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HomeNEWSFire and brimstone: Hell Pizza’s Ben Cumming

Fire and brimstone: Hell Pizza’s Ben Cumming

Hell hath no fury like a pizza retailer mismanaged.

At the end of 2006, after growing Hell Pizza into a 66-store empire with a cult following and annual revenue of about $55m, owners Stuart McMullin, Warren Powell and Callum Davies made the mistake of selling.

The new owners – Burger King New Zealand franchisee holder TPF – just “didn’t get it.” After three years the trio bought Hell Pizza back, with a few dinks in its brand armour.

The Hell brand has always been about quality pizza and that wasn’t maintained, Hell general manager Ben Cumming says.

“When TPF bought Hell they brought in a corporate team to try and run the brand, but they just didn’t get it, so things all went pear shaped… The Hell brand eroded when TPF owned it.”

Six years on, Hell is pegged to hit 66 stores again. It’s an auspicious number for the demonic retailer, Cumming says.

Sales are at record highs. In 2014 Hell recorded sales 8.6 percent higher than 2013 in same-store-growth, and with a series of smart marketing campaigns, Hell managed to beat its weekly sales record three times.

“We did it with the Wild Rabbit [rabbit pizza] and we did it with the Angry Dragon [sadistically spicy pizza] and then we did it when we launched fireworks delivery with our Halloween special,” Cumming explains.

But Cumming says the best marketing in the world can be all for nothing if the in-store experience isn’t up to par.

“You can have a great idea but if customers come into a store and it’s crap then it’s all over, and next time you do something people aren’t interested.”

He says the biggest innovation Hell implemented in 2014 was incentivising its franchisees to excel through a marketing fee rebate for the best performers.

Prior to this, the franchisees were bound to follow instructions, but there was little recourse if they didn’t, apart from punishment. It was an unpopular strategy for obvious reasons.

“So we flipped it and said why don’t we reward those who get involved in their communities and execute campaigns to a really high standard?”

Cumming says it has completely changed the atmosphere in the brand.

While the recovery from being owned by the big, bad fast-food giant TPF is still underway, the company is well on track with steps like these, Cumming says.

“We’re still recovering form the dark ages when TPF took over the business, but with every good experience a customer has, the brand value comes back in.”

This story was originally published in NZRetail magazine issue 736, March 2015.

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