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As Toppers Pizza Grows, Its Unique Culture Becomes More Important Than Ever Before
The larger and more sophisticated Toppers gets, the more important it is to the brand that it never loses sight of its unique culture.

Corporate culture can mean many things to a lot of people. It could boil down to the workplace atmosphere—be it a spacious open office plan, cramped cubicles with fluorescent lights or private offices with great cityscape views. It could also be something as simple as the camaraderie of birthday celebrations, the novelty of free snacks or the freedom of lax office hours.

However you choose to define it, corporate culture matters. According to a study done by Harvard Business Review, nearly 92 percent of employees firmly believe that defining their business culture would improve the overall value of the company. Another 50 percent said taking the time to establish and nurture a company culture could also influence productivity, creativity, profitability and growth rates.

But what makes a winning corporate culture? First, every successful company has a unique identity—a distinct set of characteristics that sets it apart from other organizations. This personality can give employees a sense of meaning, and it makes them feel like they are truly part of a family—not just a faceless business.

Toppers Pizza is one brand that does this particularly well. As the brand expanded steadily from its headquarters in Whitewater, Wisconsin, to its current 76 locations in 14 states, it quickly became known for its irreverent brand voice built upon humorous slogans, fun delivery drivers and marketing programs tailored to its college student audience. But the larger and more sophisticated Toppers gets—which increasingly attracts multi-unit franchise investors looking to expand—the more important it is to Scott Gittrich, Toppers’ founder and CEO, that the brand never lose sight of its unique culture.

“When I left Domino’s to start Toppers, I saw a place and a need for a great, made-from-scratch pizza with a more complex menu, but what we really dared to hope to achieve—and what’s come true—is that it would also be a special place for the people who worked there,” Gittrich said. “I’ve always wanted it to be more than a fast-food job and more than just a place where you dragged yourself to clock in.”

He noted that the corporate team constantly strives to communicate with franchisees as well as managers and Team Members at the unit level, soliciting feedback and, more importantly, ideas for serving customers better. In the past, Gittrich has also held town-hall-style meetings with several Toppers stores to hear what's working and what's not.

Gittrich added that when a service idea suggested by a team member gets implemented, it usually has benefits as far-reaching for the Team Members as it does for the guests.

“At one town hall I did, a guy pulls me aside, and he’s probably 45 years old and delivering pizzas for us,” he recalled. “He’d spoken to us a couple of times about adding a clipboard to his delivery routine for customers to sign credit card receipts on at the door, and we said OK. It’s just a little touch point, but it made a huge difference in customer satisfaction.”

It also made a big difference in that delivery driver’s life, strengthening his sense of purpose in an organization that, while still growing rapidly, took the time to listen to his suggestion.

“He told me working at Toppers has changed his life— relieving a lot of his stress and changing how he thinks about all the choices he makes,” Gittrich said. “He always thought a job was where you go to make money and where you can’t possibly have fun. But from day one, he has worked with people intent to have fun and laugh at work.”

It is not uncommon for Gittrich to hear of staffers or managers moving up to a general manager at a new store and bringing handfuls of teammates with them, which shows him that Toppers’ efforts to hire the right people with the right attitude and to foster a real rapport with one another is working. In fact, Toppers has a long history of helping passionate and dedicated Team Members move up through the ranks and build a successful career. The brand doesn’t hire any outside managers—all of its leaders start out on the ground floor and are promoted into management positions. Even members of the brand’s corporate team, like corporate operations director Adam Oldenburg, got their start as entry level Team Members.

Oldenburg first joined the Toppers team in March of 2006 while he was attending school at the University of Wisconsin’s Whitewater campus. His first job with the brand was as a delivery driver. But after working with Matt Martin—his passionate and energetic store manager who now works as Toppers’ director of training—he quickly moved up the ranks to an assistant manager position. After learning everything from managing costs and building sales to leading a fun and hard-working team, Oldenburg became the general manager of the brand’s Milwaukee Eastside location. That then led to roles as a corporate area supervisor and the position he’s in now, Toppers’ first corporate operations director.

“The brand opens up so many doors for its Team Members to grow and move up the ranks,” said Oldenburg. “I ascended the ladder by surrounding myself with positive people who are hungry to do more and have the never settle mentality. In this business, you have to be able to persevere through tons of challenges. But if you view those obstacles as opportunities to learn, it leads to success. By working hard, asking questions and putting yourself out there, there’s no limit to what you can do at Toppers.”

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