Toppers Pizza’s brash attitude and bold menu has been a hit with college students. Which is why, as the Wisconsin-based brand continues to target areas for expansion, they are focused on tapping into states with a strong college-aged population – including Ohio.
“Toppers always does great in college towns, and Ohio is a huge college state with great universities where people love pizza,” said Mark Cairns, Toppers Pizza’s director of franchise development. “It’s the home of brands like LaRosa’s and Donatos. So, there is a high respect for quality pizza options across Ohio.”
With dozens of colleges and universities across the state – including college crowds saturated around cities like Columbus and Cleveland – Ohio has a built-in audience perfect for the brand. Cairns believes there is significant opportunity to serve Toppers Pizza’s menu of unique toppings and signature Topperstix to students with cravings that stretch into the late night hours.
Thanks to their high density of universities, the brand is focusing new development efforts on major cities like Cincinnati and Columbus. Additionally, with the help of the right franchisees, Toppers also sees potential in smaller college markets, such as Dayton, Akron, Bowling Green, Youngstown and Oxford.
The investment in a Toppers Pizza franchise ranges between $291,666 and $527,152. Franchisees fees start at $30,000 for the first unit and decrease to $20,000 for the second and third units, $15,000 for the fourth and fifth, and only $10,000 for six and above. The brand also rolled out a new prototype to kick off 2017 which increases transparency and creates a more welcoming environment for guests, while enhancing the flexibility of the real estate footprint which can range from 1,200 to 1,600 square feet--making it easier for franchisees to locate and sign for endcaps, inline stores, or freestanding locations.
This push for development in Ohio comes after a successful 2016, where the brand experienced tremendous growth including climbing sales and three signed multi-unit development deals that will ultimately add 41 new locations to Toppers’ ever-growing network. In the first half of 2017, Toppers Pizza will surpass 80 stores and the company has a goal of reaching 700 locations in the next ten years. The brand has enjoyed recognition from top industry publications and entities such as landing on Entrepreneur Magazine's ranking of the top 500 franchises in the U.S for the third year in a row in 2017 and landing on QSR Magazine's listing of the Best Franchise Deals.
The company has already found success at the University of Cincinnati, where franchisee Bob Fullarton and his sons, David and Rick, set up shop seven years ago, tapping into the pizza-fanatic Bearcat crowd. After establishing their presence in Cincinnati, the family later expanded into northern Kentucky at Northern Kentucky University.
“It's a fun brand, and that plays to the 18-24 year olds that tend to be our targeted market,” said Bob Fullarton. “The food's good and the Topperstix are different. You can get a pizza anywhere, but you can’t get Topperstix and their 16 dipping sauces everywhere. The brand comes across well to young people.”
Fullarton, who previously worked at Procter & Gamble and then dunnhumby, was looking for an opportunity to establish a family business. Growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin, he was aware of the brand, and Rick heard good things from a friend as well.
He added that they were very selective in their search for real estate, waiting for the right spot to maximize success, which they found adjacent to the UC campus. They opened doors in the fall of 2010 and since then, their Cincinnati location has routinely been one of the system’s top performing locations.
“We wanted to start a family business together. We started looking for a franchise that would make sense for my sons. We met with the Toppers team in Whitewater and liked what we heard. Their core values really resonated with us,” Fullarton said.