PHOTO: Shown, left to right: Your Pie GM Channing Hallford, with Your Pie Grant Park franchisees, Lisa and Morgan MacClellan.

Community Connections

When Pizza Brands Take Root: Franchisee’s Tips on Growing Your Pizzeria’s Community Connections

By Lisa Maclellan/Your Pie Franchisee

This article was originally published in Pizza Marketplace 4/10/19.

In the restaurant world, most decisions are made with the bottom line in mind. Factors like guest experience, inventory selection and employee hiring contribute to your business plan and are filtered through the lens of profitability.

But what if your business was designed to support more than just the bottom line? What if your restaurant existed to better the community beyond its walls? It may sound counterintuitive, but our family has found that when you prioritize people over profits, success is a natural byproduct.

My husband and I own two Your Pie locations, and we’ve determined that every dollar given, every pizza donated and hour spent serving our local communities reaps an invaluable return: guest loyalty. Since opening our first restaurant in 2015, we’ve seen firsthand the tremendous impact of word-of-mouth marketing.

The best way to get people to talk about you? Reach out to talk about them. Listen for the need in your local community, and then see how you can help. Supporting the local causes that matter most to your guests allows you to communicate your personal and corporate mission through actions rather than words, while also building community roots that will support and nourish your business.

Choose your causes wisely

When choosing a local philanthropy, it’s important to do your research. Every franchise brand has a corporate mission statement, but what does your individual restaurant stand for specifically?

With our business, we strive to improve lives of our community and our team. As part of our community focus, we look for ways to support local schools, parent-teacher groups and community organizations.

Likewise, as an Atlanta small business we are well aware that poverty is a real issue here, so we try to band with local organizations that address those issues. We do what we do best by making delicious pizzas, while our partner organizations make sure they get to those in need. In other words, whether it’s a national nonprofit, school district or charity, look for causes that mean something to you, your team and your community and go from there.

Similarly, don’t be afraid to tap into the expertise of your guests, as well. We’ve often asked our guests directly to help us find partner organizations. Likewise, sometimes organizations find us.

Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work with many local organizations in our two markets, including the network of local congregations providing assistance to the homeless, called Family Promise, and the neighborhood assistance organization and food pantry, Community Assistance Center.

As owners, we’re biased toward more hands-on, tangible assistance organizations and we tend to donate pizzas over checks. We feel that if folks can taste our delicious pizza, while we’re filling a need. That’s a win-win scenario for us.

But, don’t forget to track your pizza contributions in order to quantify the impact. For instance, though we’ve yet to meet an organization that turns down free pizzas, it’s invaluable to find consistent, true partners that you believe in and also value you. That’s where the giving becomes increasingly significant to local communities and businesses.

Develop a reflex for intentional giving 

Companies that effectively implement a community involvement strategy typically do so as part of an overall sustainable business strategy. They understand that giving back can take many different forms.

When we opened our first restaurant in Dunwoody, Georgia, we partnered with a local organization for a three-day Dine & Donate event that led up to our grand opening. In those three days, we served free pizza for up to 400 registered guests per day in exchange for monetary donations to our charity partner, in this case the Lighthouse Family Retreat that offers family retreats to those living through childhood cancer. Likewise, we gave part of our first week’s sales to the organization, along with a donation from a matching partner.

We find this approach has two benefits for our business. First, it allows our team to practice handling high traffic at the restaurant in a relatively low-stakes environment, since the meals are free. Next, it shows customers right off the bat that we’re here to support the community before we even make our first dollar. In fact, now  we’ve continued this grand opening tradition at of our second Grant Park location in Atlanta.

We’ve also chosen to align most major business milestones with a giveback. For example, at our Perimeter store’s fourth anniversary party earlier this year, we pledged to donate a pizza or panini to someone in need for every pizza sold at the event. We sold 580 pizzas the day of the anniversary and over the next year will work with local partners to give 580 pizzas or paninis to those in need.

Giving … and receiving

Franchisees are local entrepreneurs and small business owners who are not only active community members, but we believe also important players in helping cross-promote other business, co-host events together and even feature some of their products in our store.

By way of example, when our parking deck at our Grant Park restaurant closed shortly after we opened for nearly a year, we three a party when it reopened with help from our landlord, next-door-neighbor, Farm Burger and local brewery, Eventide.

By combining our efforts, the event was bigger, better and served as a wider platform to relaunch our business with the parking closure behind us. Championing other local businesses can help brands establish their names as good neighbors.

So consider taking a second look at your community involvement as part of your long-term business strategy. It definitely requires extra effort, but the ROI is sometimes immeasurable.

Lisa and  Morgan Maclellan own Atlanta-area Your Pie locations in Grant Park and Perimeter.