Executive's Corner

What Pizza Can Teach You About Scaling a Business Without Losing That Local, Small Biz Charm

Ilir Sela / 4 min read
scaling a business

Want to grab a slice?

You’ll find there are two basic options:

  • Franchises: With franchises, just about anyone can use their smartphone, click a few buttons, and expect a hot pizza at their door.
  • Neighborhood Pizzerias: You can head down to your local eatery for the hometown experience—but if you try to order via smartphone…good luck.

The local pizzerias might have credibility within their neighborhoods, but when it comes to growing revenue and offering the convenience of the “big guys,” they feel stuck.

I founded Slice in 2010 (formerly called MyPizza) with the goal of growing local pizza into something that could compete with the big guys.

Since then, we’ve partnered with over 10,000 pizzerias to help grow their businesses.

Along the way, I learned how to make the same principles work for Slice.

The Disadvantages of Being the Local Eatery

scaling a business pizza

Few businesses embrace their local charm more than the local pizza shops do.

It’s their selling point. It’s their advantage over the big chains.

The bad news: It’s often their only selling point.

Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s have the power of scaling on their side.

They make it cheap and convenient to order online.

We see that in the numbers: while the worldwide pizza market grows, the number of pizzerias in the U.S. is on the decline.

Even today’s innovations like Uber Eats and other services can charge high fees of up to 35% per order, making it too cost-prohibitive for local eateries to compete with the chains.

To make growth possible for the local restaurants, Slice asked local pizzerias to change that with a few strategies:

  • A stronger online presence. Yes, even local eateries should want to look like the big chains on their websites. We helped restaurants expand their online presence with easy-to-find menus, vivid photography, and efficient online ordering to allow for easy pick up and pizza delivery to customers.
  • Online ordering. Billy’s Pizza & Pasta in Brooklyn used to struggle with online ordering companies charging 20% fees or more. After partnering with Slice and embracing a new ordering system, they’ve averaged 50% growth per year.
  • Embracing the economy of scale. Slice helped pizza shops band together to buy supplies like pizza boxes at discount.

Slice’s goal and business model has always been to help these local eateries earn more market share. But we’ve had similar issues to our own customers.

Scaling a start-up from the ground up without capital is difficult.

Here’s how we did it.

How to Think Big Without Losing What Makes You Great

“Find the courage to hit the pause button for a moment.”

For over five years, Slice was a bootstrap business.

It grew not because we were flush with capital, but because we built it from the ground up.

We did it the right way.

And growing as a bootstrapped business is great. But it can also lead to issues when you want to scale:

  • Getting stuck in your ways. It takes courage to move away from a formula that works. Until 2015, I had several years of growth I could point to, saying—“See? What we’re doing is working! We don’t need anything else.” But I didn’t.
  • Holding too tightly to success. It’s a bit like struggling to swim when you could simply stand above the water line with both legs. We hold on so tightly to the old way of doing things that we become blind to better options.
  • Failing to pause and evaluate. Hit the pause button. Look at some components of your business that aren’t working and ask yourself: Am I in the way? Is it really so bad if we try something else?

One of the keys to our success at Slice was hiring great talent to help grow the business.

Sounds simple, right?

You’d be surprised at the internal resistance you can encounter along the way.

When you’ve run your own company for five years, you think you have the best handle on its day-to-day operations.

But there might be a COO out there who’s not only better at it than you—they might even have experience doing this for several businesses of your size.

Focus on the core of what makes you great. Be open to changing the rest.

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Tactics for Businesses Looking to Scale the Right Way

“The business reinvents itself almost every year. The business you’re operating becomes totally different based on the different scale.”

At Slice, we partnered with pizzerias that built their success by focusing on a great consumer experience.

When that strategy works for 30-odd years, it can be hard to try anything else.

But no business can grow without understanding consumer demand.

That’s where you need to have flexibility.

Here are the tactics I’ve discovered work the best from my experience at Slice:

1. Know where you want to be in 3-5 years.

Embracing growth doesn’t necessarily mean coming in and changing everything about your business on a dime.

Just take the time to pause, evaluate your market, and set goals that will place your business in a better position 5 years from now.

2. Assemble a team and recruit partners—even if it takes a long time.

We hired a CTO in 2017.

We gave him our first offer sheet in 2015—and he initially turned it down.

Finding good talent can sometimes feel like maintaining a long-term relationship.

There’s no rush; value takes time.

3. Compensate your team well and give them autonomy.

It’s more important that your team feel enthusiastic about your mission than that they keep your company attached to any one way of doing things.

Think of them as partners, not employees.

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4. Look for people who have already accomplished your goal.

Want to increase revenue 10x?

Find someone who’s done it for a company your size before.

Hiring an experienced COO can take a lot off your plate and improve your day-to-day.

Trust the people who have done it before.

5. Let go of what doesn’t work.

In some cases, be willing to throw out bad ideas completely.

That’s what we did when we asked companies to start buying supplies like pizza boxes at a discount by buying them together.

If You’re Not Growing…

…you’re losing ground to the companies that are.

The failure to grow is common.

study of 5,700 companies found that almost half failed to grow over the course of a decade.

At Slice, we saw similar companies come to us.

Pizzerias wanted to grow without losing their reputation for quality.

They simply didn’t know how.

As it turns out, what works for pizzerias can work for most businesses.

Find your strength.

At Slice, we found that local pizzerias often have customer loyalty on their side.

With our Slice apps, we built that in: we made reordering pizza from your favorite spot even easier than ordering it the first time.

With the right strategies, any business can find the potential to grow without losing what made it successful in the first place.

If you keep baking a great pie and focus on making customers happy, there’s always room for growth—in any industry.

Want more insights like this?

We’re on a mission to provide businesses like yours marketing and sales tips, tricks and industry leading knowledge to build the next house-hold name brand. Don’t miss a post. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

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