There's a halo floating above the Zpizza brand that's the direct result of its organic sauce. In the crowded pizza field, it's not easy to distinguish yourself. But the Laguna Beach, California, chain has taken the lead on "pizza lite," by topping its organic tomato sauce with MSG-free pepperoni, additive-free sausage, fresh produce and award-winning skim mozzarella. Soy cheese is also available for the true vegan, and the crust, made from Montana winter-wheat, is hand-thrown and fire-baked.
The first restaurant opened in 1986, "And I use the term 'restaurant' loosely," Chris Bright, president of the 85-unit chain, told the audience. The store was 500 square feet and did take-out only.
Today the fast-casual units range between 1,000 to 1,400 square feet and serve four day parts – lunch, "afternoon chill" time (pizza by the slice), dinner and catering. About two-thirds of the business is delivery or takeout, Bright says.
There are 75 stores open in 15 states and three countries, and 400 stores in development, Bright says. The chain is opening two to three stores a month, but according to Bright – a founding principal of Fransmart who still serves as the development company's CFO – "The stores' numbers are more important than the number of stores." This year they're targeting a 10-percent sales increase, which he admits is aggressive for this economy.
Research is how they stay ahead of the game, Bright says. For instance, the company pays close attention to customer counts "to see who's going into other stores (in the center) and if we're getting our fair share of the counts." Locations need to be in high-traffic areas, because 60 percent of its customers say their first visit was prompted by walking by the restaurant.
Communication between headquarters and franchisees is also a priority. "We look for a dialogue, not a monologue," Bright says. A Google user-group on the company's intranet allows franchisees to post a question and receive several answers representing varying points of view.
To increase sales, the company has outsourced a catering call center. In addition, pizza is dropped off at office buildings, where the "delivery person" tries to secure an opportunity to give a two-minute talk about the pizza. Catering sales have nearly doubled in the 90 days since the program started, and a nice bonus has been an increase in lunch sales by the recipients of the free pizza, he says.
Inbound calls for delivery and takeout have been outsourced during peak times, so employees can concentrate on serving the customer in front of them.
As a franchise veteran, Bright has brought the discipline and experience that takes a good concept to a franchisable one. The question, he says, is "What business are you in? Restaurant or franchising?" In zpizza's case, the answer is – "the people-developing business."
Because they were comfortable outsourcing franchise sales to Fransmart, it made other relationships with key partners a natural, Bright says. They've teamed up with a variety of vendors, from Brandstand for marketing to ctuit for financial reporting.
The four-year goal is 300 units. "I think we're moving forward. We have the right corporate (staff), the right franchisees; our cash flow is positive and we have no debt. I think we're positioned to grow four-fold over the next four years," Bright says.