Making Toppers one of the big players in the pizza industry is not the CEO's goal for the future; it is very much the state of now.
For Toppers Pizza, becoming one of the big players in the pizza industry is not a goal for the future; it is very much the state of now.
The Whitewater, Wis.-based brand finds itself in the midst of rapid expansion that has seen the company double in size over the past three years. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of Toppers slowing down, either.
“Over the past 10 years, we have seen consistent 30 to 40 percent year-over-year growth,” said Toppers founder and president Scott Gittrich. “We are really on a graph that just continues to accelerate.”
Perhaps more impressively, Toppers—which now has locations in 11 different states—has not closed a single store in years.
“The Toppers concept and process has been in place for some time,” Gittrich said. “So I attribute all of our recent success to our great people. We are very selective about the franchise partners we bring on.”
Working with more experienced franchisees and franchisee groups has also afforded the brand unparalleled organic growth; nearly every Toppers franchisee is opening more stores.
Gittrich believes that now that the brand is more experienced, opening multiple restaurants is not the lofty challenge it once was.
“Four years ago, opening 20 stores would have been a huge undertaking. Now it’s nothing. We are just more experienced,” Gittrich said.
Now that the time is right for Toppers to make the leap to the national pizza stage, Gittrich is excited for the world to see—and taste—what separates them from the pack.
“For franchisees the major difference is a higher average unit volume, one that really has no comparison in the industry,” said Gittrich. “If you want to pay top dollar for an existing unit of a big chain just to make a somewhat stable income stream, that’s one thing. But with Toppers, you get a proven model with a much higher return capability.”
On the customer side, the brand will continue to distinguish itself through quality. According to Gittrich, Toppers essentially replaces big fast food chains with a high-quality, made from scratch alternative and a commitment to excellence.
As far as timing is concerned, Toppers is already on the fast track to the big leagues of pizza with plans to open 25 stores next year and then to open 25 percent more stores each year after that. That growth schedule will put the brand at roughly 700 units in less than 10 years, an expansion that Gittrich says Toppers is more than ready for.
“We are not worried about losing our identity just because we continue to grow,” said Gittrich. “We have always been the ‘counter-chain’ pizza place and will continue to keep making quality pizza from scratch and in-store every day.”
Gittrich also says he and his team have studied what has worked among other large franchises, paying careful attention to what has gone wrong for some. For Toppers, keeping the brand’s identity intact through this tremendous growth means focusing on what has gotten them to this point: the people.
“We will keep seeking the right kinds of franchisee partners, those who fit the Toppers personality and are ready to grow with us,” said Gittrich.
Reflecting on his overall thoughts about the speed and direction of Toppers’ ascent to the top of the pizza food chain, Gittrich was succinct:
“Our foot is appropriately on the gas and pressed down to get us to the Promised Land.”