Confessions of a Road Warrior

By Dave Ostrander

Along with owning and operating my own pizzeria, I'm on the road at least eighty days a year. For the last nine years I've met with and consulted to hundreds of clients. This takes me on the road a lot! BC (before consulting) I traveled with my family on vacation. Very little for business. Oh, the occasional food show, but that was pretty much it. Now I have frequent flier cards, Hampton, Holiday Inn, Hyatt's, Marriott's, Ramada's know my name. Rental car companies and Travel agencies vie for my business. When I'm on the road I only have to do two things. Eat and sleep. Typically when I arrive at my room I go through a little routine. I scope out the room with particular interest in the HVAC system. Road warriors call these little gems wall grinders. I adjust the temperature and move on to the bathroom. If all is clean and spiffy I move on to the bed. If it passes the bounce and free fall test, it's going to be a good night. At this time I hang up my carry on trusty suitcase and spread out my stuff. Now it's time to play catch up. I get aquatinted with the phone system and call home. I have a wonderful conversation with my wife. She lets me know that everything either breaks or goes wrong when I'm gone from home. I comfort her as best I can and assure her that if she can hang on for a few more days I'll fix everything when I get home. Next call is to check voice-mail and then I call my restaurant and speak with my manager. He tells me everything goes great when I'm out of town. I'm confused. I'm also hungry. The last time I took nourishment, besides the airline peanuts, was hours ago. If I forgot to mention it earlier it's 10:05 PM. The hotel restaurant closed exactly five minutes ago and they won't answer their phone. My shoes are off, I'm tired to the bone and don't want to leave my room and go exploring for a place to eat. So I started surfing the yellow pages for a pizza place to bring me dinner. So many choices. I call the registration desk and after only twenty-eight rings the hotel operator tells me her personal favorite place. I thank her and she goes back to whatever she does that keeps her too busy to answer the phone and I dive back into yellow page heaven and call and order my chow. It's now pushing 10:20. Allowing thirty minutes for delivery and fifteen for dining I head to the head for the Pepcid. Sometimes I just give up and dine on my favorite, vending machine cuisine! Yum yum!

Believe me, I'm not alone. This is a way of life for tens of thousands of business travelers. A lot of them could be in your town tonight.

Then it happened! I'll never forget it. Fort Wayne, IN. Don Hall's Guesthouse, Tuesday night 10:05 PM. Nine years ago. A blinding flash of the obvious. There, on my night stand. A table tent urging me to order a pizza from a local pizzeria. Menu, phone number, and a testimonial from the hotel! I called, they delivered, I munched, I'm happy. This is too easy. I confess that I creatively borrowed that table tent and brought it home with me. The next stop was to my favorite quick printer. I shamelessly plagiarized that bedside beauty and ordered 500 of them with my logo, phone, and condensed menu. I also told him to fire up the mint and print another thousand Big Dave Bucks. My next step was to track existing sales to lodging establishments. I went through the yellow pages and discovered that there are thirty-one places to crash in Oscoda, MI. My town is a little different than most. It's a tourist vacation destination area on the shores of Lake Huron. Only three on the list have over 50 rooms. The rest are rental cottages, bed and breakfasts' and smaller motels with less than 20 units. I wrote all their names in a column and to the left wrote in the next thirty days. Every time we accidentally sold a pizza to on of the places we put a tic mark on the day. After two weeks I concluded that we were selling seven pizzas a week to motels. This was about to change.

