How Toppers keeps the pizza passion alive in Wisconsin
How Toppers keeps the pizza passion alive in Wisconsin

Real Wisconsin cheese? You got it.

Ask anyone from Wisconsin if they’ve ever had or heard of Toppers Pizza, and you’ll most likely hear a “yes.”

The Whitewater, Wis.-based pizza brand has been able to expand to a total of 62 units since its inception in 1991 — in Champaign, Ill., but nonethele.....

Real Wisconsin cheese? You got it.

Ask anyone from Wisconsin if they’ve ever had or heard of Toppers Pizza, and you’ll most likely hear a “yes.”

The Whitewater, Wis.-based pizza brand has been able to expand to a total of 62 units since its inception in 1991 — in Champaign, Ill., but nonetheless Toppers’ ties to the Badger State remain strong.

With most of the corporate staff hailing from Wisconsin, the brand has been able to garner a great platform of brand recognition in America’s Dairyland and use this momentum to grow outward. Due to the pizza chain’s fierce loyalty to customers and its knowledge of the demands of its target demographic, Toppers continues to succeed.

Wisconsin boasts the most Toppers locations with 33 units, and even menu purchases in that state seem to differ from the rest of the country. Wisconsin sells more TopperstixTM, Toppers’ cheesy bread topped with garlic butter and cheese, than pizza.

Much of the success Toppers has experienced is due to the brand’s trend of fans turning into franchisees. Many business owners in the Toppers system were introduced to the brand in Wisconsin, and after graduating college or moving out-of-state, they decided to open their own.

“Many people that went to school in Wisconsin and moved away have joined Toppers in order to bring the pizza with them,” said Bridget Keeler, manager of marketing and public relations at Toppers. “This proves to us that the passion for Toppers is really high, both in and out of Wisconsin.”

Denise Downing and her husband, Phil, currently own four Toppers locations in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the couple met while working as delivery drivers for the eclectic pizza franchise in 1999. Since opening their first location in La Crosse, Wis., in 2002 and another in Onalaska, Wis., in 2006, the entrepreneurs decided to expand across the border into Winona, Minn.

“It was a natural progression for us to develop in Winona, because there is already a dedicated fan base in the area, and it is home to a strong community of young and young-at-heart pizza fans,” Denise Downing said.

And in order to maintain that front-of-mind brand mentality, the Toppers marketing team uses various methods of advertising to add to the organic recognition they’ve been able to build in Wisconsin.

“In Milwaukee, we’ll do advertising in the active [demographic marketing area] and use a combination of digital advertising and billboards to remind everyone that we’re still their favorite pizza place,” Keeler said.

It’s with this grassroots, organic marketing coupled with a strong sense of brand presence that has allowed Toppers to continue growing and finding success in new, untapped markets. At this current rate, Toppers hopes to have 150 stores nationwide by 2015.

“A big part of the Toppers culture is the hyper-local community outreach efforts,” Keeler added. “Each store on an individual basis participates in events like car shows, pub crawls, sponsorships and partnerships. This way, we can continue solidifying our relationship with current markets in Wisconsin and continue expanding in the Midwest and beyond.”

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