Slice Pizzeria, tucked away on Poplar Street in downtown Atlanta, celebrated its tenth anniversary in November 2016. Its business partners Brian Agee and Karen Smiley moved from their first pizzeria in the West End to Georgia State University’s western boundary in 2006, hoping to serve more students, tourists and conventioneers.
“It was a very slow start,” says Melissa Agee, who handles catering, events and marketing. “The atmosphere here 10 years ago was skeletal.” Not for long, though. “We began running specials and adhered with the university community,” she says.
They did so well, in fact, that Georgia State came to Slice to fill a new location on the east side of campus, nestled between two dorms.
The proximity of the two locations – only a mile apart – and the size of the space they had to fill made the partners apprehensive. On the advice of another pizzeria owner, they sought planning advice from Jeff Patterson and Erica Bracey at the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center at Georgia State University.
“We found a completely different atmosphere on this side of town with the freshman living dorm, tons of foot traffic from the Commons dorms, and Alumni Center and a new dorm going up across the street from our new location.
“We just needed to know where to start,” says Melissa. “We knew we would need help honing in on a couple of things quickly here.”
Patterson worked with Karen and Brian to make sure their financial projections would justify the second location.
“We took the actual sales and expense numbers from the Poplar location and laid those out against some benchmarking data, then built the financial projections on top of that. The numbers were reasonable and helped them get the capital they needed for leasehold improvements and equipment, along with working capital to stay open the first few months.”
Slice Piedmont opened on Thanksgiving weekend, at the end of the semester and just before winter break, with few students on campus. “We needed a little more runway to keep operating until they came back. The working capital allowed us to get the kinks worked out,” says Melissa.
With no regulars to sustain them over the holidays, marketing and social media became very important.
“Slice had to get out there on social media quickly,” says Bracey. “We taught Melissa how to develop a strategy for social media, what times to post and what to post. She learned what channels their primary customers follow, like Twitter and Instagram.”
Melissa’s innovative marketing campaigns have transformed the company, helping Slice Piedmont earn revenues well into six figures its first year while Slice Poplar’s sales continue to grow. The new location employs an additional 18 servers, cooks and staff, doubling Slice’s original count to almost 40 employees.
Melissa executes marketing campaigns that appeal not only to the students they serve, but reflect the generosity of Atlanta’s restaurant industry, like the one-day pop-up event Slice hosted for a friend’s South of Heaven BBQ catering company.
“We hosted and marketed the event for them and called it Slice of Heaven,” says Melissa. “The response was fantastic. At least half of the 300 customers we targeted for the event showed up for pizza and BBQ. It helped his business, too!”
Bracey encourages Melissa’s campaign approach. “There is no shortage of marketing ideas, but there is never enough time to execute all of them. I challenge Melissa to prioritize her ideas and focus on the right ones for her business.”
Slice’s success is reflected in where Melissa now focuses her marketing, like the Slice Atlanta app she developed for mobile devices.
“We’re a self-made machine. Before the SBDC, we learned largely by trial and error, and we had a few of those errors along the way,” she says. “Fortunately, we have Jeff and Erica to lean on. We can ask, do you think we’re doing the right thing? They understand what I’m saying and make concise suggestions on how to approach it. They really, legitimately want to help.”