For many Canadians, “Four-three-nine-oh-oh-oh-oh Pizza Nova!” is an iconic jingle they know by heart. Beyond the catchy marketing, Pizza Nova is a successful and growing franchise system with 154 locations across Southern Ontario. It got its start 55 years ago, in 1963, with a single location in Toronto. “My father and his brothers were the founders of the company. It was founded on the principle of serving a great quality pizza to Canadians and Torontonians,” says Domenic Primucci president of Pizza Nova.
“Back in 1963 pizza was more of a snack item than a meal,” says Primucci. However, over the years the concept, and pizza itself, evolved. Pizza Nova expanded the original location to become a full service restaurant where people would come in the evening and have dinner, making pizza the main event.
The original location was in Scarborough, which was more of remote area at the time, but had the benefit of being close to up-and-coming neighborhoods. It wasn’t long after the first store opened and had begun to thrive that the brand started to franchise other locations.
When Pizza Nova first started to franchise, existing employees began to express interest in opening a Pizza Nova of their own. “They liked what they saw at the original location and wanted to get into business with them as well,” describes Primucci. He adds that a lot of these inquiries were coming from new Canadians. “The franchising model gave the opportunity to immigrants to start a business,” he explains. At the time, franchising was not the commonplace business option that it is today. “They took the lead to go into that type of model,” says Primucci. Franchising was risky for brands because if service and product aren’t consistent across locations “it could damage your brand, even if it’s a one store operation.”
Even though the brand has seen considerable success for more than five decades, it continues to evolve to adapt to the market. “We are conscious of people’s dietary requirements,” says Primucci. “For example, we’ve had gluten-free options for a number of years. We also have non-dairy cheese, so that helps people that are lactose intolerant and vegan.” Another example is pepperoni, Pizza Nova’s most popular topping: “We were the first and only pizza place to introduce pepperoni to be made without the use of antibiotics and hormones,” Primucci says. “We are still the only company chain-wide to do this in the pizza industry.” He goes on to explain that at Pizza Nova, they don’t look at trends, instead, they look at big shifts in the marketplace. “A trend comes and goes but shifts in the market are going to take you to the next stage,” he conveys.
Finding the right franchisee
These days, ideal Pizza Nova franchisees are people who have a passion for the food service industry. While there are lots of essential skills that can be developed through Pizza Nova’s comprehensive training program, it’s good for franchisees to obtain some experience in the restaurant business before coming on board. “It’s important to know the lifestyle,” explains Primucci. “Because there’s long shifts, you’re always working on holidays when everybody else is celebrating; Friday, Saturday nights when people go out on weekend, that’s your busiest time.” Also, they have to be someone who loves interacting with people. “They have to really want to serve their customers,” he explains. He also says that while business experience is a plus, it’s not always a necessity.
Above all, successful Pizza Nova franchisees follow the franchisor’s guidelines. “We’ve been in business for 55 years. We have a model. You’re going to be successful if you follow that model,” says Primucci. “We have that experience and we have that proven background.” Furthermore, Primucci points out that consistency is essential to the strength of the brand. “When you buy a pizza in Huntsville or you buy one here in Toronto, it’s got to be the same, and the experience has to be the same.”
To ensure that franchisees are successful, Pizza Nova offers comprehensive support that “starts from the minute they are awarded a franchise,” describes Primucci. The length of training depends on the person’s skill level and experience. For example, if a franchisee has a background working at a Pizza Nova location, their training may not be as long as someone new to the brand. “If a person comes in very green and has never worked in a location and have never stretched a pizza, now their training may take two months,” Primucci outlines.
At Pizza Nova, district managers are responsible for supporting a number of stores within a certain area. They visit stores and are available to answer all of the franchisee’s questions. ”If a franchisee wants some help with marketing, then we will help with marketing. If it’s training on how to make the product. we’ll do that,” Primucci says. Typically franchisees reach out to their district managers for help, although, explains Primucci, they can get help from anyone on the Pizza Nova team. “If they want to call the marketing department they can pick up the phone and call the marketing department. If they want to pick up the phone and call me, they can call me as well.” Another avenue of support is the other franchisees: “A lot of them know each other so they help each other out and support each other as well,” says Primucci.
Additionally, the franchisor holds three or four business meetings, along with two to three hands-on training workshops for franchisees. “We are constantly in contact with them and constantly supporting them,” says Primucci. “It’s important as the franchisor that they are successful; we will exhaust all avenues to make sure that they are successful.”
The life of a Pizza Nova franchisee, just like in any business, is not without its challenges. One of those challenges is staffing, an industry-wide issue for franchises operating within the food services sector. “As the franchisor, we have to help them and we have to guide them,” says Primucci. For example, Pizza Nova will provide guidance throughout the recruitment process, from sharing interview questions to help franchisees hire the best staff to helping the franchisee decide where to place job ads. In the end, the franchisee is not on their own, “We will help them to overcome those challenges together,” asserts Primucci.
Other challenges may involve finding new locations or just the day-to-day issues that may arise with restaurant ownership. However, according to Primucci, “As long as we have our vision of our company and all franchise units are consistent, you overcome those daily challenges.”
As for the benefits of joining the Pizza Nova team, Primucci says that you become part of a premium brand. “We’re going to deliver the best quality product, the best quality customer experience and you have a hands-on approach at the support office level,” he says. “We aren’t interested in building 30 stores to build 30 stores. If I only build five stores then I’m happy building five stores because I want them to be successful. I’m not here to make money on a store opening. I’m here to offer an opportunity for longevity within a brand.”
By Karen Stevens