WANT OVERNIGHT FAME AND FORTUNE BY BUILDING AN INTERNATIONALLY KNOWN, SMALL-BUSINESS CULT BRAND--PART DEUXRead Now
In case you missed last week’s screed, or if those brain cells have just taken a hike, here’s a quick recap...
Two smart, good-looking people quit their jobs in “civilization,” and move to the Caribbean.
They find an aging hulk of a 37-foot aluminum sloop and resurrect it as a floating pizza kitchen, dubbing it PiZZA Pi.
They become media darlings and a raging success--developing a cult brand that has achieved a #1 ranking on TripAdvisor out of more than 200 restaurants reviewed in St. Thomas.
And here in the screed, we’re using PiZZA Pi as an example of how to have a successful brand overnight by doing a lot of planning, a lot of leg work, getting repeatedly hot and grubby, and being intensely focused.
IT SEEMS TARA & SASHA BOUIS ARE CHAMPIONS AT THAT
As it says on their “About” page:
“PiZZA Pi is a concept dreamt up by a young couple too naive to know it would never work & too stubborn to give up.”
Stubborn naiveté has its advantages.
I asked about the secret of their success.
PiZZA Pi’s Chef Tara thinks it’s their made-for-print-and-TV media appeal, combined with their stated mission focus of being hip, wholesome and fun with the Caribbean's best pizza.
Yea, mission focus!
If you can remember nothing else, remember this:
Mission focus is mission critical.
OK, OK, YOU KNOW ALL THAT--BUT WHY ARE WE REVISITING THE CARIBBEAN PIZZA SUPERSTARS?
Because there’s more to talk about.
PiZZA Pi serves as a good model for anyone who wants to have a thriving small-business brand, and I also have a theory of my own about their success.
And yes, it is impossible to overestimate the value of their intense, mission focus.
Too often, a small business wants to be everything to everyone.
And as you know, we here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress keep banging the drum for brand focus, namely: the one way your core customer should feel about your business.
“One way” because focus is essential.
“Core customer” because, when you define the person to whom you’re speaking, you can then speak with a voice that matters.
“Feel” because emotion is central the psychology of decision making.
AND THE PIZZA PI PEOPLE GOT THERE INTUITIVELY
Whether by nature or nurture, they are tapped into the nature of mission and brand.
But here’s something else to consider...
When you’re building a floating, sail-up pizza truck, you don’t have a choice but to be one thing to one customer.
You have given yourself blinders.
You have to be a purveyor of pizza to someone on a boat.
There isn’t room for anything else.
“Well, we could have sandwiches, and pasta, and salads, and antipasti, and...”
No. Sorry. Just pizza. Well, that, and PiZZA Pi’s “Stix,” which, as sticks of pizza dough one dips into a reformatted pizza topping, are essentially a deconstructed pizza.
There is also ice cream, along with beverages.
YOU JUST DON’T HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO TOO MUCH
A 37-foot sailboat might sound big.
Especially when you’ve filled the space with a prep area, propane pizza ovens, refrigeration, dry storage and a cashier’s station.
Not to mention all the equipment necessary for maintaining your boat as an actual boat.
We have two focused people who were given even more need to focus based on circumstance.
If I may be colloquial about it, physical limitations and logistics forced them to put not a single ounce more than 10 pounds of crap into their 10-pound bag.
And we all know what it looks like when someone has tried to put 15 pounds of crap into that 10-pound bag. It’s not pretty, no matter how much white sand and blue water surrounds it.
ABOARD PIZZA PI, THEIR EYES DID NOT GET BIGGER THAN THEIR STOMACHS
Which is great.
And that’s my additional pet theory.
But here was the biggest surprise for me.
Among the questions I asked of Chef Tara (who was infinitely patient with me and replied with far more complete answers than I ever had a right to expect,) was this:
What is the one thing you want PiZZA Pi to be known for?
Now believe me when I say I expected a typical, brief, soundbite of an answer.
Something like, “We want to be known for the Caribbean’s best pizza.”
But no. Nothing so shallow.
I should’ve known better than that when asking about a guy who went to MIT and a gal who was a special education teacher.
CHEF TARA'S ANSWER CAME OUT OF LEFT FIELD
She says, “I want PiZZA Pi to be known for helping to rebuild the marine industry in the US Virgin Islands.”
