Five years ago, when Gary Eavers was planning to open his c-store/gas station in Stuarts Draft, Va., he began to think about what kind of foodservice offering he should have. He had already had some discussions with Bullets and Burger King about putting in a burger program, but still wasn't entirely sold on the idea. Then, while heading to the beach one afternoon, he stopped at a convenience store for a bite to eat.

"They had something called Perky's Pizza," he recalled. "I had never heard of it, but it looked good and smelled great. Turns out, it was one of the best pizzas I ever had. It made my decision for me."

Eavers Citgo opened in March 1997 with a Perky's Pizza.

Pizza has proven to be the foodservice solution for many other small, independent operations. And there are a variety of systems and programs that can be implemented, affording retailers the chance to basically customize their pizza program to their needs.

Anne Reilly, corporate marketing manager for the Tampa, Fla.-based supplier, noted that Perky's does everything it can to accommodate the retailer. "We're flexible to the needs of particular operators," she said. "We can put in a Perky's Pizza within 100 square feet of space, design kiosk setups and install cabinetry — or work with existing cabinetry."

Perky's, with about 200 partners across the United States and abroad, calls itself an "unfranchised program." There are no royalty fees, according to Reilly. "Retailers purchase the equipment and food supplies, and the c-store earns all the profits," she said. In addition, Perky's offers merchandising and marketing support, as well as on-site training.

For Eavers Citgo, partnering with Perky's has proven to be a smart move. "It cost us about $40,000 for the original franchise fee and equipment," said Eavers. "If you look around at other fast feeders, you see that that's a competitive price."

Going with a pizza program was a no-brainer for Kevin Casey, owner/operator of K.C.'s Korner in Hectorville, Okla. Casey saw a demand for foodservice in this rural town and went with a company he knows well — Tulsa, Okla.-based Simple Simon's Pizza Inc. "I actually started my career with Simple Simon, as a dishwasher in one of their restaurants way back in 1989," he said. In addition to the foodservice outlet at K.C.'s Korner, Casey also franchises a full-service Simple Simon's restaurant in nearby Bixby, Okla.

"We're basically a carryout operation at the c-store," said Casey. "We have some seating, but our pizza business is made up mostly of customers picking up pies to go." And what a business that is: According to Casey, the pizza franchise contributes 20 percent to total in-store sales at K.C.'s Korner.

Simple Simon offers retailers a traditional franchise program with a $5,000 franchise fee and an ongoing royalty of 5 percent and a 1-percent advertising fund.

The Pizza Players

Founded in 1977, Piccadilly Circus Pizza, based in Milford, Iowa, has grown steadily from a few stand-alone restaurants to nearly 800 locations in c-stores across the country. The company has developed several new core programs that feature easy operation and low labor requirements.

Support is also extremely important, and with all its programs Piccadilly offers comprehensive on-site employee training, marketing support and advertising plans and programs. In addition, Piccadilly also has cost-control assistance, waste-control systems, sales and profit evaluations and regularly scheduled in-store visits by its operations personnel.

Orion Food Systems' Hot Stuff Pizza has made its reputation with its small footprint, ease of operation and the quality of its "grab and go" pizza. The Sioux Falls, S.D. company also offers strong marketing and promotional support to retailers, including monthly pizza specials such as October's Philly Cheese Steak and Breakfast Pizzas.

Another pizza franchise that has had great success with independent c-store operators is Dallas-based Pizza Inn Inc. The more than 100 c-stores that offer Pizza Inn have a choice of formats — the express limited-menu option and the delivery/carryout option. C-stores can choose what's right for them based on their space, labor and marketing abilities and needs.

"The express limited-menu doesn't work everywhere," said Michael Iglesias, vice president, franchise development. "If you're in a market where you're competing with Domino's, Pizza Hut and Papa John's, you need a full menu for the program to succeed." If space is a retailer's prime concern, however, the express concept requires only 300 square feet of space, while a full-service Pizza Inn takes up 700 square feet.

While labor is a major concern for small operators, Iglesias emphasized, "The only way to be successful with pizza is to have a manager dedicated to the foodservice program. You have to be aggressive in marketing and promotions as well as handling day-to-day operations, so yes, I think you need someone full time."

Gary Eavers would agree with that. He has designated four full-time employees at Eavers Citgo for his Perky's program. "Perky's brings in about 15 to 18 percent of in-store sales," he said. "And it's open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., starting with biscuits and breakfast pizzas in the morning, to slices and pies all day and night."

At K.C.'s Korner, the labor is shared between store and foodservice duties. "I believe in cross-training," said Casey. "It's much more cost-efficient, and it provides personnel backup."

A delivery option can add to labor expense, but Iglesias sees it as a way to increase the store's profits. "There's big growth in pizza," he said, "and if you want to compete, delivery becomes more and more important." To that end, Pizza Inn offers an intensive, three-week program for delivery franchisees at its training center in Dallas. (The limited-menu option requires one-week, on-site training.)

Another way to increase pizza sales is with a drive-through, according to Paul Palladino, vice president of marketing at Simple Simon's Pizza. "We usually require approximately 100 to 150 square feet," said Palladino, "and teach the importance of shared labor and have the ability to build into current retail space with the ability to save space and steps. We also recommend drive-through capabilities where possible."

Eavers Citgo doesn't offer either delivery or drive-through — Eavers doesn't see the point in trying to compete with the nearby Domino's. "When Domino's opened, our whole-pie sales dropped drastically," he said. "We've had to change our sales strategy to focus on single slices. We've put the pizza display case right at the checkout, and impulse sales of pizza slices have gone way up. Before Domino's opened, we were selling four or five pies an hour; now it's about four or five a night. But the individual slice sales have evened that out.

"Pizza is easier and simpler than any foodservice program I can think of," said Eavers. "And it's relatively cheap to operate, so the profits are there."
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