After remaining at 37 locations for over a year, Sudbury, Ont.-based Topper’s Pizza finished 2016 with a bang, opening new restaurants in Thunder Bay and Richmond Hill, Ont. During the latter half of the year, the chain, which recorded gross sales of $32.2 million in 2015, also opened a relocated Sudbury unit, as well as a new, enhanced customer-care centre — almost doubling its customer-care-agent capacity in preparation for future growth.
This focus on overall brand improvement has brought about several recent innovations. “In the new makeup of our pizzerias, we’ve added a few elements that are somewhat unique to our industry,” says Kelly Toppazzini, co-CEO. One such addition is the introduction of visible dough-maker areas, which provide an interactive guest experience and allow customers to witness the creation of the brand’s authentic Italian bread crust first hand. “We make dough fresh daily and, in the past, those dough makers were in the back of our restaurants. Now they’re prominently displayed in the front [of the restaurant] in a windowed space in the customer area,” he adds.
These dough-maker windows are being implemented on a go-forward basis, with the brand offering three locations featuring the window at the end of 2016. In the last quarter of 2016, the brand also introduced “customer screens”, which display the status of customers’ orders. These screens are set to be introduced to all existing and future locations of the pizzeria.
“In the last two years, we’ve really improved the franchise recruiting position — having more senior people take that role,” adds Toppazzini. “For the last three or four years, we’ve been really hammering home our Average Unit Volumes (AUVs)…We’ve also got a lot of publicity with regards to that, so that’s spurred interest.”
Topper’s locations are a mix of company-owned and franchised units, with the cost to buy at approximately $363,000 for take-out franchise units averaging 1,500 to 2,000 sq.-ft. The brand is keeping the momentum going, kicking off 2017 with two new units in Espanola and Kirkland Lake, Ont. with plans to reach 100 locations in the next five to 10 years. “We want our growth to be steady and consistent to ensure the financial model is working for [our operators],” explains Toppazzini.
Topper’s growth throughout Ontario has been through a strategy Toppazzini characterizes as “pod growth” — introducing three or four pizzerias to a region in order to generate demand and interest for future growth. “Now that we’re at the point where we have pizzerias in all of [the Ontario] pods, our goals for the next few years will be primarily Ontario growth, but we have inquiries for other provinces at this point,” says Toppazzini. “The pod growth has worked. It’s been steady and we’re starting to get good branding in all of those areas.”