In today’s technology field, Hack-A-Thons – 24-hour coding contests aimed to drive ingenuity – have become an industry staple. But when you think of a Hack-A-Thon, you wouldn’t expect a growing pizza chain like Toppers Pizza to be hosting one at its World Headquarters. Tony Ellis, vice president of information technology at Toppers Pizza, is taking this concept and bringing it to new industries. To Ellis, Hack-A-Thons are applicable beyond information technology; it’s an event relevant to all industries because it forces people from various skillsets to come together and collaborate in search of creative solutions. That’s why Ellis decided to host the first-ever Toppers Hack-A-Thon on Wednesday, July 19th at the brand’s World Headquarters in Whitewater, Wis. More than 50 Team Members put aside their responsibilities for a day and teamed up in groups or worked on their own to improve a process or create a new idea that will better Toppers Pizza.
“In terms of direction, there are minimal rules and constraints. If someone from marketing wants to tackle technology, they should go for it. If someone from accounting wants to try to improve restaurant design or the pizza, this is the day for it. As long as the end result is improvement, there are no rules,” says Ellis.
The event included everyone at the Whitewater office, creating a melting pot of people with varying expertise, backgrounds and years of experience. It was aimed to give a voice to people who have ideas outside of their job title and can offer a fresh perspective on a problem.
“The Hack-A-Thon is an exciting opportunity for people to get out of their job, hack an idea and do something special at Toppers. They can find some small inefficiency or some big solution. The point is everyone is focused on improving the brand,” says Toppers Pizza founder and president Scott Gittrich.
Continuously keeping the brand ahead of the curve in areas like technology is a major driving force for Toppers as it continues to push past the 80-unit mark. For the brand, having a team mentality is at the heart of its core values; involving every Team Member and franchisee is viewed as instrumental for generating ideas that will ultimately improve the company at large.
“The underlying theme of this event is that anyone can make a difference in the system. If you’re an intern or a part-time Team Member, you often feel like you don’t have a say or a voice in the company. This event is about tearing down that barrier,” says Ellis. “Innovation typically doesn’t come from top to bottom, but from the bottom-up. The day-to-day people are the ones who really see the cracks in the system.
Toward the later part of the afternoon, Gittrich led the executive judging panel as Team Members presented dozens of ideas ranging from food and kitchen innovation to new revenue opportunities and cost savings efficiencies.
“I would estimate that $250,000 to $500,000 of tangible business efficiency and actionable revenue opportunities came out of this event,” said Ellis. “The Toppers executive team has made a motion to implement as many as possible over the coming months and empowered our team to act. We can’t wait to host our next Hack-A-Thon in the months to follow and to continue to push our team to strive for greatness.”