Jack Butorac thought he had retired from the food industry in 2000, but a small Toledo, Ohio-based pizzeria was calling his name.
“I failed at retirement and was starting to get a little itchy. Someone introduced me to the Marco’s Pizza brand, and I liked what I saw,” Butorac says. “I saw that the founder, Pasquale ‘Pat’ Giammarco, had created operational discipline. I visited a number of his stores and he had great products, and those products were the same store to store, but he didn’t understand branding. Every store looked different.”
A subject-matter expert in planning restaurant concepts for national expansion and sale to franchisees, Butorac has helped expand concepts such as Zapata’s (renamed Zantigo), Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurants, Fuddruckers and Tumbleweed Southwest Grill. All that experience and an appetite for a new venture meant the end of retirement for Butorac.
Giammarco and Butorac developed a good relationship after their initial meeting, and in time Giammarco asked Butorac to work for him. Butorac became a consultant for Marco’s Pizza in May 2002.
“I did it to see if I liked the pizza business, because pizza was different from what I had learned over my career,” Butorac says. “He did a great job of coaching me on what pizza is and how to operate a restaurant.”
The two men formed Marco’s Franchising LLC in 2004. Butorac was named president and owned 85 percent of the business, while Giammarco owned 15 percent.
“We started selling franchises and saw the need for branding,” Butorac says. “Pat had a great product. He just wasn’t taking credit for it and that’s what I was trying to do.”
Here’s how Butorac has turned Marco’s Pizza into one of the fastest-growing pizza companies in the country.
Build your brand
Butorac knew Marco’s had a good product. What was uncertain, however, was what people liked or disliked about the brand.
“We engaged a number of companies to do research on what were the strengths and weaknesses of the company,” Butorac says. “We also engaged the services of a gentleman who came from Yum! Brand, Bryon Stephens (currently, vice president of New Business Development at Marco’s). He informed the company to sell franchises. He brought along a gentleman from an outside marketing company whose name was Cameron Cummins, and he said we didn’t have a brand.”
Cummins, current vice president of Franchise Marketing and Recruitment at Marco’s, was one of the original minds behind the Lexus brand for Toyota. He understood branding better than Butorac did, and he’s the one who encouraged him to focus on branding the business.
“I needed to enhance my branding,” Butorac says. “So I collaborated with Syl Sosnowski, who helped create the Papa John’s campaign, ‘Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.’ After I showed him what we had, what our current program was and what my thoughts were, Syl shattered my dream by saying, ‘You’re like all the other 65,000 pizzerias out there. You really don’t have a branding differentiation.’”
So Butorac did what any smart businessman would do, he asked Sosnowski to create a branding differentiation for Marco’s. Sosnowski identified the strengths and weaknesses of the brand and what people liked about Marco’s.
“Syl was instrumental in giving birth to the way Marco’s looks today,” Butorac says.
Consumers said Marco’s looked like a mom-and-pop place, and not a high-quality, neighborhood mom-and-pop place. The consumer’s expectation of the food wasn’t very high simply because of how the place looked.
“We had to change that,” Butorac says.
One of the strengths was the food quality. It was a great product and got great ratings compared to the competition, but Marco’s wasn’t taking credit for it. The company also did some things differently from the competitors, so Butorac and Sosnowski quizzed the founder about why he did things the way he did. The answer was simple; it was because of his Italian ancestry.
“Since Pat did things differently because of his Italian heritage we could then call it, ‘Ah!thentic Italian Pizza,’” Butorac says. “That’s where we came up with the positioning. Once we came up with Ah!thentic Italian Pizza, we had to decide what it would look like.”
When it came to aesthetics, the first thing that needed revamped to match Marco’s new positioning was the pizza box. Marco’s had always had a five-color pizza box and Butorac knew it was time for a change. So he had three firms present three concepts and he took the best one to Pat, which was called the Tuscan look.
“We were able to build around that look,” he says. “I was trying to give credit to what was in the box. We had the reality of quality, but we had to create the perception of quality, so that’s why we came up with this look.
“Now when you look at our stores they have stone, textured walls and wood. When you walk in they have this perception of quality.”
Expand your differentiation
Branding may sound like a simple and easy concept to grasp, but it can be rather difficult to understand how your customers truly view your brand, product and service.
“You may think you know branding, but you really don’t until you go and do the research into what the consumer thinks of your brand,” Butorac says. “We engaged people who gave us the information about what the perception was of our brand from all the touch points.
“Sometimes management drinks its own water, but the consumer doesn’t. So you’ve got to have a branding position that the consumer can expect, understand, believe in and is meaningful to them.”
The biggest concern that woke Butorac up was how the consumer perceived the Marco’s brand before any changes were made.
“That led to our research and the things we have created to get across the points that we want,” he says. “We continue to enhance that to differentiate ourselves in the pizza category.”
Understanding what differentiates your brand comes back to knowing your company’s strengths and weaknesses.
“The strengths you leave alone,” he says. “You may want to take credit for them and you may not. The weaknesses you have to patch up. If consumers say it’s a weakness, it could affect their frequency of dining with you or even trying you. You have to correct that.”
Today, Marco’s and Butorac have gone into phase two of the company’s branding.
“We have a team of franchisees and corporate people that are working with an outside agency on fine tuning our branding,” he says. “We are looking to have that completed in the next 12 to 18 months. It’s not something you rush because to make a change you have to test it.”
Another thing Marco’s has started to do, is to hold management meetings off-site four times a year to answer difficult questions and put more focus on culture.
“Today we are in 29 states plus Panama and the Bahamas with more than 350 stores,” Butorac says. “What we believe in, and the Kool-Aid that we drink, how do we get that flavor down to the franchise community and area representatives today and in the future? That’s the focus we are pushing and we have to be accountable for the brand execution.”
Ultimately, Butorac’s branding campaign has been to simply take credit for Marco’s high-quality product and the effort that is put into creating that.
“We make our dough fresh daily,” he says. “We make our sauce fresh daily. We use three types of cheese that are never frozen. We do a lot of things that cost a little bit more money, but we don’t charge significantly more for our product.
“Once you try our product, there’s a 72 to 74 percent chance that you will come back and try our product again. It’s all based around the product that Pat Giammarco created and the operational discipline he created, and we have to continue to emphasize that operational standard.”
From just one store in 1978, Marco’s Pizza has grown into a company with some 80 corporate employees, 7,100 employees company-wide, more than 350 stores and 2012 sales of $196.7 million. ●
How to reach: Marco’s Franchising LLC, (419) 885-7000 or www.marcos.com