OK. Talk about being on a mission bigger than one’s self.
And to fully understand what this means, a little backstory is in order.
When I was working on big yachts in the Caribbean, it may well have been the heyday for the charter sailboat industry in St. Thomas.
People would fly into little St. Thomas from all around the world and head to the marinas, where they would meet their charter yachts and light out to islands further south.
There was an entire industry in St. Thomas that was based on supporting sailing yachts, their crews and their guests.
However, for various reasons, the industry began to go into decline
AND THEN IT WAS ALL ACCELERATED BY ACTS OF GOD
Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, wreaked havoc on the little island of St. Thomas.
The Yacht Haven Marina in St. Thomas, once my home and a nexus for the charter yacht industry, was thrashed.
To an industry in decline, Marilyn was a crowning blow.
With 80% of St. Thomas homes and businesses destroyed, and $2-billion in damage, how to serve the $1-billion-dollar-per-year tourism industry--of which the marine industry was an integral part?
Over time, tourism at large rebounded from the devastation--but not the charter yacht business.
Says Tara, “I want to help retain day [charter] boats who otherwise head straight for the border and spend their entire day highlighting all the beauty in the British Virgin Islands.
"I’m proud to be part of the USVI marine tourism economy.”
An honorable motive, indeed.
HOWEVER, IT ALL STILL COMES DOWN TO BUILDING AND MARKETING A BUSINESS
And Team Bouis maintains its loftier goal by focusing on the day-to-day realities of slinging pies across the cerulean seas at Christmas Cove.
Last week, we talked about how one’s reputation through the coconut telegraph is critical.
And Team PiZZA Pi have worked the telegraph to build their reputation.
Of course, being a small-business advertising guy, I had to ask: How did you initially get the word out?
Says Chef Tara, “In the beginning advertising was pretty slow going. I passed menus to boats in the bay and especially tried to hit day boats as they came in.
"Because the boating world is a small community, word of mouth became my strongest marketing between boat captains.
“Unintentionally, I also hired a couple people who had lots of connections with boat captains and they helped convince their captain friends to stop by and try the pizza.
AND HERE’S WHERE MADAME BOUIS SPEAKS AN ELEMENTAL TRUTH ABOUT GOOD MARKETING
She says, “The novelty of buying pizza from a boat will get captains to stop once...
“But backing it up with great food and excellent customer service is the key to getting them to return.”
Good advertising is a great thing.
But no amount of good advertising will ever compensate for a mediocre product or a flawed business model.
See also: Pets.com.
The world loved the Pets.com sock puppet mascot and their advertising.
BUT A BUSINESS MODEL THAT GUARANTEES YOU LOSE MONEY ON EVERY SALE?
That is no way to stay afloat.
And in 1998, not enough people wanted to buy kibble on the interwebs.
On a more prosaic level, a couple of years ago, we were very excited to see a new restaurant here in town.
Despite a charming proprietor and a couple of truly excellent dishes, the largely mediocre food and marginal experience rang the death knell for an otherwise well-intended effort.
Good advertising will get a customer to try something once.
Mediocre product and lousy service will guarantee that nobody comes back.
That is a fundamental small-business marketing truth, no matter how altruistic one’s motives.
ALL IN ALL, IT’S HARD TO NOT LOVE THE PEOPLE OF PIZZA PI
Granted, I’m biased.
I’m a lifelong sailor. St. Thomas was my home for a while, and I was a local professional in the marine tourism economy.
I am also an amateur pizzaiolo. Not to toot my own horn, but the best pizza in the entire county comes out of my own kitchen. We live in a pizza desert.
I also work with my wife in a small business that serves small-business owners.
And together, The Fabulous Honey Parker and I are working on a project designed to spotlight and inspire couple entrepreneurs.
But my biases aside, it’s difficult to imagine a smarter, sexier, more exciting object lesson in small-business brand than The Little Pizza Boat That Could.
Their brand focus is impressive. Their intentions are noble. And I’m flattered that Capt. Sasha and Chef Tara were willing to humor me in my solicitations about their work.
Sail on, PiZZA Pi. May there always be plenty of water beneath your keel.
To see the boat, the people, and the blue-water brilliance that is PiZZA Pi, go to www.pizza-pi.com
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Then get busy.
