Katie Oberthaler
Mar 18, 2019 · 4 min read
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Credit: What Up Dough

How a Well-Loved Local Pizzeria Scaled Its Grassroots Following

If you’re a small business owner, you’re probably trading on your reputation in your local area and have spent as much time as you can growing awareness in your neighborhood.

Dedicating the right time or budget to expand that following, however, is a different story.

For big brands, the path is easy: hire sales and marketing teams, throw money at PR campaigns and advertisements, or open new, advantageous locations.

When trying to scale a small business upwards — whether by opening new locations or growing your existing customer base — those kinds of sales and marketing resources are often out of reach.

So how do you scale up a grassroots local following to drive new business without losing the integrity of your brand (or losing your mind trying to get it all done)?

What Up Dough Pizzeria, a pizzeria in the greater Detroit area, also faced this challenge when trying to expand its customer base beyond its existing local following.

Owner Mike Hami had already found a way to differentiate his business in the region. Coming from a family of restaurateurs, Hami used his mother and grandmother’s Iraqi family recipes as inspiration for his signature sauce and dough. Although inspired by Middle Eastern cuisines, the business was pure Michigan: The name “What Up Dough,” is a direct reference to a regional greeting across the state.

Combining his family recipes with regional culture, Hami had created a strong local identity. The pies’ unexpected flavors, varied menu items, and association with Michigan pop culture brought in customers from around the state.

Even with regional support, Hami still needed to continue to grow awareness for What Up Dough. Because he operates one location, he also needed to find other ways to bring customers back to the store.

He didn’t need to expand his actual storefront — so Hami began to think about how he could expand beyond the storefront and package the pizzeria’s offerings with new types of digital sales to reach customers online.

Starting in summer 2017, Hami began using automatic selling tools that included big brand partnerships. Specifically, he used automatic Facebook ads, email blasts, and in-store flyers at the same time that branded and promoted What Up Dough directly alongside Nordstrom and Amazon.com.

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Example of a What Up Dough Facebook ad.
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Example of a What Up Dough in-store flyer.

Hami found that this type of sales approach brought two benefits for his business. First, customers had a new incentive to visit the restaurant. He was also now able to reach potential customers through three different avenues — online, email, and in-store — without spending a huge chunk of his day on setting up sales and marketing/advertising himself.

As a result of these ads:

  • 70,000 people were exposed to What Up Dough’s business
  • 400 new people signed up to receive emails from What Up Dough

Although any small business can run online ads if they have enough time, Hami specifically credits brand partnerships as accelerating his business growth.

“Aligning with big brands builds trust and credibility,” said Hami. “The campaigns made it super easy to grow awareness in my local community.”

The most striking thing about Hami’s approach is that he was able to run a brand awareness initiative without having to spend time creating ad graphics, becoming an expert in Facebook ads, or negotiating partnership terms himself.

That freed up his time to keep focusing on the day-to-day operations of running What Up Dough — and servicing the new customers who visited the store based on the ads.

Scaling up a small business through online brand partnerships helps accelerate customer awareness in a way that is tough to do individually. You’ve already got the knowledge and expertise to showcase what truly makes your business competitive in your neighborhood or region. Partnership selling broadens the customer base that knows about your business’ distinct characteristics by leveraging the resources and clout of national brands.


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