Strangely enough, the business behind pizza is not dissimilar to our everyday business in the powersports industry. Loyalty is key.
My Parts Guy told me, "you’re an idiot."
"Well, thanks," I said. This was the only reply that I could think of, considering his inability to understand the depth of the conversation that we were (or should I say "I was") having. I might have just as easily been discussing the theory of quantum physics with a roadkill possum as explaining to him why I would choose to spend $11 on a pizza from the local store as opposed to $5 from the Little Caesar’s truck.
You see, I live in a small, rural community where everyone knows everyone and everybody knows everybody else’s business. (Those who don’t can simply place a call to Betty Jones and be filled in.) So, much like the powersports business, there are always those on the outside who try to take away the local business. In short, it is another day in the life of most businesses in my community … pizza joints not excluded.
So, with a Pizza Hut in residence for well over two decades, and a competing Domino’s for nearly as long, you wouldn’t think that there could be an opportunity for a third player to move into the turf and steal business. Unless, of course, the third player wheels into town every Thursday night in a brightly colored truck and parks at a lot just outside of city limits. The low overhead of two employees, one standing in the roll-up door at the rear of the truck, the other parading with a sandwich-board sign proclaiming, "Large pizza any way you want it … $5!" Under these circumstances, the few-thousand residents of our small haven become the pizza-eatinest bunch of animals on the planet. A line forms, clogging traffic along the main roadway for what seems an infinite span. People from all walks of life patiently waiting to save six-bucks and allowing their brood to sink their teeth into a doughy feast of cheese and pepperoni, offering the young’uns their weekly treat and their significant other her (or his) night off from kitchen duty. Every make of vehicle imaginable from the oldest rust-bucket pickup to the newest innovation from Lexus, forms a friendly, non-honking line awaiting their chance to shout an order to the roadside chef and gladly hand one Lincoln to the guy with the sign.
There, amidst the chaos and confusion of whored-out vittles alongside the city limit sign, is where our argument started. I had simply mentioned that I was calling Pizza Hut to order a pizza, and Parts Guy went ballistic. "Why," he asked, "would I want to spend extra money when I could stop on the way home and grab a Little Caesar’s from the guy in the truck? It was on my way, and less than half of the money!"
I tried to explain that Pizza Hut, (and Dominos, for that matter), had employed people in our community for years. People who bought parts and accessories from him, who contributed money back into other businesses locally and kept things rolling. These stores had supplied tax money that funded the school where he earned his education; built the ball fields where he played his Little League games; contributed donations to the 4-H and FFA buildings at the local fairgrounds where his son and others like him showed their hogs. All of it seemed to pass by him without so much as touching his ears. He looked dumfounded (more than usual), and concerned for my sanity.
"Look," I said. "These pizza-truck guys are no different than the magazine and Internet-based sellers that you deal with here everyday. The company is not contributing to the local economy; they aren’t employing your friends or customers; they aren’t paying taxes and helping add to the growth of the area. They are simply coming into town with a truck and no overhead. They’re selling pizzas for a bargain price (out of the back of a truck for crying out loud!), and you are gobbling them up … advertising for them by telling everyone what a great deal it is! Meanwhile, the customer that would be walking in here tomorrow to buy a new helmet from you, is instead laid off of his job at Pizza Hut because the truck-guys took away the business."
Parts Guy looked at me with a blank stare.
"But, it’s cheaper," he complained.
"And so is the Internet guy who is selling helmets out of his basement," I retorted. "Sometimes we need to pay a little more in order to practice what we preach. Instead of saving six-bucks on a pie, why not contribute your efforts to helping one of the local companies keep their business? When the boycott of Citgo became the hot topic, I was worried about the people that work at the local station. Sure, I was just as interested as everyone else in shoving Chavez’ gas right back up his pipeline, but I still stopped in there to buy a soda or chips … a little something to ensure that our customers wouldn’t lose their jobs. I still do and on a regular basis. We have customers all over the community, and each of them deserves our support, just as much as we want to keep theirs. We scratch their backs, they’ll scratch ours, understand?"
He nodded his head with what seemed a wave of fresh understanding washing over his face. I was proud, thinking that I had at least gotten my point across … if nothing more were to go right that evening, I felt that in a small way, I had done my part in supporting the local community. And, if I was lucky, he would explain the loyalty position to a few of his friends, spreading the good word like an infection that would finally win back the lost pizza business, and lend a hand of support to all in our little corner of the world.
As I left the dealership and worked my way past the traffic jam en route to pick up my Pizza Hut pizza, I noticed a brown pickup in line for the Little Caesar’s cheap pie parade. The pickup had my company’s sticker in the back window and sure enough, Parts Guy was behind the wheel. Needless to say, I didn’t wave.