CiCi’s Pizza recently unveiled a host of new strategies and tools for 2012  that it hopes will revamp the “Build the Brand” initiative, the 10-year plan CiCi’s implemented that will add 500 new restaurants by 2020.
These tools include a new advertising campaign, a redesigned website, new site models, an online ordering test, franchise incentive programs, new financing options, and new products each quarter.
CiCi’s CEO Mike Shumsky spoke to QSR about the new strategies and how they will help the pizza buffet concept stay on course this year and beyond.
Why is now the time to update the "Build the Brand" initiative?
It doesn’t come on suddenly; these things evolve and take time to get there. I’ve been working on reorienting the brand since I started with the company a couple years ago.
The short answer to it is, all of the things we’ve done in the last year or so have been to build the systems and processes and people—I’ll use the word culture—to get us to a new level of expectation. A lot of it is building blocks that have gotten us to a point where we think … we can kind of take it from here.
Some of it’s a feeling you get, some of it’s just where you’re at as a company, and some of it’s the right time, as things do appear to be at least slowly changing in the economy. So it’s a culmination of a lot of different things.
It feels like we’re ready to take it to another level, and that’s because of a lot of the hard work we’ve done in the last year and a half or so.
How much has CiCi’s moved beyond the recession? Has it recovered?
I don’t think it has. It’s still soft, it’s still day to day, if you will, in terms of trying to manage through what is continuing to be a soft economy. The theme of [CiCi’s franchisee] convention was “The Start of Something Big.” We think we’re at the early stages of moving this brand forward and adjusting the brand to this new economy.
What kind of pace do you hope to set in building the brand?
I’m a strong believer in what I call and what we’ve labeled as sustainable growth—building a model that can sustain itself over a long period of time. I think it creates more value than the peak-and-valley kind of growth that other brands have used or are talking about. It’s 25–30 stores a year, building up to possibly 50 stores a year over time. That’s what we’ve articulated to our franchisees, that’s what we’re articulating to our board of directors, our investors, and our management team.
It’s building a great system with fundamentally good systems around finding great franchisees, getting them well funded, helping them with their incentives, helping them build value in their business by great profitability and a great, profitable business model, and let that kind of grow on itself. Don’t force fast growth, especially coming out of a tough economy.
Sustainable growth is really the key, and it’ll be whatever it is based on the marketplace and the quality of the franchisees and the quality of funding available.
A new ad campaign and website have been added to the “Build the Brand” strategy. What kind of messaging are you hoping to get out there with these new tools?
The primary message is that CiCi’s is a brand that has great food, great value, and great fun, and it can make great money for franchisees. It’s an economic model that has all the elements of a successful restaurant: food, fun, and value.
The primary message is, we think we are and we will continue to be what we call the best pizza value anywhere. There are a lot of people out there promoting price, but ours is price and quality and service, and this value component has provided tremendous value for today’s growing consumer in terms of their economic situation.
Why did it take this long to roll out online ordering?
We’re a distant follower in some things and we’re a leader in some things. This is one where we followed.
One of the issues there that took us time is we had to get our systems in place to handle this online ordering test. Franchisees, for example, are still rolling out a new point-of-sale system. We have more than 230 restaurants now that have a point of sale; about 47–50 that have our new point of sale.
If you went back a year and a half ago, our takeout percentage company-wide was a little bit less than 10 percent. We’ve now doubled that. In core markets like Dallas and Houston, we’ve been at 18–20 percent for years. So we put on a pretty strong initiative in this last year to grow our takeout percentage, and we’ve done that.
We realize that we’re not going to be a direct competitor day in and day out to all of the delivery guys. Those brands obviously have an expertise and a lot of penetration. We knew we had an opportunity to get a bigger share of that, and we’ve done that.
The online piece became kind of an incremental thought around, now let’s expand this and take it to another level. Our expectations are high. I don’t think we’re going to get a doubling of our takeout, to 40 percent; we think it’s going to be a nice added layer of incremental carryout business for our brand.
By Sam Oches