My goal was to deliver every pizza to every room in my town, ASAP. This is how I did it. Armed with my guerilla tools, table tents and pizza bucks and tape dispenser, I set up appointments with the owner / managers of several motels. Their best times are between 1 and 4 PM. I made a little small talk and asked them if I could put some fliers in their lobby for guests to pick up and possibly order from us. In the past I would give them a gift certificate and wish them a busy and profitable tourist season. They would smile and I'd be on my way. I would give away thirty pizzas every spring and never get a return on investment on many of them. This time I told them my story of Fort Wayne and showed them a real live table tent with their name on it, along with my logo. I explained that if allowed us to place this tasteful piece in every room we would be very appreciative and to show our gratitude, every time we delivered an order to one of their rooms we would immediately go to the registration desk and give the desk person a Big Dave Buck. Who knows, "You may never buy pizza again." Save these up and redeem them for free pizza. They spend just like money at my restaurant. Give them to your employees as atta-boys, throw a company party or keep them for your immediate families use. Any way you want to use them is ok with me." I then handed them an envelope with about twenty bucks in it. "Here's your starter kit of bucks and table tents. Let's try it for a couple of months and see how it goes. Fair enough?" I held out my hand and shook. Notice, I did not ask them for a yes or no answer. Yes or no answers inflict pain on most people. They have to make a decision. This is a painless way to get to yes. I them assured them that I would personally do a training session with all of my drivers, instructing them on hospitality etiquette. No squealing of tires on the premises. No loud noises in the halls, people are sleeping. Your reflection is part of the whole lodging experience. The first and second encounters were going great. We were in! I was pumped up and knew we were going to sell lotsa pizzas. Number three burst my bubble. I was confident, and delivered a perfect presentation to the owner. After I held out my hand and said "Fair enough?" He flatly said he wasn't interested. I was shocked and devastated. It felt like a knife in the heart. I regained my composure and got up the courage to ask him why not. He told me a secret that all lodging people know and we travelers don't. "My guests are very nice people. Many of them return here every time they are in town. They book a year in advance." I hung on every word. I knew this was going to be a learning experience. " Whenever people eat food in their rooms, especially pizza, they wipe their hands and lips on my towels. My laundry finds it almost impossible to get the pizza sauce stains out of the piece and I have to replace it. This costs me big money. Nothing personal," Dave, "Just good business. Have you ever shined your shoes or wiped your lips on a $5 towel in your life?" I confessed that I was guilty but would sin no more. Before I turned tail and left I asked "If I can find a solution to this problem can we still talk?" He said "of course." I like you am a pizzeria owner. But my real job, the only one that probably can't be delegated is that I am the ultimate problem solver. From now on look at yourself as a problem solver. That's what we get paid the big bucks for.

I retreated to my office and brainstormed over the problem. It came to me; I had to deliver napkins to the rooms. Eating pizza in a motel room is a pretty uncivilized affair. I experimented with a couple of options and created the very first Big Dave's Motel Pack. I put two styrofoam plates, plastic forks, knives, wet-wipes and extra napkins into a gallon Zip Lock Bag. The whole pack costs around forty cents. The Motel Pack would make eating pizza a breeze anywhere. No fuss, no mess. I reasoned that price is secondary to motel guests. They fall into two groups. Vacationers and business people, Vacationers want to have a good time and most go home broke. Business people are usually on expense accounts, and pizza is well within the budget. Needless to say, I never have to coupon or discount the customer. That's what makes the pizza buck and the motel pack fit into the budget. I set up a return appointment with Dave and got his feedback on my invention. He was impressed, and we struck a deal for six-month trial period. I then went on to every other lodging establishment in the next two weeks and achieved permission from all but two, to have the special arrangement.

Nine years ago I didn't have Rapidfire and had to track sales at the end of the night the old fashioned way. One guest check at a time after closing. The chart on the wall started to fill up with pizza orders being delivered to motels. We were up to seventy orders a week. A net gain of a thousand percent. Instead of delivering one pizza a day we were up to ten a day, three hundred a month and pushing four thousand a year. This is a market segment that doesn't compute into your customer base. It's free money.

Summer went by fast and it was time to do my follow up wit the owners. We were almost hospitality partners at this time. I discovered that they belong to an association and invited myself to their next membership meeting. Of course, you know by now that, Big Dave's catered the event at no charge. I was given a few minutes on their agenda. I thanked them for their win-win attitude and then I asked them if there was anything I could do to make the pizza experience better for their guests or themselves. They made a couple of small suggestions, and thanked me repeatedly. I announced I would be returning to meet with them on a one on one basis in the near future, told them I had a few more ideas and excused myself. Never stay longer than necessary and talk yourself out of a good deal.

