Insider Secrets for Starting a Successful Business

Starting a Pizza Box Advertising Business

Gina Gray, author of Pizza Money, shares her advice about how to start a pizza box advertising business. She covers the basics including finding advertisers, printing flyers, contacting pizza business owners, and much more. [24 min.]

Okay, tell us about your background and how you got into the pizza box advertising business to start with.

Well, I’ve been doing online marketing for local businesses for the past 8, 9 years now. Time is flying by. And I actually came across a friend of mine in a forum, had this idea to do this. He never actually did it, but he had the idea, because he did something with hotels and advertisements. So he was like “Wow, that’d be a great idea,” and I was like ‘You know what, let me run with this.” And I decided to go try it with the advertisements on pizza boxes, and it went so well. Businesses were very, very receptive to it. It’s definitely beneficial for the pizza places to come on board and join us. It really is a community type project. And when we started this two years ago the economy was just horrible for businesses. Everything was just plummeting. Businesses were closing left and right. It was horrible. And obviously advertising dollars were really getting choked up for the businesses.

So we came around and we found out that we were actually getting a good reception. We knew that we had something great; for the businesses and how to advertise. And obviously they really need to squeeze every dollar they get and make sure it’s going to the right place. Well, when we presented them with the idea that their ad, their business card, can be seen in homes five miles from that business over and over, and over again, they loved it. They absolutely loved it.

You know today, your daily newspaper, the monthly coupon clipper that gets mailed to you, the Valpak, those things get read once and likely tossed. That’s all. That business’s chance to catch that consumer was a very short window. But with the pizza advertising, number one, if the business is ordering a pizza guess what people do at the offices? They stare at the box. They all gather around and they’re looking at this gorgeous 8.5 by 11 flyer with all types of local coupons on it. Now if it gets delivered to a home, and the average person does order a pizza, especially myself I have two young children six and eight years old. I hate to admit it, but we order pizza once a week, sometimes twice. Don’t tell anybody. So if a campaign is running three to four months I’m going to see that business’s ad a good eight, nine, ten times.

Now these are so nice and attractive, these flyers, that we’ve actually seen and heard from salesmen, them going into friends’ houses and seeing the flyer on the refrigerator. That’s how nice they are. And they’re normal size, they’re 8.5 by 11. People are keeping them either on the refrigerator or in the menu drawer which we all have, that menu drawer that’s stuffed with menus and papers and all kinds of stuff. So they look at it again. And it’s great because it has, obviously, the pizza place’s coupons on there as well. If they ordered from the pizza place before, good chance they’re going to order from them again. And look, there’s a coupon.

The cool thing is, I don’t know about you, Matt, but when have you ever used a coupon and then all of a sudden got it back again? Now every time you get the pizza and use the coupon, you get the same flyer again.

Is it difficult for you to convince businesses of the effectiveness of this type of advertising?

It’s really not. I thought it might be, I was so used to selling websites and search engine optimization and email marketing. A lot of that even still today, is alien to the local mom and pop businesses out there. Print advertising has been around forever. Everybody understands it, they know it. And for the prices we charge, literally it comes down to if we’re printing 15,000 of these at a clip it comes down to three, four cents per ad for them, four color, high gloss. They can’t get those rates anywhere.

Again like I said, with us saying that that ad gets seen over and over again, that really helps; and it’s true. And not only that, but I give each pizza place 10,000 flyers. I then had printed an additional 5000. Those 5000 I divided. Now, you might have 10 ads on a flyer, you might have 11, you might have the full 12. Some businesses like double ads, for example we had a bail bondsman get a double ad, we had a dealership buy two double ads on two different pizza place campaigns. So we didn’t end up with 12, we only ended up with 10 or 11 ads.

So we would take those 5000 extra and I would divide them between all the other businesses that advertised and say “Hey, do you mind if, when they’re done being printed, may I come in and give you 3, 400 of them?” Now guess what. Now their ad isn’t just coming from the pizza place, it’s in 12 other local businesses, it’s in the waiting room, it’s on their counter. So it’s very, very effective. I would say the conversion rate of your salesmen selling it, they’re probably going to get three yes’s out of every eight to nine no’s.

Okay, back up for a second. So what’s in it for the pizza place? Why would they want to put your ads on their pizza boxes?

That’s easy. A lot of pizza places do advertise, they have to, just like everybody else. And when they do it’s usually they’re putting their menu in the weekly paper or they’re direct mailing it. I’ve got one here that he’s relentless with the card with the magnet with his coupons, about ten of them. Well, let me tell you: his menu, the card, none of that is free. We’re giving him his own coupon, he gets a third of the flyer, all to himself. So it’s got his four coupons on it plus his logo, plus his information and phone number. Those printed for free in four color gloss.

