Crust Pizza turns ten this week and is marking the birthday by opening its 100th store. Costa Anastasiadis, one of the company’s founders, shares the highs, lows and lessons of the company’s first decade in an interview with My Business editor Simon Sharwood.
Simon: You’ve had an amazing ride over ten years. What do you think has been the most important thing that contributed to your success?
Costa: Drive is an important part of any successful business and from the very early days we had a very, very clear view of the business and what we wanted and the kind of pizza shops we wanted.
Simon: So how did that drive and vision translate to success?
Costa: That whole management team bought into the vision. Crust has five partners and although I might be the face of the business there are another four partners at the back end. We each have different roles.
Partnerships are very difficult but we have never had any disputes and we have a clear leader in our CEO. That unity has been a defining factor in our success.
Simon: What have you learned along the way that made a big difference?
Costa: We are constantly learning from errors. We are not from a corporate background and did not have a lot of experience, so we learned from scratch.
One of the big things was how to set rules for everyone when in the early days you did not follow the rules yourself?
When we hit that there was a conflict of thought and process.
You need to remember that systems you are putting in place are for the benefit of the brand so you learn to stick to your guns regarding operational procedures.
Simon: That wasn’t always easy with some of your earliest franchisees?
Costa: You’re right. We began this business by bringing in a personal network of people and that’s great because you get organic growth. But at the same time these people are friends and family.
We learned you don’t compromise for anyone. Everything has to be about benefit for the brand.
Simon: Crust is famous for having a premium product and a premium price. How have you pulled that off?
Costa: We were always about premium offering and that was evident from our stores which offer a lot of ‘food theatre’. That’s important because when your food is on display you cannot hide anything.
Customers are not stupid they know what they are eating. They can tell a difference between good ingredients and cheap ingredients.
When your food is on display you cannot hide anything
You can tell a difference between a pizza shop that serves good ham
So for example the mozzarella we use is the most expensive on the market. There are some really horrible products you can buy that are stodgy and fatty and oily. We only use the best of the best when it comes to our cheeses.
That evolves to a healthier alternative and people recognise it is a better product.
Over time that meant we could win the Heart Foundation tick and move into gluten free products with confidence.
That cemented our positioning in the market as the healthy and premium offer before anyone else did so, and I say it with great pride that the industry followed – they had to be reactive.
Simon: What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had along the way?
Costa: When we opened up Annandale I did not think we would be talking today about 100 stores, with the majority in the last three and a half years.
Organic growth has just exploded.
It hasn’t caught us by surprise – we were prepared. But I never thought I would need to worry about having an HR manager. Now we have one.
We had to adjust very quickly to make sure infrastructure was up to scratch and now we have a whole senior executive team that reports to the general manager and I never thought we would have that.
Simon: Any regrets or things you wish you had done differently?
Costa: Growing organically is fantastic because it allows you to lay strong foundations, but in hindsight if we had our time again we could have been more aggressive in the earlier years.
We took three or four years to find our feet. Age and lack of experience were factors because all of the partners in the business were really young.
A more aggressive approach would not have been a bad thing.
Simon: What does the future hold?
Costa: We want to continue growing the business. We have a bit of a glimpse of what we can do with Crust. The partners want to see it as one of the most recognised food brands in the country.
We’ll do a lot online. It’s 20% of revenue already and we see that at 40% in the next three years. International expansion is also there. We just opened our second store in Singapore and are about to enter New Zealand.
We are hungrier than we have ever been!