Toppers Pizza Continues to Thrive as Industry's Biggest Pizza Chains Falter
Toppers Pizza Continues to Thrive as Industry's Biggest Pizza Chains Falter

By finding the sweet spot in between a growing franchise chain and neighborhood pizza spot, Toppers Pizza is grabbing a big slice from a small pie.

Back in 2009, Toppers Pizza was on the verge of something big.

Unlike sprawling competitors Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and Domino’s, Toppers had found its sweet spot: targeting the Millennial crowd with late night hours, fast delivery, an irreverent voice and better pizza. It was a niche strategy that not only proved to be profitable, but a recipe for growth, too. In 2008, total sales throughout the Toppers system hit $15.8 million in revenue, up 28 percent from 2007. While the total number of pizza stores in the U.S. declined by 0.3 percent that year, Toppers locations were sprouting up all over the Midwest.

That year, the numbers painted a telling picture: Toppers was thriving when some of the industry’s biggest pizza chains were faltering. And from that moment on, the Toppers team adopted a seemingly sound growth strategy—aim to grab as big of a slice as possible from the competitors’ market share pie.

More than seven years later, everything and nothing has changed for Toppers. In the last two years alone, the brand has grown from 46 to 73 restaurants. Last year, 73 percent of all Toppers stores boasted record sales, boosting overall system-wide sales up 22.5 percent from 2014. And most recently, the 2016 Technomic Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report ranked Toppers as one of the top-five fastest-growing brands in the entire limited-service restaurant category. Meanwhile, major chains like Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s didn’t even make the list.

And yet, in many ways, Toppers’ core methodology remains the same—do exactly what all the bigger chains are doing, which is quick delivery, but with the huge advantage of offering a better, and much more high-quality product.

“Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to really hone in on what works for us. Now, our goal is to keep on keeping on. Our positioning is one that has really resonated with franchisees. Back in 2009, we were still young, and we had to sit down with prospective franchisees and really explain our message. Today, people come to us—they get it. They’re looking for fresh ideas in a big, tired space,” said Scott Gittrich, founder and CEO of Toppers Pizza.

In particular, Gittrich said that Toppers’ technology has helped them stay ahead of the curve—and both franchisees and consumers are noticing. In 2015, a new and improved Toppers.com was launched as an e-commerce site. Enhancements were made to simplify and speed up the online ordering process, and a new responsive design allowed customers to have a pizza delivered to their door in less than 25 minutes with the touch of a button. Since then, Toppers has seen nearly 42 percent of system-wide orders being placed online.

“Since 2009, technology has become a massive driver in our industry. Back then, our online orders were miniscule, and today, the pizza QSR segment is driving e-commerce in the restaurant sector like no other—and Toppers is part of that,” Gittrich said. “When we flipped the switch on the new Toppers.com, suddenly our pizza delivery was growing in a way that it wasn’t five or so years ago, and that’s a fabulous outcome. In 2009, I would have never predicted our place in the delivery segment, and I truly believe that Toppers.com is at the top.”

Gittrich also takes pride in the fact that Toppers is still considered the “little guy” in a $40 billion industry. And yet, they have no problem going head-to-head against mega-chains like Domino’s, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut. Gittrich believes Toppers’ added advantage is simple—people generally thumb their noses at bigger companies, and Toppers prides itself on being the complete opposite of Corporate America.

“People will always deny that they go to bigger pizza chains. We are able to split the difference. We’re still the little guys, we have a certain level of transparency, and we have the quality, made-from-scratch pizzas that people want. At the same time, we’re allowing our customers to have the convenience and the things they desire from a franchise chain,” Gittrich said. “It’s very important for us to be someone’s pizza place—to be that go-to restaurant every time they want quality pizza. We’re able to do this as we grow as a franchise, and that’s because we’re focused on that sweet spot in between.”

To learn more about franchising opportunities with Toppers Pizza, click here.