Peter Piper Pizza

A reenergized strategy and the resurgence of a 40-year-old Phoenix landmark
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

In the make or break food service industry, oftentimes its survival of the fittest and only those willing to change and adapt to the consumer base thrive. After more than 40 years in business, Peter Piper Pizza (PPP) has learned just that, and the Phoenix-based company’s willingness to embrace change has propelled the franchise into a new era of unprecedented growth and success.

The PPP system now has 142 restaurants and several thousand employees throughout the Southwest from Arizona to New Mexico and Texas to Mexico with its corporate in the Phoenix area. However, the chain started small with founder Tony Cavolo; PPP opened its doors in 1973 when Cavolo launched the first flagship restaurant in Glendale, Ariz.

Since 1973, PPP has evolved from the original 4,000-square-foot location into one of the leading pizza and family entertainment restaurant chains in the region. The company is looking to new markets beyond the Southwest. But this growth spurt hasn’t come without the trials and tribulations of a sluggish economy and a business model in need of a revamp.

Turning it around

When Charles Bruce, now CEO of PPP, joined the company five years ago as chief marketing officer, he was attracted to the brand and the culture, but quickly realized the need for significant changes. “I’ve been in the restaurant industry since 1986,” Bruce says. “Before joining PPP I spent years working in marketing at Pizza Hut, Wendy’s and Captain D’s. I’ve worked with some great marketers and learned a great deal about building successful brands.”

Bruce’s knowledge brought him great lengths. “I knew PPP was a viable brand, but its story was typical of companies bought and sold multiple times,” he continues. “In 2006, PPP was under new ownership and then the Great Recession hit. Even by the time I joined the company in 2009, the Phoenix market was still not recovered and it was a difficult time for the area.”

Bruce and the team at PPP began implementing an array of changes to take the company in a new direction. “A huge part of success is really understanding your brand and what you want it to represent to your target audience,” explains Bruce. “In 2007 and 2008, we were out of alignment with our consumers. We needed to get back to understanding what our consumers really wanted. It’s about message, media and advertising and PPP needed to make corrections in these areas.”

One aspect PPP’s new strategy focused on was the company’s restaurant-first philosophy as an “eaterainment” venue. “We started analyzing every component of our food strategy from pricing to preparation and began upgrading the quality of the food,” recalls Bruce. “We were failing to tell the message that we make our dough fresh every day; we chop fresh vegetables and toppings every day and we bring in fresh mozzarella cheese and shred it ourselves in each store. We weren’t telling this story well enough.”

Bruce then turned to PPP’s menu. “We eliminated certain products from the menu and performed a menu optimization project,” he explains. “We chose a different column-style layout and put items into easy-to-identify categories and customers started discovering things they maybe had never ordered before because it was more clear.”

With a focused branding concept and a concise menu, PPP set its sights on a new store design. “Twenty-four months ago, PPP hired WD Partners, a renowned, top-notch design firm to take our consumer research and bring it to life in a new design,” reveals Bruce. “We opened the first remodeled store in April 2013 with tremendous success and since we have remodeled three more stores in Phoenix. We’ll be doing two more this year and our franchisees have fully embraced the research-based idea.”

A bigger piece of the pie

With a revitalized plan and a better understanding of what PPP truly means, Bruce and his team have welcomed more growth than the chain has seen in years. “We now clearly understand how to differentiate our brand – we’re hardly one of the giants in the industry, but that’s OK,” he explains. “You don’t operate under the shadow of a giant; instead you find another way to stand out.”

And for PPP that’s through high-quality food coupled with entertainment. “Our emphasis is we are a restaurant first that offers entertainment as a complement to the dining experience,” notes Bruce.

By doing its homework and embracing change, PPP had experienced its 50th consecutive period of four week same store sales growth. “That’s comparable to 15 consecutive quarters of growth since 2010,” announces Bruce. “This is something we’re all extremely proud of.”

And more good change is in the air for PPP. “Now that we’re on a solid growth trajectory, it’s a good climate for merger and acquisition activity,” explains Bruce.

For nearly eight years, PPP has been under ACON Investments (ACON), a Washington, D.C.-based private equity firm. “ACON has decided to take advantage of the business climate and it has hired North Point Advisors to start the process of putting the company up for sale,” Bruce explains. “Our management team agrees that the timing is right and we fully support the initiative.”

With new ownership Bruce foresees PPP expanding beyond the Southwest. “With our proven design, consumer research and vision, it’s clear that our model is applicable well beyond the Southwestern U.S.,” he says. “We’ll be launching this initiative in July 2014.”

Adapting alongside the market and consumers, Peter Piper Pizza is welcoming unprecedented expansion, conquering a bigger piece of the pie with a clear vision for tomorrow.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Fleming Complete