Drawn to the dough — in more ways than one — Bruce Irving’s rise in the pizza industry was low and slow.
Bruce Irving is a marketing strategist, speaker, and founder of Irving Media Group LLC. The entrepreneur found fame as the voice and host of the Smart Pizza Marketing Podcast and the Local Business Podcast.
In 2020, people are still looking for ways to get paid to eat pizza. Bruce Irving has found the second best alternative: he’s paid to talk about pizza.
Bruce Irving was a guest on the Digital Hospitality podcast episode 43. He and podcast host Shawn Walchef (owner of Cali BBQ in San Diego) talked about learning to master digital marketing, digital media, growing restaurants and small businesses in the COVID era, niche podcasting, and more.
His success didn’t happen overnight as Bruce has been working in the pizza industry for 20 years.
“I grew up in the pizza,” Bruce Irving told Shawn Walchef on the Digital Hospitality podcast.
“I wasn’t a smart kid growing up. School wasn’t my thing. I literally just wanted to go to school and get out. So, I was drawn to get a job and make money. I was interested in pizza and making it in the restaurant industry.”
BUSINESSES SHOULD LEAN INTO FUTURE:
As every business owner has had to rethink their operations in the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, Bruce Irving believe it’s important to learn from the tough times and lean into the future.
“Think about the future,” Bruce Irving said. “I know restaurants are hurting right now, but why are they hurting? They’re hurting because people can’t go into them.”
”I would never, ever want to create a business where if one thing happened and people couldn’t visit me, my whole business would be gone. I would make sure that regardless of what happens, as long as people are alive and they’re eating, I can get them their food. That’s the only model that I would serve at and or invest in.”
This insight is not just due to COVID-19, it’s due to new habits exhibited by the next generation.
“As much as we love hospitality and we want to go in restaurants with people, that’s kind of what the older generation of folks do,” notes Bruce Irving about going out to eat in 2020 and beyond. “I don’t know if the younger generation is going to be doing that as much. I’m not saying that the younger generation doesn’t hang out together, but I don’t know if they’re going to have the need to go somewhere and hang out together versus going to the beach or going to someone’s house or hanging out online together.”
Open mindedness to new consumer habits and emerging platforms is at the heart of the Digital Hospitality podcast and also at the forefront of Bruce Irving’s work.
“If you take advantage of Yelp, Facebook, and Google,” Bruce starts, “and respond to those reviews that people are giving you, good or bad, that’s going to make you stand out even more. By doing those two little things, you’re going to be much better off than 8 out of 10 pizzerias in your area and you’ll show up more on Google.”
Whether it’s building your business to survive in a new world or performing in the niche podcast game, the recipes may be changing but the key ingredient remains the same.
“If you stick with it, it’ll work for you,” Bruce Irving acknowledges. “You just have to give it some time.”
WORKING IN THE PIZZA BUSINESS:
Bruce Irving’s career has long revolved around the pizza industry.
“My first job in the pizza industry was at Regina Pizzeria, which is a pretty popular pizzeria franchise model here in the Boston area,” remembers Bruce Irving on the Digital Hospitality podcast. “I started working there, worked there for a few years and I learned how to make pizza. I really enjoyed it. Then I moved and I met my future partner and future brother-in-law. We worked together and I grew up in that business. He taught me a lot and he mentored me a lot. We partnered in that business and we opened another location under both of us.”
Bruce’s ascent into restaurant ownership may seem swift, but it wasn’t unlikely. Dedicated to his passion and willing to learn, his future partner was able to teach him lots on the job and foster his interest.
“We were on the same page when it comes to not being college educated,” Bruce says of his partner/mentor. “We were very much educated in the business. After a few years of trying to grow, trying to manage employees, trying to build the team and trying to figure out marketing, we were pretty successful.”
Pretty successful may be an understatement.
“One location was really good,” recalls Bruce Irving on his old restaurant. “It was doing about a million and a half a year in sales with no alcohol and only had 12 seats. We were a heavy delivery and take-out model.”
Relying heavily on delivery and takeout through online ordering might be topical in 2020 amidst the Coronavirus crisis, but it was even more forward-thinking in the 2000s and 2010s.
Online Ordering Advantages —
1 – Less foot traffic in the restaurant.
2 – Fewer calls to free up staff time.
3 – Average ticket revenue can be higher.
“We realized that online ordering is easy because there’s less people walking into the restaurant,” notes Bruce. “Less people on the phone having to rush them off. If we can just push everybody to the website and they can order themselves the average ticket is higher, and they get to order whatever they want. We free up time in the restaurant to really work on what we need to work on while people are here.”
Prophetic? Perhaps. In these uncertain times, more full-service restaurants are pivoting to a similar model, just like Cali BBQ in San Diego.
While pizza has long led the way for delivery consumption, Bruce Irving and his partner were operating in a manner seldom seen by small businesses.
Not being tied up on the phone or as a host allowed Bruce to dive deeper into the digital realm of his business. It also allowed him to have an open ear to the early onset of podcasting.
“I loved audio,” Bruce told Shawn on Digital Hospitality. “I’m not a huge reader and I didn’t have time to watch videos, so I was always into podcasting.”
