Sometimes it’s not so bad being the little guy in a $40 billion industry. If you ask Toppers to trade places with one of the big three pizza chains, the answer will always be the same: “no.” But despite being a disruptive force in the pizza delivery industry, Toppers does share one thing in common with one of its sprawling competitors —a shared history.
The Toppers of today prides itself on its irreverent voice, fast delivery and a better pizza. It’s a strategy that has proven to not only be profitable, but is also facilitating unprecedented growth. Over the last few years, the brand has grown to 74 units and 73 percent of the system is boasting record sales. Most recently, the 2016 Technomic Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report ranked Toppers as one of the top-five fastest growing brands in the limited-service restaurant category. Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s didn’t even crack the top five.
Despite crushing the competition in recent rankings, Toppers wouldn’t be what it is today without Domino’s. Just ask Toppers Founder and CEO Scott Gittrich what Domino’s means to him, his executive team and several of his franchisees and the answer is pretty simple—a shared past where they learned some of what to do and a lot of what not to do.
“I remember it clearly. It was 1984 and I delivered my very first order for Domino’s. That is where my love affair with pizza began,” said Gittrich. “My history with Domino’s certainly helped me formulate the vision for what I wanted Toppers to be. While we’re still delivering pizzas, and faster I might add, Toppers is the complete opposite of the cheap, homogenized pizza that consumers settle for when it comes to our competition.”
As Gittrich continues to drive Toppers forward, his path from Domino’s has helped pave the way forward for others in Toppers’ leadership. Prior to joining Toppers, Chief Financial Officer Kendall Richmond was a Domino’s franchisee for 12 years. Toppers’ Franchise Operations Director Mark Watt also spent time in the Domino’s system as a general manager. The brand’s Vice President of Marketing Scott Iversen, who started with Toppers when there were only two stores, also has Domino’s history on his resume after serving as a general manager and marketing manager.
“What working at Domino’s taught me—what it taught all of us—is that there is a real disparity between how we approach pizza compared to our biggest competitors,” said Iversen. “We’ll never sacrifice our food’s quality because we’re always going to offer a superior product that people can feel proud about ordering.”
It’s not just executives that are leaving the Domino’s system. It’s franchisees, too. Bill Stayduhar was a Domino’s franchisee for more than a decade before he left to find something different and unique in the pizza space.
Wayne Byers has a similar story. After successfully working his way up the Domino’s system to become a partner of a 55-store Domino’s franchise, he left it all behind to find something fresh and new that offered him greater potential for development.
“Toppers has a solid business model, and I love the brand image,” said Byers. “I chose to invest in Toppers because the brand afforded me the opportunity to bring stores to an area where they had not previously developed. I wanted to experience professional growth with an emerging brand. Toppers carved its own path in a crowded marketplace, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Always one step ahead of the curve, Toppers’ commitment to technology will always remain at the forefront of its brand image. In 2015, the brand launched an improved Toppers.com and e-commerce site. Enhancements include a new responsive design, faster load times and easier navigation, which has allowed pizzas to be delivered in less than 25 minutes. In fact, since its launch, Toppers has seen nearly 42 percent of system-wide orders being placed online.
“People across franchising understand that pizza is growing again,” said Gittrich. “Technology has revolutionized our industry and Toppers is well positioned to capitalize on this shift. Prospective franchisees see us as this new disruptive force with plenty of available territory in which to expand, unlike Domino’s and our other competitors who have kind of reached their maturity.”