Toppers on the rise

Toppers Pizza, a Whitewater-based pizza delivery chain founded in 1993, has experienced significant growth in recent years and has big plans to become a national brand.

“Our goal is to be the best pizza company in the world,” said Scott Iversen, vice president of marketing for Toppers. “Our goal is to become a national brand in pizza delivery.”

Toppers currently has 50 locations in 10 states, so it has a long way to go to catch up to giant pizza chains like Pizza Hut (13,000 locations), Domino’s (9,700) or Papa John’s (3,900). But Toppers has big plans to grab market share from the major pizza players.

“The big chains have lost their identity and brand connection, said Scott Gittrich, founder and chief executive officer of Toppers Pizza. “Our customers are fanatical about our brand. Our quirkiness and edginess has given our brand character.”

Toppers increased its sales by 41 percent system-wide in the first quarter of 2013. Same store sales were up 13.6 percent in the first quarter. The company opened 16 new locations last year. Company-owned units average $889,086 in gross sales per year and $143,519 in net income, the company says.

The company plans to open 15 to 20 new locations this year and 25 more locations in 2014.

“Our goal is to have 150 by 2015 and 500 by 2020, Iversen said.

Toppers already has 11 locations in the metro Milwaukee area and plans to add a location this year in Menomonee Falls, Iversen said. The company also plans to add locations in Wausau, Janesville and Madison this year. The average size of each location is 1,650 square feet, Iversen said.

Outside of Wisconsin, the company’s expansion focus is primarily on the Chicago and Twin Cities areas, and secondarily on the Indianapolis and Cincinnati markets. The company also plans to enter Arkansas later this year.

The company started 20 years ago catering to University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students. Its growth increased dramatically after it began franchising in 2006, Iversen said.

“The last five or six years we have really grown leaps and bounds through franchising,” he said.

To achieve its 500 store goal by 2020 the company plans to have one third of its stores company-owned, one-third owned by existing franchisees and one-third owned by new franchisees. For franchisees, the company seeks experienced restaurant owners that want to add to their portfolio, Iversen said.

Toppers began as a favorite for college students, but is growing its customer base to a broader audience, Iversen said. Now only half of the Toppers locations are on college campuses.

“(The customers) grew up with it,” he said. “Then when we showed up in places like suburban Milwaukee, they remembered us from their college days. We feel we have developed the concept to the point where it can go anyplace.”

Toppers sets itself apart with its unique pizza flavor combinations and its garlic, cheesy “Topperstix,” Iversen said.

“We put unusual things on pizzas, such as potatoes, Buffalo chicken,” he said. “We have a mac and cheese pizza that is just to die for.”

The pizza ingredients, including the dough, are prepared fresh every day.

“It’s a much fresher product experience,” Iversen said.

The company actually gets more orders for the Topperstix, which feature generous amounts of garlic butter and Wisconsin mozzarella cheese, than it does for the pizzas, Iversen said.

About 70 percent of the orders are for delivery and 30 percent are for carry-out.

“With the pizza segment continuing to grow and more pizza being consumed than ever before, we have an opportunity to steal more market share in a sea of sameness,” Iversen said. “Despite our stiff competition in the segment, we have been able to distinguish ourselves by remaining young at heart and staying true to our loyal fan base.”

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