MAKE YOUR OWN PODCAST:
Bruce’s interest in listening to podcasts soon pushed him to create his own podcast. Something both Bruce and Shawn advise is for all business owners to start your own podcast. Making a podcast for business and marketing a lot easier than you might think.
“I said, ‘You know what? There’s a lot of podcasts out there of people talking to other people,’” Bruce Irving recalls about the start of his first podcast.
“If I could start a podcast for the pizza industry, I can ask random people that I want to talk to in the pizza industry to come on my podcasts and I can pick their brain. I can ask them how they went to ten locations, how do they build their team that they have, how do they get to speak at the Pizza Expo? That’s how the podcast started back in 2015. That’s where it all began.”
In 2015, Bruce finally had his own podcast, but it was far from a full-time gig. Uncertainty circled. Would the show be sustainable? Was he late to the podcast game? Would the show catch on?
Nevertheless, the marketer stayed the course, improving his podcasting skills and learning more about his industry in the process.
“When I started my podcast in 2015, I thought I was late to the game,” Bruce looks back. “I was doing the podcast for two years while working in the restaurants.”
Two years into the podcasting game, him and his partner decided to sell their second restaurant and focus on their most successful location. At that same time, the podcast started to get traction from listeners and advertisers.
“After two years of doing the podcast, there became this point where people would ask me to advertise on the podcast,” says Bruce Irving. “People would want to me to consult with them about marketing their restaurant and then people would want me to do their marketing for them.”
“I saw this opportunity to take a path. Do I want to continue to do the path of growing the restaurant or do I want to continue the path of this online marketing? Online marketing was fascinating to me. After 25 years of having to be in the restaurant, you know, six, seven days a week and having my mind on that, it was really appealing to be able to kind of work from anywhere for once in my life and have a Friday night off.”
The flexibility was enticing but going full-time into podcasting and online marketing was a leap of faith. Lucky for Bruce Irving, his wife was on board for him to make that big jump.
“I took the path of marketing,” Bruce beams. “I knew it was going to work, it was just a matter of time. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, I’m not worried about making money.”
Five years into the podcast and three years removed from being in a restaurant every day, it’s safe to say Bruce Irving’s bet on himself worked.
Not only has his business and marketing podcasts proved educational for listeners and valuable for advertisers, making podcasts allowed him to improve interviewing skills.
“When you start your podcast, there is going to be nobody listening,” Bruce admits. “That’s a perfect time to hone your craft and really try to figure out the minutia of asking questions. I think that it may seem like I know what questions to ask now, but it certainly wasn’t the case in the beginning. I got better at that over time.”
“When you do a podcast in the beginning, you’re so worried about asking the right questions that you forget to listen. I’ve gotten better and the podcast has gotten me better at listening to people and not just hearing what they’re saying, but actually listening to what they’re saying and then starting conversation from there.”
MARKETING A PIZZA BUSINESS IN 2020:
A podcasting pro at this point, Bruce Irving has been able to use his platform and digital marketing and content experience to give back to the industry he dived into as a teenager.
“The pizza industry is pretty far behind when it comes to marketing,” Bruce points out about the business of owning and operating pizza restaurants. “There’s a lot of people who still, believe it or not, in 2020, don’t have a great website or don’t have online ordering or have never posted to Instagram.”
As someone who’s cut his teeth in the pizza industry, he’s able to break down business advice on his podcasts that’s not coming from a place of persecution but rather a place of understanding.
Podcasting has also allowed Bruce Irving to grow his network within the industry far beyond his base of Boston.
“Even if I didn’t expect anybody to ever listen, the amount of people I’ve met and networked with that I looked up to as a business owner and now call friends is amazing,” he said. “That opportunity came because of doing a podcast.”
Because of this new network, Bruce advocates that other entrepreneurs enter the same realm and make a niche podcast.
“If I was a local business owner, I would make a list of 25 to 50 people I would love to talk to for 25 or 30 minutes and I would start a podcast,” suggests Bruce Irving about starting a local business podcast. “I would immediately reach out to them and ask them to be on my podcast. Even if nobody ever listened to your podcast audience wise, the amount of people that you can network with and meet and talk to and grow your network is going to be unbelievably helpful moving forward.”
For Bruce Irving, moving forward with the podcast means educating business owners on how to thrive both during the pandemic and beyond. Uncertain times mean new challenges and reaching a younger audience with new habits presents challenges, too.
“I have three daughters,” says Bruce Irving about his family. “18, 17 and 13. They won’t make any decisions unless they can find some information online. You don’t even exist if you’re not on Instagram, TikTok, or have a website that they can search on their phone. You don’t exist and they don’t even know who you are. Anybody who’s under the age of 25, that’s how they live their life. They only know a digital life. They don’t know anything else.”
Bruce Irving Online
Visit Smart Pizza Marketing online at https://www.smartpizzamarketing.com
Connect with Bruce Irving on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bruce-irving-spm/
Watch Smart Pizza Marketing videos on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZ4GO55CJRFFJDMSOjx_1ww
Cali BBQ Media