How the Innovative Wisconsin-based Pizza Franchise is Investing in People for Long Term Success
When Toppers Pizza was founded more than 25 years ago, it was on a basis of doing things different and being bolder and more innovative in the pizza space. However, since the beginning, creating a positive and infectious culture has been a top objective for the brand as well. The foundation for the franchise brand with more than 80 units across the U.S. has always been the people. As competition in the restaurant industry – and particularly in the booming pizza segment – has increased, Toppers Pizza is making even more of an investment in its human capital.
“In a lot of markets, we are in a dog fight for people. Uber Eats and other delivery services have posed a problem and unemployment being down has been another challenge,” said Scott Gittrich, founder and president of Toppers Pizza. “But we have had some really great success and continue to gain confidence that we're going to be able to crack that nut and keep retaining solid Team Members and attracting great new talent.”
For more than a decade, Gittrich has turned to a person who bought into his vision and Toppers Pizza from day one, to guide the brand’s focus on bringing in Team Members who are truly passionate pizza people. Robin Gittrich, Scott’s wife, serves as Director of Human Resources for Toppers Pizza. After playing a utility role in the early years – helping with marketing, research, legal, contributing artwork for marketing campaigns, even just folding boxes during rush times – Robin joined the HR department and has been leading the charge to continually evolve and find new ways to hire those who personify the brand’s core values.
“A large portion of our leadership in the operations department started off in our stores. For example, Adam Oldenburg started as a delivery driver and is now the VP of Operations,” said Robin Gittrich. “We like to promote from within, but are also open to outside talent. We need to look at talent outside in order to be innovative and have fresh ideas. If we don’t have people come in from the outside, we won’t have any new ideas to complement our strong core of Team Members.”
Both Scott and Robin understand the difficult terrain in place right now for everyone in the restaurant industry. But in true Toppers fashion, the company has been proactive in testing creative ways to win the staffing game against competitors.
“We've taken some markets and thrown the kitchen sink at it,” said Scott Gittrich. “We're seeing some good results from that and are trying to export it to other markets. Some of the basics are that economically, there are fast changing elements at the local level. You can't have programs or initiatives that are system-wide. You need to be able to shuck and jive and know what is competitively happening in each market you serve on a quarter by quarter basis to tailor tactics specifically to each market.”
Scott Gittrich pointed to the greater Indianapolis area as an example. The company recently opened a new location on the north side of the city in Fishers, Indiana, where unemployment is extremely low. So, the company had to recruit further outside of Fishers to entice talent who would be willing to commute for the opportunity. However, just 40 minutes south, on the other side of Indianapolis, in Greenwood, Indiana, the company found many more people on the hunt for jobs. Meanwhile, the company was able to take applications at their downtown Indianapolis location and potentially sell them on the idea of commuting to their other locations throughout the market. In situations like this where Toppers is saturating a market, they are able to develop talent in order to feed new locations and move Team Members around once they reach management positions.
Robin has been hard at work implementing some additional new initiatives such as, what they are calling the “Madison Market Domination Plan” to test out some new tactics in the Madison market, which the brand hopes to implement in other locations.
“We’re not just hiring to fill positions,” she said. “It may take longer, but we’re looking to hire the right people for long term benefit. We want resilient people who have personalities, maintain a positive attitude, and can handle stress with a smile. We also want people who are more team-oriented.”
Toppers Pizza recently set up a Facebook page devoted to employment opportunities at www.facebook.com/ToppersJobs/. Additionally, the company rolled out enhanced recruitment bonuses this year and changed the evaluation process to make it quicker and more efficient. Toppers is also increasing tracking of employee raises to make sure that high performers are rewarded. The brand partnered with Pay Activ in 2017 to add flexibility for Team Members. The service provides pay advances for Team Members, allowing them to access their money earlier to cover bills or expenses that come up before the regularly scheduled pay day.
All of these elements are aimed at making sure Toppers Pizza continues to build on a solid cultural foundation.
“If our core values resonate with a person, they are typically going to be a fit for the Toppers Pizza culture,” said Robin Gittrich. “We want to find those people who connect with the fact that we are ‘real’. If you work for Toppers, our culture is real, it’s raw, it’s fun – and it can become an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career. We want people who are comfortable being themselves and are committed to providing the best pizza experience possible.”