Scott Gittrich is starting a pizza war. Almost 30 years ago, he left a manager role at Domino’s to launch the Wisconsin-based pizza brand Toppers Pizza. Since then, he’s been taking swings at his former employer -- and earlier this year, Domino’s struck back with a cease-and-desist letter. (It was because of a recent ad claiming that Domino’s ships factory-made dough to its stores. “Them: Dough fresh off the semi. Us: Dough made fresh in-house daily,” it says.) But Gittrich says he’s happy for the controversy; it only helps him gain attention in a crowded field. Now the company he began with $30,000 in savings has 80 restaurants, a growing roster of franchisees and pizza that’s worth legal action.
Your marketing is feisty, to say the least. What’s the strategy?
From the very beginning, we had this rowdy, smack-talk attitude. It was kind of accidental at first, but now we’ve got a brand image that matches our culture. It’s real, it’s relevant and it cuts through the clutter. Good advertising tells customers what’s different about you. When we found out that many of our customers didn’t know some of the practices we pride ourselves on, we decided to create a campaign that called out what we do differently -- like making our dough from scratch and using dough that’s never been frozen. We’re poking our competitors in the eye.
Why single out Domino’s?
It’s really the whole industry, but we decided to use Domino’s as our placeholder for the big pizza chains. We came up with the idea to do it in a brash, fun-loving sort of way, and, gosh, am I glad we did. I do it with love. I’ve got a bunch of good friends at Domino’s, and they’re certainly a good company that does a lot of things right. But hey, there are some things we do differently, and we think we’re better. Customers can make their own choice.
In a crowded segment, how do you build a loyal customer base?
It starts in the restaurant. There’s nothing we could do that would overcome bad management in a restaurant. I know that sounds hokey, but that’s the reality of it. Back in the beginning, we used to buy boxes of flyers, hand them out to people and put them on car windshields. Our advertising was so low-tech and unsophisticated, but what we did in the restaurant and how we interacted with customers gave people a reason to be loyal.