And there’s another bonus. When we go to sell this, the campaign for the pizza place, imagine this. Say for example you’re going to sell the campaign for the pizza place. You’re going to say 5, 10, 15, 20 businesses a day. Who are you talking about all day? The pizza place. “Hey, you know JoJo’s down the street?” “Do you know Chich Brother’s down the street?” “Oh yeah, yeah I’ve heard of them,” or like “Oh, yeah, we order from them.” “That’s great. Don’t you love their pizza? Don’t you love their salad?” They’re like “Oh, it’s delicious. You know what, you just reminded me, we haven’t ordered from them in about a week. I’m going to order from them.” “Guess what they’re doing. They put together this great little fun community campaign, we think you’re really going to like it and definitely going to benefit from it.” Now I go to another business.”You know, I’ve never ordered form them.” “Really? Oh you’ve got to try their pizza. Here, here’s their menu.”

I’m giving away their menus. I’m talking about that pizza place all day long for a week or two. That’s a free marketing person that’s going door-to-door, basically, and talking about that pizza place all day long. Another thing they can’t get for free.

I’ve actually had pizza places call me and say “Miss Gina, guess what we got.” and I say “What?” and they say “You got us the Sun Bank account. They order from us three times a week now.” I’m like “No way. Really? That’s awesome.” And it’s because I myself went there. Somebody else introduced the pizza place and dropped off the menu. Next thing you know they’re ordering from them all the time. So not only are they getting free advertising, they’re getting more customers and a free marketing person, basically. For a week or two.

These pizza places always seem pretty busy when I show up to pick up my pizza. How can you convince and owner operator to meet with you? I guess you probably don’t want to be showing up right at dinner time.

Or lunch time. No, you go either early in the morning or you go in between, that lull between lunch and dinner. Matter of fact, some of the emails I get from people that have purchased the courses “I missed them again. I missed them again.” Well, keep going back, you’ll get them eventually.

Right, right. Do you call first

They can, sure. Absolutely they can call first.

What do you say? What do you say when you call?

That I’m such-and-such from a local marketing company and I’ve got a phenomenal deal that I’d like to include them in on. Are you going to be there tomorrow for like five minutes? I’d like to show it to you.

You don’t really get too many no’s. You get there and you explain to them that they get all these services for free. It’s not really a hard sell. In fact we qualify them. I just had a guy, his name is Johnny, from South Carolina, he fell in love with this pizza place. He loved the owner, loved the place. It’s very unique. And he said how many they deliver per week and I said don’t do it. And he’s like “Why not?” and I said “Because your campaign will take you forever.” So then he thought about cutting the printing in half, cutting his prices in half, and I said “Okay, John, let’s sit down and figure this out. If you get a place with more volume per week your campaign’s going to go faster. So therefore you can renew your advertisers. Not only that, if you’re looking at a $3480 gross on the pizza place that has a good number, why would you want to go for the same amount of time, the same amount of work, go do a campaign with a $2300 gross?”

The next day he went to another place and got a place that tripled that places volume. I said “There you go.”

So I’m guessing that there’s some formula that you use in your mind to judge which pizza places you want to choose to target. I won’t make you give away all your secrets.

That one’s in the course.

Exactly. How big a territory can one person hope to service selling these type of ads?

About 20 miles most the time, for the businesses and the advertisers. And usually I’ve got the businesses within five miles of the two pizza places. I always say run two together, two campaigns, two different pizza places together, always. So 20, 30 miles I would say. And then after that, there’s people out there today that need money, throw an ad on Craigslist for salespeople and you’ll get them. And I pay pretty well. I pay my salespeople 40% of every ad they sold.

Talk a little bit about kind of how you generate your own sales team. What have you found works for that?

Craigslist is very good. You’re going to get 30 or 40 applications out of them. One or two might actually do it, and might actually do it well. So you do have a lot of screening to do with that, but there are hungry people out there that are looking to put money on the table; and this is a fast way to do it. And at 40% they’re easily making right around $1000 for a week’s worth of work.

Do you require that they have sales experience?

No, but you do have to have some kind of ambition to go out and do this if they don’t. You are talking BtoB all day long. You are talking to business owners. You can do it from home. My favorite success story to this day, her name is Sherry, she’s from Arizona. She’s 62-years-old. She’s in a wheelchair. She’s disabled. She never left her house. She’s on her 8th Pizza Hut franchise campaign, and she pays a girl to go collect her checks, and that is it. So I like when people tell me “This can’t be done. I can’t do this. This isn’t viable. This won’t work.” Really? Because if Sherry can do it from her house, who’s 62 and disabled and has never left her house, and she’s on her 8th Pizza Hut campaign, I don’t want to hear it!

