Ilir Sela knows pizza. Growing up with both parents and grandparents in the pizza business in New York City, Sela had the experience needed to merge local pizza and technology like no one has done before.
"I launched in 2010, originally [called] MyPizza.com, with the sole purpose of uniting local pizza – getting all these owners under one platform to be able to work together, learn from each other and leverage economies of scale to win against the big chains," he said.
MyPizza.com has since evolved into Slice, a sleek app that connects local pizzerias with customers through the familiarity and convenience of online ordering. However, winning against big pizza will be no small task. The top chains currently hold the majority of the market, making up nearly 60 percent of U.S. pizza sales. With more than 75,000 pizza joints across the nation, there's ample opportunity to turn the tide, and Sela has already made progress by differentiating Slice from other online ordering apps and focusing on pizzerias outside big cities.
What makes Slice different
In the age of delivery apps such as Seamless, Grubhub and Uber Eats, Sela was able to differentiate his platform by meeting the different needs for the business owner and consumer. From a local business perspective, delivery apps live and die on their ability to bring in new customers. After all, that's the advantage of these apps – they tap into a whole base of users who otherwise may never find your restaurant. But this incentivizes the delivery apps to send customers to as many new businesses as possible, which may not always mean sending them back to your business. On top of not prioritizing your restaurant regularly, delivery apps take a 10 to 20 percent cut of the sale, which can be backbreaking for an industry where margins are already tight.
Instead of focusing on discovery and aggregation, Slice takes a different approach to pizza ordering. It prioritizes routine and local customers instead of just pulling in new buyers.
"We don't have any incentive to take you as a customer who's ordered from one pizzeria and then rotate you to other restaurants," Sela said. "Our job is not only to shift restaurants to digital, but then to empower the consumers to reorder and get a lot of value from the platform."
This repeat customer idea is a direct reflection of the industry Slice serves. Weekly pizza nights are a staple among American communities, especially in the Northeast. A 2018 Pizza Consumer Trend Report found that 43 percent of Americans eat pizza once a week. Pizza is a business of repeat customers, and Slice doesn't get in the way of that. Rather, it provides a platform for these shops to do what they're already good at: produce quality products and retain customers.
Most successful pizzerias are not found in urban areas. Sela realized this, and Slice has a presence in more than 2,800 suburban towns and small cities. This is a major departure from other delivery applications, which focus mainly on urban areas. Instead, this pits Slice against mobile ordering platforms from the likes of Domino's and Papa John's, which is an area of the market Sela is looking to address.
To keep things competitive for business owners, Slice doesn't take a percentage of each sale. Instead, it charges a flat $1.95 fee per order, regardless of how much money a customer spends. This makes it a lucrative platform for business owners and consumers alike.
A platform designed for small business
Slice isn't looking to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it's trying to provide new tools to make an existing thing even better. Sela said local shops receive orders through email or fax when they partner with Slice, which has been the easiest way for owners to get up and running on the platform. As Slice has grown, it's offered a POS integration option and an in-store hub. There's also an owner's app where shop owners can track sales through Slice.
While these tools are helpful to many pizzerias, the real power lies in the data. By tracking orders through Slice, Sela said pizzerias can better connect with customers and increase repeat business. For example, Slice has found that if a customer doesn't return to a pizzeria within 14 days of their last visit, there's an 80 percent chance they'll never return. With this type of information in mind, owners can issue discounts or incentives to build repeat visits.SliceCredit: Slice
The importance of differentiation
Slice's story stands out because, while it exists in an arena where several big players exist already, its ability to differentiate itself through meeting consumer needs has allowed it to succeed. There are several methods to buy a pizza, and Slice is the only one that provides both the consumer and the business owner with the biggest gains. By removing ideas about your competition and building your business to meet the needs of the customers you care about, you, too, can stand out from the crowd.
For Slice, nothing is more evident of this idea than in how Sela thinks about his company.
"We want to make sure that the small business is more successful after working with us than prior to working with us."