It’s never business as usual at Ian’s Pizza.
This innovative pizza concept features an offbeat menu, employees who are groomed for ownership, open-book financial management, a commitment to green initiatives, a knack for generating buzz, and a SpeedLine POS to handle a thriving delivery operation.
We are definitely an outside-the-box pizza business,” says franchise owner Lexy Frautschy. “So we needed a pizza POS that was versatile and could handle our needs. Of all the systems we reviewed, SpeedLine was best able to work with us on that.”
Off the Beaten Path
After friends introduced Ian Gurfield to the pizza business in Amherst, Massachusetts, he set his sight on opening his own pizza shop in a mid-size town with a college community. Ian targeted students on the prowl for a late-bite snack as the perfect demographic. After his graduation in 2000, the young entrepreneur crisscrossed the USA, visiting 50 college towns before he found the perfect spot to open the restaurant that now bears his name.
Students in Madison, Wisconsin, embraced Ian’s eclectic selection of slices, featuring far-out topping combinations such as BBQ steak and fries, guacamole burrito, chicken penne Alfredo, or black bean feta avocado.
“Macaroni and cheese pizza is our number one best seller,” Lexy says. “People just can’t get enough of that.”
“We are constantly trying new recipes,” Ian said in an interview with Madison Original Magazine. “When we first opened, there were a lot of slices that failed spectacularly, including chicken noodle soup and anything with sweet potatoes or Swiss chard. But the thing is to consistently keep trying.”
But even more than creative recipes, progressive employee policies contribute to the growth of this small chain.
“We define ourselves as a business of people,” Lexy says. “We look for employees who are going to care and really bring something to the company, and not just do their job and go home. We invest as much as we can in the people we hire and give them opportunities for ownership.”
Lexy, who joined Ian’s as a part-time counter employee in 2001, became the first employee to graduate from management to ownership in January 2008. The following summer, two other employees opened a third Ian’s Pizza location.
It's All in the Delivery
“I was the first person to learn all the areas of the store,” Lexy recalls. “When we opened our second location in 2005, Ian approached me and said he was having problems with the delivery side and wanted me focus on that area to improve the quality.”
“We had landed an account with the university to deliver to 5 different dorms: the students could order food with their university meal points,” Lexy recounts. “We only had that account for a year, but it basically tripled our business, so I had my hands full keeping that under control.”
When Lexy took over as Ian’s delivery manager, he inherited a generic restaurant POS that was not well-suited to a delivery operation. “It was a headache,” Lexy says. “We might as well have been writing everything down on scraps of paper.”
With the help of Nick Stratman, a coworker who had worked at Pizza Hut, Lexy revamped Ian’s delivery service.
“I realized I needed to organize things differently to keep up with all the business we were getting,” Lexy says.
"It used to take an hour an hour and a half to clock out and get all the papers and receipts together to close everyone's bank. But now the POS keeps track of everything on the fly and we can close down much faster."
“We used to rely on the delivery manager to dispatch orders in the right direction and keep track of who’s in and out,” Lexy says. “At peak time, things got crazy, and it was hard to keep up.”
Installing a four-station SpeedLine pizza POS was a crucial step.
“Now, with SpeedLine, we’re able to track how long drivers have been out and know when they will be back,” Lexy continues. “And we can map deliveries for our new drivers and make sure that they have the best route possible. Tracking all the information on the fly makes it easy to deal with any issues that pop up.”
“On our busiest days, we average 300 deliveries,” Lexy says. “On Friday and Saturday night, we get a lot of football and hockey games. We used to have five drivers lined up on those nights. But now, with staff who have been here a while and SpeedLine to help us get organized, we’ve been able to handle peak nights with just four drivers.”
“Owning SpeedLine has also cut down on mistakes and end-of-shift checkouts,” Lexy notes. “It used to take an hour and a half to clock out and get all the papers and receipts together to close everyone’s bank. There would always be problems with missing tickets or tickets that had been switched around. But now, the system keeps track of everything on the fly and we can close down much faster.”
Increasing Profit Margins
Over time, the benefits of tracking every transaction spread to other areas of the business as well.
"Our food cost used to be in the mid-thirties. Now, with SpeedLine, we got it down to the low twenty percent mark."
“After we had SpeedLine for a while, we sat down and revisited our menu pricing,” Lexy says. “When I first started, we only did two price points: cheese and pepperoni for one price, and anything else for another price. But we realized we weren’t covering our costs. There was no profit margin for us in the pizza delivery. We started tracking the pizzas we sell most and restructured our menu and pricing.”
Better pricing meant more profit: Our food cost used to be in the mid thirties,” Lexy explains. “Now, with SpeedLine, we got it down to the low twenty percent mark.”
An Open Book Approach
At Ian’s Pizza, it is not only the owners and managers who pore over the books to make the business more profitable. In 2004, Ian implemented an open book policy with staff. All employees are fully aware of how much money comes in and how much goes out to pay for food, rent, utilities, and labor.
