Tennessee-based Hunt Brothers® Pizza attributes its remarkable success to Christian values – and innovation, reports Dan Harvey.
A Hunt Brothers® Pizza outlet is not your typical “pizza joint” – nor is this multi-state operation in any way similar to other national pizza chains. This Nashville, Tenn.-headquartered enterprise differentiates itself in several substantial ways. Most attractive to consumers perhaps is its All Toppings No Extra Charge® concept. The local corner pizzeria or other national competitors will charge you a couple of extra bucks if you want to add pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage – whatever – on top the basic crust, cheese and tomato sauce. Not Hunt Brothers Pizza – this company allows you to pile it on, same price.
Interesting concept – You could even go as far as to call it designer pizza.
Think of this company as something like the “Subway” of pizza and you’ll get the idea. Essentially, customers get to blueprint their own serving from the 10 toppings the company offers (pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, onions, beef, bacon, bell peppers, black olives, banana peppers and jalapeno peppers). That’s but one reason why the company has experienced phenomenal growth in a short time. Today, it boasts more than 6,000 locations in 28 states.
But getting back to its pizza – There are some customers who will want to order all 10 toppings upon one take-out serving.
“It’s a great value,” comments Vice President of Marketing Keith Solsvig.
Consumers typically will order only two or three and maybe four toppings. No matter how many toppings a customer selects, Hunt Brothers Pizza knows how to maintain pizza integrity, thanks to its balanced approach. “Balance means proper coverage,” he explains. “If a consumer wants many toppings, we make sure that they experience each topping when they take a bite of a slice. This way, we maintain product quality.”
It’s not just about toppings. Consumers designing product to palate and preference get to choose what kind of crust they prefer: thin crust or the original (and somewhat thicker) crust. All of this relates to the company’s new tag line: Made for Me™.
“Previously, we focused on our All Toppings No Extra Charge message,” relates Solsvig. “But we realized that, with what we were doing, we needed to expand upon that message, and that’s where the new tag line came from. I think ‘Made for Me’ better describes what we’re about.”
The company wanted consumers to know that their pizza – and “their” is a key word – will be made right in the store and according to taste. Further, it will be produced in cost effective and timely fashion. No one will have to rise up from a waiting chair and shout, “Hey, where’s my pizza! I’ve been waiting more than a half hour!”
PIZZA COUPLED WITH CONVENIENCE
What also makes this pizza purveyor unique is its convenience store concept – something that evolved through the years. The company’s roots date back to 1962 and from the rear end of a Rambler station wagon. That’s where Don Hunt sold pizza crusts and toppings. Brothers Lonnie, Jim and Charlie eventually joined him in the venture. But don’t get the impression that these siblings were neophytes heading into uncharted territory. They understood the needs of the food service business, as they all helped their father run the restaurant that he established in Evansville, Ind.
Tragically, the family patriarch died far too soon, and sons took over operation of the business – a typical “Happy Days”- era drive in. With food operation knowledge in hand, the brothers Hunt eventually started a business called Pepe’s Pizza, which built upon Don Hunt’s hard-scrabble attainment of knowledge about the “wholesaling” of pizza products.
Then, as often happens in a family comprised of ambitious over-achievers, the siblings decided to go their separate ways. However – and this is a big “however” – the brothers reunited in a business enterprise in 1991. This resulted in the establishment of a wholesale pizza business called the Original Pizza House Pizza. Within this enterprise, the brothers developed an innovation that would help foster change in the pizza industry: a frozen pizza crust that, before freezing, would be combined with cheese and sauce. It’s a wonderful product – when it’s baked, the crust arises with a bubbling surface: an attractive attribute for pizza aficionados.
The 1990s proved a period of growth and innovation for the company. That’s the decade when it developed the All Toppings No Extra Charge concept. The company likes to think that this concept changed the wholesale pizza industry. True, some companies caught on. But it remains an approach that belongs to Hunt Brothers Pizza, and it fueled company development. Indeed, during that pivotal decade the enterprise enjoyed tremendous growth – thanks to the combined pizza parlor/convenience store concept.
By 2004, the company changed its name yet again – to Hunt Brothers Pizza, the current nomenclature of a hugely successful company that recently opened new support offices and distribution warehouses, and one that established its Hunt Brothers University.
This company is more than just about pizza; it’s about business. That’s why it continues adding items to its menu. Further, the company places its product within a convenience store setting. “Our pizza program was designed for the convenience store environment and provides consumers a way to pick and choose different products,” he says. “You won’t find this in other takeout pizza venues and restaurants.”
Indeed, other enterprises tried to attach pizza to other retail considerations. One of the most bizarre involved pizza ordering coupled with video rental. We all know what happened with videotape. The Hunt brothers have appeared to have landed on the perfect combination.
But for this company, environment doesn’t just mean venue; it means social responsibility. The Hunt family is deeply rooted in Christian values, and they believe that God – or whatever you choose to call the higher power – is the driving force. Solsvig makes this quite clear.
This leads to another significant differentiator, and it relates to the way that the company deals with its “customers” (which other similar companies would refer to as “associates” or “franchisees”). The Hunt brothers consider all involved as part of the family – and, as such – business relationships are built upon trust and the inherent decency that resides within each individual and business entity.
Therefore, the company – and this is another significant differentiator – establishes business relationships with a strong handshake and a look in the eye.
“Unlike other similar companies, we don’t charge for things such as franchise fees, royalty fees, advertising fees or other such considerations,” says Solsvig, whose obvious enthusiasm when describing the company underscores its positive attributes. “We base our business on trust. We only ask that our customers live up to pledge.”
And, again, company vernacular translates “customer” into “franchisee.”
The pledge is simple: All the customer needs do is turn out product that is served fresh and meets the mother company’s specifications. And Hunt Brothers Pizza will hold up its end of the bargain: “We’ll support them in every way possible,” says Solsvig. “That means providing the best possible service, as well as supporting them by developing fresh marketing ideas that will help them to grow their business.”
A cynic might say that this approach is naïve. But Hunt Brothers Pizza demonstrates how embraced value translates into success. Indeed, the enterprise now extends from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains.
Company values translate into community responsibility. “We’ve gotten involved in local communities that have recently been hit hard,” says Solsvig. “For instance, when the recent tornado devastated Joplin in Missouri, we were there to provide our product to the hundreds of people left homeless. Similarly, when Nashville suffered recent flooding, we were there to offer our food to people who had lost their homes, as well as to the first responders and the volunteers who came in to help.”
Obviously, this came at quite a cost. But even as Hunt Brothers Pizza tosses dollars at disaster, the company not only survives; it thrives. Call it Karma. Call it anything you want. But it’s enough to make you a convert – and this doesn’t just mean to the company’s product.