Scott Gittrich is the founder and CEO of Toppers Pizza. These are his thoughts on life, leadership and pizza.
Toppers has an ass-kicking franchisee in Minnesota that recently called me out. He told me that one of his people read something I’d written in which I claimed that we would have several hundred stores in the next few years and that this Team Member said it would never happen. Then this franchisee passionately held up a couple of audacious visions I have shared in the past that we have fallen short of as evidence of our impending failure, or at least of my overstatement of what we can and will do in the next few years.
Well, I admit that I have made a number of bold statements in the past about where we are destined to go and it is true that we have missed some daring benchmarks that I communicated. I own those areas where we have fallen short. I accept the criticism of that smart and driven franchisee, and I am committed today more than ever to make the investments, decisions, and interim adjustments to hit our team goals.
What I am not willing to do is sandbag. I am not only willing to try for a National Championship, I’m the kind of person that will say it and risk falling short. You simply don’t win National Championships trying to go .500.
Let me also say this about Toppers having several hundred stores in 2025. We have a plan to do it. It’s well founded, it is advancing, and we are in fact on a trajectory to accomplish this (on the way to even greater things). I admit that it will take execution, and I’ll even admit that we may fail. But I know for an absolute fact that Toppers is an incredible brand that customers are fanatical about, that our business systems are proven to work, and that we have a fabulous team of franchisees and industry professionals making it happen! Our vision of the future is not simply Scott in la la land. We can do it and I expect us to do it.
We at Toppers have a number of goals, benchmarks, and important key business indicators that we track against, just like any well run organization does. Executing on some of these measurements is critically important to our actual business survival over time, and we treat them as such. Some of them are stretch goals that, while realistically possible, are challenging enough to be less than probable, and in part serve to challenge us to greatness.
I am positive Toppers is the incredible company we are today in part because we shoot very high. When we had 4 stores, I started writing “Toppers World Headquarters” in the return address of our company correspondence. I guess it would have been fair to say I was full of crap at that time, and probably some people did. But truthfully, it would have been reasonable at that time to say that I was full of crap if I’d only said we were going to have 73 restaurants, but here we are at 73 restaurants! The sign at our office today still proudly exclaims “Toppers World Headquarters” even though we are “only” in 12 states, and not in a single foreign country, unless you count Arkansas.
I have been a dreamer for a long time, and I bring that part of me to our team. On the other hand, I am brutally honest and skeptical about how good we are and where we can and need to improve. A couple years ago I took a well know personality test that presumably can help predict potential conflicts with others. One of the measures in the test is bluntness. On a scale of 1-99, I scored a 1, which means I say it the way it is. One time not too long ago we had a PR firm that got us a story in a great magazine. The problem was that there was a misstatement in the story that made us look better than we were, and we had the opportunity to fix it and didn’t. I was pissed. The people involved knew and know now that I don’t want us bullshitting anyone. Our reality is either great or it isn’t; I don’t want us spinning our way to success.
Leaders must establish and communicate both the long term vision and short term goals appropriately. It is thrilling to be the leader of a thriving and growing company with thousands of Team Members. It is particularly rewarding to work with leaders like the franchisee who challenged me. He gives a shit. He’s also a true believer in our shared vision and one of the most fabulous Toppers brand ambassadors there is. I could very well be in la la land if not for the fabulous business people at Toppers, like him, that I work with every day.
At this time of year we are taking our victory laps, assessing where we missed and preparing to execute on our goals for next year. I for one believe you really have to miss sometimes or you probably sandbagged, and leaders just don’t do it.