The brand we're going to use as a model for your overnight success is very sexy.
Your brand will also be years in the making. That's the reality of most overnight successes.
Cruising easy-breezy into the international spotlight is simple: do a lot of planning, a lot of leg work, get repeatedly hot and grubby, and be intensely focused.
Simply put: be prepared to just work your ass off.
Our model brand here is built by a smart, good-looking couple working in a stunning environment. Azure blue waters. White sand beaches. Muscular, suntanned yachties as customers.
This couple is a living, breathing, made-for-photos-and-TV example of small-business brand focus.
And if you're equal parts courageous and crazy, you can do what they do.
THEY ARE EXACTLY WHAT YOU'D EXPECT FROM A PIZZA BUSINESS
Yes, pizza. Really.
On TripAdvisor, their brand has become the #1 restaurant in St. Thomas, USVI--which is saying something for an island destination whose lifeblood is tourism.
That #1 rating is out of 204 restaurants rated by TripAdvisor users.
Here's the catch: to get their pizza, you need a boat.
The pizza is being served to boaters in St. Thomas from a sailboat anchored in beautiful Christmas Cove at Great St. James Island.
The business has garnered international attention in the press, and became an overnight sensation.
It has been covered by the press internationally, and has become a bustling operation that serves about 70 pizzas a day. (That might not seem like a lot relative to, say, any other pizzeria anywhere. But how many of those pizzerias are on a boat in a remote location?)
And who is this happy couple and what is their bustling little business bobbing away at anchor in paradise?
MEET CHEF TARA AND CAPTAIN SASHA OF PIZZA PI
These two are certified Smart People.
Capt. Sasha graduated from MIT before going to Wall Street and working for Standard & Poors. That lasted about six years, until he "chucked it all" to become an instructor at the New York Sailing School.
Of course, as great as sailing in New York Harbor is, it has little on sailing in the limpid, cerulean waters of the Caribbean. So Capt. Sasha lit out to the Caribbean, where he began captaining boats.
That's where he met Chef Tara.
A special education teacher from Indiana, Tara was spending her summers in the British Virgin Islands as a scuba instructor.
Meeting Capt. Sasha put a voluntary end to the teaching career, as Tara decided to "Chuck it all to follow [her] heart & boyfriend into a life of sun and sailing."
Which led to a new career as an award-winning chef aboard charter yachts.
BUT SMART PEOPLE OFTEN NEED TO DO CRAZY THINGS
That's my analysis, not theirs.
But let's face it: what they did seems just a little crazy.
They decided they needed to open a food truck.
Except they're in the islands.
So naturally, the food truck had to become a food boat.
And that food boat would fill a void so glaring, it seems almost painfully obvious that someone should have filled it--except that most sensible folks would say, "Nah, that's crazy!"
Understand, I say this not just as some branding geek sitting high atop a mountain outside beautiful Park City, Utah.
I say this is a guy who used to work on sailboats in the Caribbean, who loves pizza, and was one of many people in the same job who would sit around a boat at night, drinking a few beers or some excellent cheap rum, saying, "Damn, if only we could get a pizza delivered."
None of us did anything about it, of course.
IT TOOK TWO SMART, POSSIBLY RECKLESS, STARRY-EYED DREAMERS
Again, my analysis, not theirs.
They don't actually look starry-eyed or reckless.
They might be dreamers.
How else do you explain finding an old hulk of an abandoned 37-foot aluminum sailboat, refitting it as a pizza kitchen, and opening up shop in a tropical island anchorage where the only guaranteed traffic is from people with boats?
And if the dream seems reckless, it helps to back it up with some good old-fashioned smarts and responsibility.
I asked Chef Tara what kind of pizza they serve. She says, "Sasha is from NYC. I had no choice in the type of pizza we would be serving."
OK, sell what you know. And as a Yankee who has eaten a lot of NYC pizza, I cannot begrudge the good captain his preferred pie.
Tara continues, "We went to the Pizza School of New York to learn the art of NY style pizza and sauces. As a bonus we were also given a crash course in restaurant management and accounting."
OK, EXPERT TRAINING IN ALL ASPECTS OF RUNNING THE BUSINESS HELPS
It makes things seem a little less reckless.
And if the results are any indication, their dream has been enormously realized.