I been giving motel penetration a lot of thought and decided that I would upgrade the table tents. I purchased two hundred acrylic table top menu holders from my supplier. This would be a classier presentation than the plain paper stock we were using, and make it easier for housekeeping to keep them fresh and clean looking. I then redesigned the piece with the motel logo right next to mine and added the logos of credit cards accepted. I didn't put on pricing, but emphasized quality in the description of the specialty pizzas. Now they were timeless. Always remember they are looking for the best local pizza in town, not necessarily the cheapest. I also instructed my printer to make me some phone message scratch pads for next to the phone and while he was at it let's print up some cable TV channel line up cards. I was investing in the belief that the money I spent today would come back to me a hundredfold. Pizza is an impulse food. The more tasteful impulses I could put in front of the customer the more pizza I would sell. Period. Besides, now I was providing the motels with more value added amenities for their rooms at no cost to them. I had answered the question, "What's in it for me?"

I don't know about your operation but every time I give my staff more things to do, and remember, they are a little passively resistant. Just human nature I guess. Things are the same all over. I figured that the maids were in charge of keeping all of my stuff restocked in the rooms. That idea made me a little nervous. Overworked people determining my financial success. I needed personal access to the rooms. On my follow up visit to the motels I took along all of the new stuff, scratch pads, cable TV cards and the new and improved personalized menu cards. My manager and myself made the presentation to the owner / manager and then asked him if he trusted us to personally place the items in all of his rooms. I explained that we didn't want to overwhelm housekeeping and had extra time on our hands. All we needed was a master room key, a list of occupied rooms, (we would get to them at a later date) and his permission. We also told him that we intentionally overprinted and would leave extra materials in case they ran out or needed to refresh their stock. Many of the operators agreed. I was so pumped up that I could hardly get the key in the lock. We knocked; we entered and started to lay out some of the best impulse items I had ever designed. My manager was one side of the hall and I was on the other. After about ten rooms, it hit me. I went to the nightstand and very slowly opened the drawer. Inside is a Gideons' Bible and a local phone book. Standard issue for every room I've ever stayed in. I picked up the phone book and opened it the yellow pages and looked at all of my competitions expensive multi color ads and slowly, ripped them out of the book. I wadded up the evidence and signaled my manager to get his opinion. Since he is also a guerilla marketer and his bonus is tied to profitably he was gung ho. We retraced our steps and exited the motel in less than twenty minutes. Pockets bulging with little balls of yellow paper. We tossed them in the back seat of my Blazer and repeated this scenario for the next three hours. I couldn't use my rear view mirror for all of the gutted advertising balls. As far as I know no one has title to phone books, they are public domain. I had not broken any laws and absolutely knew we were going to see another surge in pizza sales to rooms. If you are a visitor to my town you'd be hard pressed to find out any information about my competition. Their yellow page advertising dollars are totally wasted. They continue to pay the phone company hundreds of dollars a month for nothing. On the other hand my ad is small and cost effective. We'll discuss that in another article.

This cross promotion has been in effect for the past nine years. It has brought an additional half million dollars of sales that I would have otherwise left up to chance.

I've also slightly modified this program to fit Bowling Alleys and Nightclubs. I'm very excited about a brand new twist on this promotion. There is a 500-site campground just out of my delivery range and we have made exclusive arrangements with the management to offer pizza delivery to the campers. We have put up a sign and a toll free phone number so they can call from the payphones at no cost. Delivery is only available at pre-set times. They call ahead and we deliver multiple orders at the campstore. This eliminates us from driving miles at 10mph. And dodging roller bladers. This has only been in effect since July 4th so I can't give you any hard data on its success. This campground is a small city unto itself, with populations reaching the 3000 mark on busy weekends. I also give them Happy Camper Discount Certificates redeemable only at my restaurant for dine in or carry out. This way I hope to capture them twice during their stay. Sooner or later it's going to rain and we'll be waiting for them.

Testimonials and endorsements from other businesses give your store instant credibility to travelers. Give them and ask for them often. Every time you venture out of your store become a pizza consumer. Look for new ideas and vehicles to increase sales. Creatively borrow ad pieces from any place you can get them.


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