Toppers Pizza enters aggressive growth phase

September 13, 2016 • Company Growth, In The News

The best pizza everyone’s ever tried is pushing closer to the coasts and expanding its reach as a national player in the franchise restaurant business.
Toppers Pizza owner Scott Gittrich said the goal of his Whitewater-based firm is to grow to between 500 and 800 franchise locations in the next 10 years. Toppers currently has 76 stores in 13 states.

Toppers Pizza, which is based in Whitewater, will soon establish locations out west in Colorado and Wyoming and along the eastern seaboard in Virginia and Maryland near the lucrative and pizza-hungry Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area.

The deals in place for the two areas will add 35 stores to the Toppers’ empire.

Owner Scott Gittrich said the goal is to continue expansion, and stores at a rate of 25 percent more than in the previous year. If Toppers opens 12 restaurants this year, it will open 16 next year, and so on.
Toppers currently numbers 76 stores in 13 states. Its Whitewater location is at 325 W. Center St. Gittrich said the goal is to be at 500 to 800 stores within 10 years.

I never dreamed of that, Gittrich said. I did think we could build a great restaurant company, but I figured it would be a prize fight. It ended up to be something big, and more fun than that.

A product worthy of the public’s trust must be available to fuel such ambitious expansion. There is a mystique to Toppers pizza that inspires cult-like devotion. Start a conversation about pizza with friends, mention Toppers, and the positive reaction will likely be instantaneous and intense.

I can explain part of it, and part of it’s magic, Gittrich said. Part of it happened over time, and the mystique that surrounds the combination of what we sell and how we do it, along with just connecting with how people experience the brand.

This is Gittrich’s attempt to explain the pizza and phenomenon that is convincing entrepreneurs to follow. Gittrich is a Pied Piper of pizza, and Mike McLaughlin and Todd Geatches are following the music.

McLaughlin and his wife, Helen, are opening 22 Toppers locations in Virginia and Maryland. Like Gittrich, McLaughlin was previously involved in national pizza with a different chain.

McLaughlin said he decided to work with Toppers to expand his family’s restaurant empire. McLaughlin and his wife own Triangle Restaurant Management and operate several Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

Their approach to the pizza business is interesting, McLaughlin said. Give customers what they want the options they have, from a toppings standpoint, and the Topperstix is just a great product.

I think the fact that they’re making their dough in house leads to it being a better product.

Toppers makes its dough fresh every day, and also uses real mozzarella cheese. Its tomatoes are picked once a year in California. Gittrich said Toppers sets a high standard for what it puts in its food, and said the little things add up.

The idea was that we would make our food from scratch in the restaurant and do it that way, Gittrich said, while still being a place that delivered and carried out pizza.

Attention to detail in making pizza paired with a playful irreverence in marketing starts to albeit barely explains Toppers’ brands success.

Except where it doesn’t. Gittrich admitted Topperstix the thick, gooey, cheesy bread sticks that are almost mythic in the following they inspire were created by happy accident.

Geatches casting his lot with Toppers did not come about by happy accident. He visited 41 stores more than half of the chain at the time before investing. Geatchers said Toppers stood out for its food, marketing and corporate acumen.

Geatches owns Denver-based Mountain Restaurant Management, which consists of several Taco John’s and other holdings. He is opening 13 Toppers stores in Colorado and Wyoming.

We visited a couple of different pizza chains, Geatches said. It kind of seemed like the same old thing. There was nothing really new or exciting.

The other thing that sold us on Toppers they’re a very simple company, but they are truly set-up for success.

Say what you want about pizza and cult following and the joy of eating Topperstix Gittrich, McLaughlin and Geatches are in business. Gittrich’s genius, after making pizza everyone loves, is putting a framework in place that compels others like him to be part of his success.

I think Scott is a visionary, McLaughlin said. When you look at their headquarters, you look at some of the initiatives they’re taking on social media, the ability to market online their goal is to have close to 50 percent of their business from online ordering a mobile app. That technology, having it in place in a company that has 76 stores, is really impressive to me.

There is nothing covert or secret about Toppers’ strategy. It is spelled out in unfailingly plain language on its web site

Gittrich opened the first Toppers in Whitewater in 1993. The company decided to offer franchises in 1997, and a store opened in Eau Claire. The 15th store opened in 2007. Online ordering started in 2008.

In 2014 the chain celebrated 40 quarters of consecutive sales increases. In 2017 the 100th Toppers store is slated to open, and the chain brags that it will pass 700 stores in 2025.

McLaughlin and Geatches each went with Toppers over other national brands, and set the stage for additional expansion in adjoining areas. Every franchise that plants a flag enables another franchise to plant the flag by shortening the distance supplies must move, allowing for increased marketing efforts, and more.

The Toppers chain will spread one slice at a time, a communal food reaching communities in need of the best pizza they’ve yet to taste.

One of the things I looked at when I came to Whitewater was to get a sense if they were operating like a 70-store chain or a chain that has the ability to grow, McLaughlin said. They have great infrastructure in place. They have people who understand the pizza business.

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