From Day Zero three and a half years ago, they've ramped up their business to the current slinging of 70 pies daily.
They've also ended up as media darlings. There are dozens of news stories and videos about PiZZA Pi. They've even been covered by business-news giant Bloomberg.
And, of course, their business is booming.
I didn't pry into the financials of PiZZA Pi, but just doing some quick math, let's assume that nobody orders just a pizza. (They also serve soft drinks, alcohol, ice cream and nitro cold-brew coffee.)
Let's just assume 70 tickets at an average of 30 bucks.
THIS COULD EASILY BE A MILLION-DOLLAR-A-YEAR OPERATION
But again, I'm just making a wild guess. Let's say it's half that.
How many new businesses wish they could pull off even that?
A wildly popular local brand, ranked #1 in their category by the fans, making a better-than-living-wage in paradise, winning friends and influencing people from around the world by serving pizza.
This is such a tremendous small-business story for so many reasons.
Wanting to know more so this small-business freight train of a brand could be shared with the Hot Shots faithful, I asked more questions. Chef Tara was good enough to reply.
I asked her what she believes is the secret to their success.
Chef Tara says, "The more I think about it, the more complicated this question becomes. PiZZA Pi has experienced success on many levels for a variety of reasons and together they equal success for the entire business & brand."
"HERE ARE SOME OF THE MAIN POINTS THAT I FEEL HAVE REALLY HELPED US."
"In national media, the notion of quitting your day job to pursue life in paradise has been trending in the past couple years.
"When production companies hear about us they go nuts because we fit within their story line (left Wall Street to open a pizza boat), as a couple we don't look terrible on camera, and our business setting is visually stimulating enough to attract attention.
"Being featured on national television, big-name print, and online publications has elevated our brand across the board and spread awareness and excitement to tourists traveling to our area."
AND GUESS WHAT ELSE: THEY HAVE A MISSION STATEMENT!
Believe it or not.
As the faithful fan of the weekly screed knows, that's exactly the kind of thing that we here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress love to harp upon: have a clear and defined mission.
And you want a good example of why that mission matters and how it informs the success of your brand?
Chef Tara continues: "Our mission statement has been our guide as the company grows. It keeps us true to the initial reason for our existence."
Oh, look. A guide. As the Fabulous Honey Parker would say, it keeps them good, right and true.
Chef Tara says, "Consistency is key to surviving in a small-town atmosphere where your reputation is discussed everywhere from the bars to government offices."
Oh. My. God. Consistency! If we do nothing else consistently here, we bang the drum for consistency.
And never discount the significance of your reputation on the coconut telegraph. In a place as small as St. Thomas, a reputation is easy to acquire--and you better hope people like you. Bars to government offices, indeed.
BUT WHAT'S THE MISSION?
"Our mission statement is as follows: 'PiZZA Pi is a hip and wholesome "food truck on the water" that is out to have fun while serving up the best pizza in the Caribbean. We cater to day-trip, term-charter, and local boaters and are dedicated to surpassing expectations by serving small-batch, high-quality foods sold at a reasonable price by friendly, knowledgeable staff.'
"Though our story is portrayed as having moved straight from NYC to owning a pizza boat, in reality it has been a ten-year adventure. Sasha and I left mainstream and worked as professional yacht crew in the Virgin Islands for a number of years and became intimately familiar with the marine industry and the surrounding communities.
"It was with this base knowledge that we developed our business plan, chose a location, spec'ed out requirements for our boat, and assembled a team to help secure appropriate licensing.
"We did open PiZZA Pi on a wing and a prayer, but we also (sort of) knew what we were getting into."
WHO EVER REALLY KNOWS WHAT THEY'RE GETTING INTO?
But being prepared, doing your homework, learning your craft, and anticipating the unknowns all contribute to the potential for your success.
And without ever once having stumbled across the Slow Burn Marketing mantra about brand, they knew intuitively what they needed to do: make their core customer feel one way about their business.
They want their customer to feel that PiZZA Pi is hip, wholesome and fun with the Caribbean's best pizza.
And that alone is something you can take to the bank.
But wait, there's more.
And we're going to have to continue it next week. Because there's a lot more ground to cover with the hip, wholesome and fun couple behind this sexy, island-time cult brand.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.