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
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.