So she’s running these campaigns…

All over the telephone. And Pizza Hut, no less, which does take a lot longer. I get that question all day long, “Is it just the mom and pop’s now?” Absolutely not. But if you want to be in business tomorrow, you can be in business tomorrow. As long as you have a printer you’re set to go. But mom and pop’s will give you a yes or no today, and you can start tomorrow. But if you want to go for the big boys, Dominoes, Pizza Hut, yes it can be done. As a matter of fact, her demos are in our members area. Someone can print them off and show them, “Look, we’ve done pizza hut before. You can use them, no problem.” But it will take a lot longer because the franchisee who owns the Pizza Hut will have to get it approved through corporate. That will take time.

You approach the franchisee that owns multiple stores, not necessarily the manager of one of the outlets?

Yup. And then he has to go get it approved. That’s how it works. That’s the slow route, but if you get them it’s awesome because their volume is obviously through the roof. Which means instead of possibly waiting three to four weeks to go out to those same advertisers, you want the advertisers to keep renewing when the ad runs out. With the Pizza Huts and the Dominoes, their volume in phenomenal. So instead of waiting three to four months you could get back out there for the same campaign and start recruiting again within 8 weeks, instead of 12 or 16.

So do you cut your rates on renewals to keep them coming back, or what’s your secret to keeping them saying yes?

I didn’t. They can, and I even tell them a scarcity, if a lot of them are like “Well, I’ve got to talk to my brother, my sister, my wife, my partner, my dog, I’ll let you know tomorrow.” And I tell the sales people,
“Tell them if they do it today I’ll give them $20 off.” Yes, they can do that with renewals, give them 10% off or 20% off or whatever. Sure. I didn’t, but it can be done. Absolutely.

So once you get these decision makers in front of you and they’re saying yes to your pizza box advertising, you obviously have an opportunity to sell them other types of advertising or other promotional products and that sort of thing. What’s been successful that you’ve seen in this regard?

Websites. If a salesperson has the knowledge and the technology to do other services, anything online is very good. Although, I’ll tell you, I just got a call, it’s funny you ask that because a guy bought the course last week and he was a carpet cleaner. So he knows all kinds of businesses. He knows everybody. So he’s like “I’m going to throw my own ad on there.” I said “There you go. Absolutely. And take your card with you and just say, “Hey, by the way, I do this too.”

So any type of business. If they’re slow they can do this in between. But yeah, I thought that was a phenomenal idea. He could throw his own ad on there, which is basically free advertising for him, plus he can tell the businesses “Hey, do you ever get your carpets cleaned? Who does them? I do that too. Here’s my card.” But with me, I offered the email services and website, so I would tell them that.

I wouldn’t always tell them that on the first meeting. When I went back to deliver the fliers is when I would mention “Hey, how’s your website. Is it performing for you well, are you getting a lot of traffic from it? Are you doing any e-newsletters, any email marketing? No? I do that too. Let’s schedule a time next week and I’ll come back and talk to you about that as well.” It’s a great door opener.

I suppose even if you don’t know HTML from Adam, you could partner up with a web designer and work some referral deal or something like that.


So once you get this business set up and running you can essentially outsource the selling of the ads to a small sales team you find via Craigslist or classifieds?

Oh yeah, I recommend it. Absolutely.

And what is a reasonable number of salespeople you can manage, do you think?

If it gets too big or you get too many then you just hire a manager to manage the sales team. I only have myself, about four or five salesmen at a time, that I can actively manage. After that it gets a little nuts, and I haven’t gone any further than that. But that’s a phenomenal idea, to actually get a manager and pay them a percentage of each campaign that the salesperson completes. He gets a percentage of that, as well.

Have you experimental with different size paper, 8.5×11 or legal size?

The medium pizza boxes hold it really well. The large hold it really well. If you get too much bigger it becomes a big crumpled up thing that they throw in the trash. So we really don’t want it too big because we want in on the refrigerator staring the resident, the consumer, the home owner in the face. Do you know the average person goes to the refrigerator 20 times a day?

I can relate to that.

So could you imagine, that Bob’s Locksmith or Ken’s Landscaping or Tony’s Dry Cleaning; every time you go to the refrigerator you’re looking at that business? So it’s great. If it gets too much bigger, you know, I’ve got 8.5×11 pictures of school and homework and drawing and awards all over my refrigerator, but there’s still room for that.

And there’s usually not a lot of other advertising messages on there to distract you. Like you said, it’s filled with drawings your kids made in school or that sort of thing.

No, absolutely.

When I go down to my local office supply store and I see they offer printing, I mean, a color 8.5×11 copy is going to cost me close to a buck. I’m guessing that isn’t the place you want to go for your printing.

