Anthony Russo & Scott Geiszler

Written on the 23 November 2009

Anthony Russo & Scott Geiszler

Anthony Russo & Scott Geiszler
PIZZA CAPERS
RETAIL

Age: 34
Business Est: 1996
Number of staff: 1600
Growth: 162 per cent
Turnover: $38 million

As Pizza Capers opens a new store every week it would be easy for co-owner Scott Geiszler’s ego to rise with all the dough, but for this young entrepreneur that’s just not amore. The self-proclaimed ‘supremo’ says persistence is his caper and while his company looks to double its revenue this year, he tells Brisbane Business News about turning three ‘stagnant’ restaurants into a national chain with 1600 staff.

To say that Pizza Capers has been busy lately would be an understatement.

Between flying to Singapore to negotiate international expansion, pitching environmentally-friendly pizza boxes to suppliers and opening a gelati range, this Brisbane franchise has opened a shop every week since July.

Co-owner Scott Geiszler plans to open up to two stores a week next year in line with targets to double revenue annually, but if we wind back the clock a decade this prospect would have been almost unthinkable, with three restaurants and not much activity.

“In those days the business was totally stagnant because you couldn’t make a decision without 10 directors getting together and simple decisions took forever,” says Geiszler.

“In 2001 Anthony Russo and I made the decision to divest the other investors and it took six months before the official handover in July 2002. We’ve charted our growth from three stores then to 60 in a little over seven years.

“In this business patience and persistence are the top two things you need, but you’ve got to not have an ego. You might be going down the wrong track so you’ve got to be open. As the saying goes, ‘the one person that’s smarter than anybody is everybody’.”

It’s a business model that he has not only talked but walked, taking on ideas from store managers like the reef and beef pizza, which continues to ‘sell its socks of’.

“There’s a lot of things we’ve had to do along the line that we’ve never had to do before – for instance we’ve just developed a new pizza carton with a whole new shape where we’ve angled the box in, which has saved 13 per cent of our cardboard this year. That’s 36,000kg of virgin cardboard and that all goes into our environmental plans,” says the 34-year-old.

“We worked with Amcor on that, and when you go to a supplier and they say ‘no one’s ever asked for that before’, that’s what you want to hear.”

The key driver of Pizza Capers’ growth has been to make takeaway pizza more nutritious, operating on a quality differential rather than price.

“We started against competitors with products that were dominated by price, big players selling pizzas for $5 or $6, so it was hard to compete with our $14 pizzas alongside them. If we used the manufactured ham they used instead of leg ham it would have saved us millions of dollars, but that’s not what we’re about.”

He says his business likely had a part to play in prompting healthier menus from chains like Domino’s and Eagle Boys, which adds value to the industry and forces him to pick up his game.

With a niche somewhere between the standard takeaway pizza and gourmet restaurants, Geiszler couldn’t ask for a better position both in downturns and upturns of the economic cycle.

“In the downturn we picked up a lot of people from more expensive restaurants who scaled down, but we lost some from the bottom end down to the cheaper pizzas. So in a recovery we might lose a few back to the restaurants, but those who had gone down a peg might come back up to us.”

And as Pizza Capers grows in an increasingly competitive but popular market, Geiszler’s goal is to stay focused on what is under his control.

“If we ever get to the stage where we’re taking on Pizza Hut and Domino’s, well that’s another story. They’re big businesses so we tend not to focus too much on them. What we can control is within our four walls and once we focus on that, everything falls into place,” he says.

“A lot of businesspeople in the last two years have been in a state of despair from what’s happened in the financial market, and if they spend time thinking how bad everything is then that goes into how they run their business from day to day.

“They see what’s happened in the US so they put their hands in the air and say ‘it’s the end of the world’, but it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

And on the topic of self-fulfilling prophecies, Geiszler doubled marketing expenditure in the last 18 months to keep demand coming for all his new shop fronts. Sometimes you’ve got to do whatever it takes to cut the crust.


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