“Everybody sees how much we are making and how we are doing as a business,” Lexy says, “It really brings the team closer together.”
In Lexy’s store, his SpeedLine POS provides actionable, day-to-day information that employees can use to improve results. “SpeedLine is very, very accurate, and it records everything,” Lexy says. “You can look at every phone call that you get, how long somebody spends on the phone, how many call backs you have to make to customers and so on. It really helps us get a lot more detailed on every day finances as opposed to just looking at overall operating costs.”
“One of the things that everyone loves to do is look up our labor stats for the day,” Lexy adds. “It’s fun to see employees get excited about it and see where they get at by a certain time or who can sell the most pizzas per hour. We’re down at a meeting and our Wednesday people will be giving the Thursday people a hard time because they sell more pizzas at their noon hour lunch time.”
“We run both formal and informal competitions,” Lexy adds. “We share the profits, so people are motivated to do well. And outside of bonus payouts, we do lots of parties and staff trips. It keeps morale up and creates a great atmosphere and low turnover.”
The open book approach at Ian’s Pizza is coupled with a commitment to value the skills and ideas staff bring to the table. “We find out what people’s passions are, and we figure out how we can use it to help the business,” Lexy says.
“I am into music and art,” he continues. “When I bought the store, one of my partners and I started a graphic design company called Alto Clef Productions. We’ve been doing design work for our store and the two other Ian’s Pizza locations. We also designed the Ian’s Pizza Web site.”
Other staff spearheaded green initiatives that were adopted by the whole family of stores. Says Lexy: “We’re buying green power from our local gas company; phasing out plastic and encouraging people to use utensils; using sugar cane boxes instead of Styrofoam; and using 100% recycled materials for all our office supplies.”
In addition, Ian’s Pizza is also sourcing food grown locally. Cindy Gross, food guru at Ian’s, is reviewing the menu to include local fare. She has developed partnerships with several local farms to provide Ian's kitchens with organic meat, dairy, and produce.
She is also in the process of launching a commissary kitchen. “We will centralize the prep there to make sure our food quality is consistent,” Lexy explains. “Everything will be shipped from there to our three locations.”
Green initiatives and local food sourcing have received support from the local community. “People are really into the idea of including local foods,” Lexy says. “We also see a lot of people who are very environmentally conscious and really support our green efforts.”
In Lexy’s downtown location, a core clientele of students mingles with business people and young families. “We’re close to government buildings, museums, and a farmer’s market, so we get a mix of customers,” Lexy says.
While the distinctive pizza menu is a powerful draw, the strong team spirit in the store creates a unique synergy that appeals to customers. “The people who work for us create an atmosphere that is a strong attribute of Ian’s Pizza,” Lexy points out. “It really resonates with customers.”
“People just really get behind the idea of what we are trying to do,” Lexy adds. “We get a lot of support so we try to give a lot back by being involved in the community.”
Growing the Grapevine
Community involvement at Ian’s Pizza has helped generate buzz with the local media: the company received extensive coverage both in newspapers, on the radio, and on the Web for its partnership with local farms and dairies.
A partnership with the local fire department also created a media stir. “We visited homes with the fire department to check fire alarms,” Lexy explains. “If the alarm worked, people would get a free pizza. We got coverage from local television stations, and the word of mouth travelled to a couple of radio stations. It worked so well that we’ve decided to do this every year.”
Not all community initiatives land in the spotlight, but each is valuable for the ties and equity it creates. “We recently acquired office space above our store for Alto Clef Productions and added a small recording studio,” Lexy says. “We help support the local music and art scenes, which are very important to us. In return, those communities have supported us more and more and help spread the word about Ian’s Pizza at a lot of different events.”
To complement community involvement, the company has developed a compelling Web presence, starting with a Web site full of personality. A Google search for Ian’s Pizza yields an impressive number of links. And many Ian’s enthusiasts have given the pizzeria excellent reviews on their blogs or on restaurant review sites such as Yelp.
A Facebook page also helps keep people in the loop and spread the word about what’s happening. Lexy's store has 2200 fans who follow what's going on. “Right now we use Facebook to touch base and let people know what’s coming up,” Lexy says. “We have employees who have volunteered to be in charge, and it really gives our messages a personal touch.”
“We’ve gone digital,” Lexy adds “but the main source of our marketing is definitely word of mouth. We don’t do mass marketing, like newspaper ads or flyers. We just make quality pizza and hire good people, and word of mouth spreads.”
The good people who work at Ian’s Pizza are literally the key to its future. Managers who have learned the ropes will in time launch new locations. “We’re looking at opening in a couple of cities,” Lexy reveals. “Obviously as we grow, it will harder to keep everyone super close and tight knit. But we are trying to go slowly but steady, so we can keep the feel of Ian’s Pizza consistent throughout all our locations.”