It’s not. And good question, everybody asks me that. “How much is the printing going to cost me? How much is it going to cost me?” I say “You know what, knock your socks off. Go call as many local ones as you can, but I probably can guarantee you that the two sources that we use online, with the shipping, still beat your local guy.” I had a guy like a month ago call me, “Oh, my friend’s brother owns a [press].” I say “That’s fine. Go ask him. And if he can beat it, wonderful. He probably can’t. Be careful because you do need the right poundage, the right gloss.” Because if you don’t, and we made this error once before, we thought we got a deal too, and guess what. If you put it on the pizza box and if you have a really hot pizza in a box it will wilt and curl that flyer up. It was so embarrassing.

So you just use tape to attach it.

Yeah, we just use tape. But it’s got to be, like I said, the right poundage, the right gloss, the right everything. Yes.

Okay. Now, do you attach it to the pizza boxes or does the pizza place?

No, no. the pizza place, when they get their boxes, they have to fold them and put them together anyway. And they usually have the guys that are sitting around there doing nothing, again, during that slow time between lunch and dinner, and even after dinner there is a slow time. They’re putting the boxes together. It takes them literally a second to tape them on there. And again, it’s beneficial for the pizza place to have them on there because it’s their own coupons which they want to put out anyway, but in the past they’ve had to pay for them.

Right. I know that printing is a commodity and the paper’s a commodity and in essence the cost probably fluctuates. In volume, what’s the lowest cost per copy that you’ve seen?

The one source that we use has two different warehouses, so obviously they usually ship from the closest one to that person’s home. But the most we’ve ever seen is $650 for 15,000 which is not bad. The only acute costs, other than travel, gas, time, which that I could never in a million years put a dollar on, is the printing and your designer. If the person is really good with photoshop they don’t have to pay a dime. If they’re not, they’re going to have to go find a designer, either somebody they know or find somebody at the local college or what have you. And if not, we have somebody on staff that’s been doing them since we started this. Matter of fact she even did all the Pizza Hut campaigns. She will do them from between $2.00 and $2.50 per flyer per campaign.

So you even have contacts to design the ads. So really all the person has to do is go out and sell. And you can point them in the right direction for printing and design and everything else.

You got it. The only two really big costs.

Other than not reading your book, which I’m sure is a big mistake. What’s the biggest mistake you see people make when they get started in this business?

Not doing it. There’s no reason why this doesn’t work for anybody anywhere. Unless maybe you live in Utah and you’re the only house in a hundred miles. You know what I mean? It a no-lose.

So essentially if you have one pizza place and 12 other local businesses, this can be a go for you.

A mistake would be doing one campaign by itself. They should always do two, always. Then once you get those two then go and get two more.

What’s the difference between pizza box advertising, and those placemat advertisements you see at a local restaurant? Should you do both? Is one better than another?

Okay, now you’ve struck a nerve. I love that one. And I’ve had businesses say that to me. And it makes little tiny things of fire come out my ears. And I’ll tell you why. Little flames of fire, and the horns even start to come up. When is the last time you went to the diner, had a great breakfast, and brought home that coffee, tea, egg-stained placemat and stuck it on your refrigerator?

I did the crossword and then left it on the table.

But then you left it there. Exactly. Yes, I’ve had businesses “Oh, this is just like the diner things.” No! Big difference. Yes they sell, yes people do it. This is getting into the homes, which is where your buyers live, which is where they are, your customers to your business. They’re not going to have coffee-stained, egg-stained, soup, chowder on them. And most of the diner ones, too, they’re not four color high gloss, either.

So there is a big difference. And the diner place that they don’t keep coming to your house every week and giving you a new one. There’s a big difference. It’s rare. I mean, I’ve had some people buy it. “Oh, I’ve taken it home before.” I’m like “You’re such an exception.” You really are because most people don’t. We want the business to see ROI, it’s very important to see return on investment in that. With them it’s going to depend on their offer. It can’t be 99 cents off, it can’t be 50 cents, it’s got to be a buy one get one free, it’s got to be 10% off.

But I’ve been stuck before where I did a campaign of 12 ads and 75% were cards. I’m like ‘Oh, they’re never going to renew again.’ I was crushed. I got a lawyer, I got the bail bondsman, I got an insurance place. I wanted to cry. I’m like ‘They’re never going to give me money again.’ But you know what, they don’t car. For them it’s about branding. They want their name everywhere. Did some of them renew? Absolutely. Probably not as many as I would’ve liked, but I couldn’t go back and go “How’d it go?” Because they didn’t bring in the bail bondsman coupon, they didn’t bring in the lawyer card. They say “I saw it somewhere. Maybe it was on a pizza box.”

That will help getting them to renew, obviously, is the better the offer, the better the coupon. But yeah, there’s some that just don’t care. It’s branding. Put my name everywhere.

When people bring those coupons into these businesses, you’re basically reinforcing that idea in their mind that this advertising is working for them.


Gina Gray is the author of Pizza Money: How to Make Thousands Per Week in the Pizza Business — Without Touching a Pizza. She is an experienced entrepreneur and has owned several businesses.