In conjunction with marketing and IT, Cicis is converting to Olo Rails, which funnels third-party orders into one system as opposed to controlling different tablets. Hetsel, who also runs stores as a franchisee, saw a 6–7 percent uptick in online ordering when he implemented the change.
“When people got busy, all the orders didn't get answered,” Hetsel says. “So this is helping you more with your customer success. It's also speed. The stores that have it, love it. It's been a big difference.”
Cicis has also worked with Dallas-based marketing agency Loomis to reposition its brand image, such as capturing new food photography and venturing into more social media platforms, like TikTok. Hetsel explains that Cicis is targeting consumers who visited the restaurant as a child and reconnecting with those that have been ordering at home.
“I have 25 and 26-year-old kids and they're the ones that really pounded me about, ‘Dad, you've got to be on TikTok,’” Hetsel says. “You got to get out there, more social media. You're really just trying to reignite a bunch of people that knew about Cicis, but just hadn't been in a while. It’s an accelerant to get those people back into the stores.”
“It's amazing. I’ve been with Cicis for 30 years and I wonder why we never pushed harder on this before,” he continues. “It’s really gone well. We're built for delivery and for carryout. It's been fun fixing it.”
With several improvements underway, Hetsel expects Cicis to return to unit growth sometime in the future, because “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” The pizza chain expanded to about 650 stores in 33 states in 2009, but the footprint declined to 430 in 2016. At the start of 2020, the chain was down to 395 units. Now, Cicis has just over 300 outlets in the U.S.
The brand is designing stores that require $600,000 instead of $1 million and doubling down on its highly profitable gaming business. Franchisees are able to decide how large they want their game room to be; One store in Mesquite, Texas, opened a 2,500 square-foot game room, and another in Lake Charles, Louisiana, recently debuted with a 2,000-square-foot gaming space.
“Without being corny, it's a game-changer for us,” Hetsel says. “People are really getting excited about pizza and games. An example in Alabama, we have franchisee Scott and Cassie Mills, they had one store, and they didn't own their games. Now they have four stores, own their games, and couldn't be happier. All that's changed during COVID. They bought the stores during COVID. Just the owning of the games is what's really made the difference for a lot of our franchisees.”