What does it take to start a pizzeria from scratch, in an entirely new town, on a shoestring budget?
"Sign your life away," laughs Damon Dykstra, owner of DiGiorgio's Pizza. "Cross your fingers and be willing to work every day. That's what we did."
Damon, his wife Angie, and their three young children pulled up stakes from Kihei, Hawaii, in February 2005. Driven from their Hawaiian shores by the high cost of living, the young family moved to the mainland to settle down closer to Damon's folks, who lived in a neighboring city to their new home at the time.
Damon had worked many years for Domino's and, before 1998, had also owned a couple of restaurants. "Damon really wanted to open a pizzeria again," Angie says. "It's a passion for him."
When they started their new pizzeria, the Dykstras practically lived at the store with their four children.
In August, they found a strip mall location in a residential area. "It had been a pizza place before," Angie says. "So we were able to open on a very small budget." At first, the Dykstras called their new restaurant Hawaiian Pizza to carry on the flavor and memories of their life on the islands. They later changed the name to DiGiorgio's: "People would phone in and ask us if we only sold pineapple and ham," explains Angie. "We realized that the name may cost us sales."
The first few months required a huge time commitment from the young couple. To accommodate their children, Damon and Angie converted a back room into a play room. "The first year, we practically lived at the store," Angie states. "We ate a lot of pizza."
As a fledging new pizzeria, they could not afford a point of sale system at first. But after visiting the International Pizza Expo and seeing how much the technology had improved since 1998, the Dykstras soon realized that a POS system would simplify their operations and help them get ahead. "We saw all the features and possibilities," Angie says, "the efficiency of a customer database, and the power that the system gives to manage and organize. And that definitely got the ball rolling for us."
"We looked at everyone and we considered everything," Damon adds, "and SpeedLine is just the best out there." They were impressed by the level of personal care and attention they received from their SpeedLine rep, Paul Segovia. "Paul has just been phenomenal — he is just awesome," Damon says. Angie concurs: "Paul had a huge impact on us. He went the extra mile: he always followed up and answered all our questions."
New Baby, New POS, New Control
An equipment lease helped the Dykstras manage the upfront costs. They were able to install the system a year after the store first opened.
But this was not the only excitement brewing at DiGiorgio's Pizza: A new son had just joined the family a few days before. "I came back to the restaurant when the baby was seven days old," Angie recalls. "He was two weeks old on the Friday night we went live with SpeedLine.
It was hectic. But everything went well. Our installer made sure everything was foolproof and working as it should. The whole process was really satisfactory."
The Dykstras noticed immediate improvements with SpeedLine.
Right away, SpeedLine helped improve speed of service and accuracy: "When we did everything by hand, an employee would take an order on the phone and I would notice that this wasn't what the customer usually ordered," Angie recounts. "So I'd have to call back to check. But now, with SpeedLine, we have the ability to recall orders, which is a huge plus. When customers phone, our staff can bring their order history on the screen and ask them if they would like to order the same thing again. This cuts back on mistakes and saves time."
The system also gave the Dykstras more flexibility when setting prices: "When we used paper tickets," Angie says, "we wanted to make things easy, so all the prices came out to an even dollar amount, with the tax included in the price. Now that we have SpeedLine, we are able to set whatever price we wish and the system keeps track of the tax for us."
SpeedLine reporting features also helped the couple monitor new menu items: "We added cinnamon sticks to our menu," Angie explains, "and we've been able to see exactly how many we've sold and to measure the impact this new item has had on our sales. Before we installed the system, I was trying to keep track of it by hand. I got a couple of months done and I gave up. The papers are still just sitting there, in a forgotten pile. Now with SpeedLine, we can track everything. It's a huge help all around."
"There is so much we like about SpeedLine," Damon adds. "We haven't even been able to use all the features yet, because we're too busy. But it's good to know those capabilities are there and they'll be waiting for us when we're ready to start using them."
Size Experiments: Adding Customers, Growing Profits
Shortly after they installed SpeedLine, the Dykstras experimented with their pizza sizes in order to streamline operations. "We decided to sell only large pizzas," Angie says. "Since we make our dough fresh in the store, having one cut instead of three is a whole lot easier. We were also hoping to promote pick-up to reduce our labor and delivery costs. So we changed our menu and reduced the price drastically to make it reasonable and attractive for our customers. We sold a large cheese pizza for $5, plus $1 per topping. And we would charge $3 for delivery."
But by popular demand, DiGiorgio's Pizza went back to offering a variety of sizes. Their extra-large pizza is especially popular. "The chains are not selling extra large," Angie says. "Our customers kept requesting the bigger pie, so we brought the sizes back."
"We gained a lot of customers by drastically lowering our prices," Damon adds. "But the first month after we brought back the sizes — and adjusted our prices — we saw a $5000 increase in our monthly sales. And sales haven't slumped. This month looks like it could become the second busiest month we've ever had."
"We're still value priced and competitive with the chains," Damon adds. "But we make better pizza. And we decided we don't want to build our business around people who only buy on price. We have a lot of customers who come in and say 'This is the best pizza I ever had.' It's exciting to see that this is where a large portion of our growth comes from."
The Dykstras love making good pizza: One highlight is presenting customers with hot pies right out of the oven. "It gives us a lot of satisfaction to watch their reaction when they see their pizzas," Angie says.
Eye on Expansion
With a growing reputation in the community and solid sales to boot, Angie and Damon began to contemplate expansion. When an opportunity came up to open a second store in a better location, they jumped at the chance. It was a big change: "Both of us used to be in the store all the time," Angie says. "Now that we have two locations to monitor, we no longer have two sets of eyes constantly double-checking everything. That's why we're thankful we can rely on SpeedLine to help us manage efficiently."
The second DiGiorgio's Pizza is located in a bigger strip mall with higher traffic. "Our first store is not in a hot spot location by a long shot," Angie says. "The grocery store that anchors the mall is old and there are a couple of empty spots. Our new store will definitely get more exposure since it is near a destination exit for restaurants and in a much newer and more attractive shopping area."
New Market, New Marketing
The grocery store in their new mall location prints DiGiorgio's advertisements on the back of its register tapes. "When we started out, having offers on the back of grocery receipts was a good way for us to get our name out there," Angie says.
At first, getting widely known had been of prime importance for DiGiorgio's Pizza. "We were not members of the community," Angie says. "We didn't have friends or family members who could help us out by spreading the word about our business."
In addition, they used bulk mailers to target the neighborhoods surrounding the store. "We got a very good response from using Valpak mailers," Angie says. "That was a great way to get our menu out there. We had extra copies printed so we could use them in the store as well."
"Two months after we opened, we also got a billboard," Angie adds. "It was pretty cool to see our name way up there like all the large companies."
But now that they have established a solid customer base, Angie and Damon are ready to use their POS system's marketing capabilities to reach their existing customers and build loyalty, frequency and order value. They now use SpeedLine mailings to encourage repeat business from new customers, increase sales to loyal customers, and recover customers who are potentially lost to the competition.
Damon and Angie are also working on setting up SpeedLine Inventory to control their food cost. "We'll be able to track everything even more than we do now," Angie says. "It will help our bottom line."
For a self-described mom-and-pop shop, DiGiorgio's Pizza has seen exceptional growth since they installed SpeedLine. What's next for our two busy entrepreneurs? "I have my eyes on a third and possibly a fourth location," Damon says.
"We've had a great experience with SpeedLine," Angie adds. "I know we'll continue working with them as we grow our business."