Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Aurelio's uses Facebook to succeed at launching a new restaurant

Meet Kirk Mauriello, COO of Aurelio's. He is responsible for overseeing day-today operations, as well as the franchise operations development program, including new franchisee approval and development agreements, site selection and real estate, new restaurant development and training and support services. Prior to this, he served as strategic accounts sales director for Wesco Distribution Inc. of Pittsburgh and before that as a utility sales specialist.

Kirk recently chatted with PMQ about the success of their Peoria, IL store opening of Aurelio's and how social media made all the difference. 

Q: You recently launched Aurelio's in Peoria, IL. How successful was this launch?
The launch of our Aurelio’s Peoria location was one of our best new restaurant openings in company history. We had such a great response from the residents of Peoria and the surrounding suburbs -- more than 2,300 people dined with us in the first week. It’s even more impressive when you consider that this is the first launch for us in a market like Peoria, which is an independent city (not attached to a major metropolitan area) with a population of less than 122,000.

At the grand opening in Peoria
Q: How big a part did Facebook play in this?
Facebook is the platform we’ve been using lately when announcing a new restaurant.  The reason is that Aurelio's Facebook reach is far and wide –we have almost 27,000 fans.  We were able to promote the new Peoria location to all Facebook users in the Peoria area. And, we had more than 800 Facebook fans for the Peoria store page the first weekend we announced we were even coming. Now, we have more than 2,200 Facebook fans in Peoria.  The great part was we were able to create the Peoria Facebook page months before the grand opening. We used this as an “Aurelio’s Peoria news central” to educate our soon-to-be customers and build the excitement around our opening day. Plus, more than one-way advertising, on Facebook we had our fans talking about why they were excited we were coming – unsolicited endorsements.

Q: What else contributed to the success?
Aurelio’s Pizza opened in 1959. We have a 55-year history and an iconic brand. Years of strong brand equity always help with any opening. But, additionally, Peoria has a lot of transplanted Chicagoans. In fact, John and Sara Roach who are our Peoria location franchise owners have a history with us that dated back to John’s college days eating Aurelio’s Pizza. Lastly, we had fortunate timing. People in Peoria were craving a better pizza restaurant experience along with the famous Aurelio's Pizza.

Q: Let's talk more about how you raised awareness for the new restaurant using the Facebook page?
As you know, it’s not easy to instantly create likes for a new Facebook page. We used our corporate Facebook page and other established store Facebook pages to announce the Peoria location. We made posts asking our fans to share the news with friends and family on Facebook that lived in the Peoria area. These were the most successfully shared posts we had ever had.

Q: What sort of content did you post to engage?
We immediately started posting photos of our many menu items.  We also posted facts about Aurelio's Pizza and historical things.  And, because we did have brand awareness, we asked our new fans to engage with us by telling us their stories of Aurelio's Pizza.

Big smiles at the opening of the Peoria store
Q: Tell me more about how Joe's Rewards works and how did you use that with Facebook?
We are in the midst of revamping our Joe Rewards program – which is our loyalty program – so we didn't use that program specifically in Peoria. What we did use was our Email Club people could sign up for on Facebook.  We collected email addresses and sent special VIP invites to all the fans that joined the Email Club. These VIPs were invited to dine at the Peoria restaurant before we opened to the general public. So, they were the first ones in Peoria to experience us.

Q: I really like this idea that you held a soft-opening for Facebook fans as an exclusive treat. How did this work?
It tied so well to Facebook because our Peoria Facebook fans could sign up for our Email Club. Once we had their email, we sent exclusive email invites that invited our fans to try Aurelio’s on one of three nights before the general public could. Today, everyone is looking for that value-add or something extra. This helped us reward the people that decided to “like” Aurelio’s Peoria on Facebook first.

Q: How did the social media fans being first to try impact your grand opening?
The grand opening was the smoothest opening we have ever had.  It allowed us to control the crowds the first few days.  Our staff was able to perform without the type of pressure that our past grand openings had experienced. And, in addition, we got a lot of buzz. The thing about people who are active on Facebook is that they are active on Facebook. They were having an experience that was exclusive. It was natural to post about it. It really helped us build anticipation from the general public. And, our Peoria location is still doing great.

Q: What advice would you give to other pizzerias not yet on social media?
Social Media is one of the best ways to reach consumers with your brand because it’s the new word of mouth. You can deepen what your brand means to consumers through photos, interesting facts, information about locations, news articles or anything that you think might be of interest to consumers. You learn the most and get the best response when you engage with customers without pushing offers or specials.  Become a part of their everyday life with things that are relevant to them and including your brand and Social Media will be a win for you.