After three months on the job, Tony Ellis is already reimagining the technology fueling the entire Toppers system.
Since Toppers Pizza’s inception in 1991, their core methodology has remained the same—do exactly what all the bigger chains are doing, which is quick delivery, but with the huge advantage of offering a better, and much more high-quality product. In other words, the brand was—and will always be—hell-bent on offering fresh, innovative ideas in a big, tired and crowded space.
In particular, Toppers’ technology has helped them stay ahead of the curve—and both franchisees and consumers are noticing. In 2015, a new and improved Toppers.com was launched as an e-commerce site. Enhancements were made to simply and speed up the online ordering process, and a new responsive design allowed customers to have a pizza delivered to their door in less than 25 minutes with the touch of a button. Since then, Toppers has seen nearly 42 percent of system-wide orders being placed online.
But true to their slogan, Toppers isn’t a brand that’s willing to settle—even when they’re already on top. That’s why, in May 2016, they introduced Tony Ellis to their team—the brand’s first-ever vice president of information technology. Prior to joining Toppers, Ellis had spent his entire career working in technology. For more than 12 years, he helped lead the IT Operations for BuySeasons, the leading online retailer of costumes, accessories, party supplies and décor.
By early 2016, when Ellis decided it was time to explore new opportunities, he turned to a company that he had long been familiar with—Toppers Pizza. It’s a relationship that dates as far back as Ellis’ college days—as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, he had spent many late nights finding solace in the brand’s famed Topperstix. Decades later, everything came full circle, and Ellis realized he could apply the same knowledge he had acquired while driving high-growth at BuySeasons to Toppers, a brand that he believed was on the cusp of even bigger and better things. Having a company culture that he could easily identify with didn’t hurt either.
Now, to help Toppers achieve its full growth potential, Ellis has come on board with two key goals in mind: the brand needed both a cloud-first and mobile-first approach to technology.
“Technology is a building block within an organization, and if we have a strong foundation, we can grow quickly. This starts with having an enhanced cloud-based system that’ll give us scalability. The cloud is essentially an enabler—it enables companies that don’t have a giant IT department to get those same full benefits without being slowed down as we continue to grow,” Ellis said. “We also want to give our customers what they want, and that starts with improving our mobile experience. Ease-of-use will remain a top priority as we look at ways to move forward with our technology.”
As Ellis nears the four-month mark on the job, he’s already made progress on those goals. From day one, his first task at hand was to improve upon Toppers’ cloud technology foundation. His mission was to enhance the speed and stability of Toppers.com—both as a mobile and desktop experience—so that during peak ordering hours, users aren’t experiencing a slow-down in load times.
Today, Ellis is proud to say that Toppers.com now loads 30 to 50 times faster.
“Consumers these days are growing less and less tolerant of waiting for a website to load, so this was an important project for me from the very beginning. We didn’t want to lose visitors to our website because they were growing impatient,” Ellis said. “We’ve already seen a substantial improvement. Faster load times mean more sales, so that was an outstanding outcome to see in just four months. In fact, during Toppers’ 25-cent pizza sale recently—one of our top traffic events—everything went off without any hiccups from the technology side.”
Now, Ellis’ No. 1 goal is to continue moving forward on building—and guiding—the next generation platform that will ultimately power Toppers’ e-commerce website and growing system of 76 stores. From the brand’s back-end POS system to the consumer-facing Toppers.com, Ellis says the new project will completely reimagine the technology fueling Toppers from the ground up. “The ultimate goal is to put Toppers in a position where we’re providing great technology in the pizza space. We want to be a leader and an innovator in our segment and in the restaurant industry as a whole,” Ellis said. “I’m confident this new platform will be the key piece to that next phase.”