to own a pizza shop in New Jersey. Unfortunately, we’re still working out the logistics of delivering hot, fresh pizza to Montana from New Jersey, so I simply have to find a local solution for my “personal pizza problem”.

A few days earlier, he’d asked me to comment on some business positioning changes and said he wanted to talk. So we’re talking (we’re friends too) about family and Thanksgiving and such and he tells me the pizza story from a few weeks ago got him to thinking.

When we get around to talking business, he tells me that custom orders used to drive him crazy (you can imagine the reasons why – especially with delivery), but now, after deciding that his business is personal (hmmm), he loves custom orders. In fact, he says nowadays (drum roll please) *every order is a custom order*.


Rather than focusing on all the reasons NOT to do custom orders and be annoyed about it, he has chosen to FOCUS on it. To use it as a weapon to get more catering business, to position his shop as “Your Personal Kitchen”. He could just have easily said to his customers in his best Jersey accent, “Whaa, you think this is your personal kitchen????”, but he didn’t.

Instead, he positioned his store as just that. The only place they can go and get exactly what they want. Delivered, if necessary.

Look, maybe you work at Pizza Hut (which is not the annoying pizza place here in town) and maybe the 27th large Pan Pepperoni Lover’s pizza you made today isn’t all that important to you, but it isn’t all about you.

That pizza might be really important to the family who has special company over for the first time, or a kid home from school, or a break for the family whose parents who have been working too much lately or the parent who just got in from out of town, or whatever.

It might be the calmest meal they had all week. It might be the only meal they had together all week. It might be the peaceful, keep-us-from-getting-a-divorce meal that they needed to sit down and talk over.

To them, that order is personal and it matters to them if you delivered it or not, much less if the cheese is stuck to the roof of the box or if the wrong items are on it, etc. You just don’t know. They have to deal with you to get it. Hopefully that a pleasant experience:)

So why does my friend in Joisey love custom orders? Because people come to him more and more because he’ll actually do them. In fact, he’s made it so personal that the person who cooks the food signs the box with their name and a short greeting.

Man, that’s really tough to do, isn’t it? Yet to someone who gets the pizza home, or who walks into a conference room where a pile of catered food is, it’s the personal touch that no one else bothers to do.

Since that time, catering business is up. One place now has him catering meals 5 days a week, with a custom menu theme each night.

He could have said “We serve pizza, order from the menu”, but he didn’t. The payoff for getting personal with this one client is substantial. And there are others lined up behind him.

So tell me, which pizza place would you rather go to? The place where you can order what you want and the guy who cooks it signs the box, or the place where you get a shrug?

Me, I’m still figuring out that 2500 mile delivery issue.

4 replies on “2 Pizza Shops: A Shrug vs. We’re Your Personal Kitchen”

  1. Excellent post, as usual, Mark! I had a similar experience as a rookie manager in a mass market jewelry store. I used to view high school class ring orders as major pains because the kids took forever to figure out what they wanted and the commission was only a buck or two per sale. Then one day I realized that most kids brought one or both of their parents with them either to help them pay the deposit or look at the catalog from which they had made their selection. CLICK! The light went on. I tried to teach my staff to make a good impression with the parents because many of them did not have a “regular” jewelry store. I started picking up the parents as customers thanks to my change in attitude.

    BTW, I have to say Ian’s comment and your reply made me laugh out loud.



  2. Glenn,

    As you note, getting the customer is most often far more important than getting the sale that you’re making at that moment.

    Ian and I will put you on our fax broadcast list once the technology is rolled out (pun intended).

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