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The pizza publisher.

The Pizza Publisher

Why is Pizza Today, the only trade magazine for the pizza industry, published in Santa Claus?

The tiny, old German town of Santa Claus in the hilly outback of southwestern Indiana is the unlikely home of America's pizza bible.

With its population of 600 and zero pizzerias, Santa Claus is hardly the Big Pepperoni. But this is where Pizza Today, the only trade magazine catering exclusively to the ever-burgeoning, multibillion dollar pizza industry, was created. That's because Santa Claus is where Gerry Durnell, an erstwhile creative director for Abbey Press in nearby St. Meinrad, opened his Pizza Parlor in 1981.

Ownership of the (now-closed) six-booth, one-oven establishment led Durnell to look, mostly in vain, for solutions to pressing pizza problems. Which toppings? What oven? Which suppliers? The pizza business, as he saw it, needed a good clearinghouse for ideas, especially aimed at the myriad of independently owned establishments.

What was known to work--and what wouldn't--was not an unknown. To Durnell, such information and counsel--others' sweat equity and ongoing innovations--were marketable commodities. Often frustrated by his own trial-and-error routine, he turned the Pizza Parlor into a veritable pizza think tank, decided there was a niche for a publication geared solely to the pizza market, and published the first issue of Pizza Today in October 1983.

"There's no substitute for knowledge," says the garrulous, 46-year-old Springfield, Mo., native. "I think what set us aside in publishing was the aspect of hands-on familiarity. The Pizza Parlor was ideal."

So also was a mailing list of about 28,000 names that he bought from the publisher of The Pizza Maker, a small, defunct pizza publication out of Raleigh, N.C. The resultant Pizza Today is now a 6-year-old who's who and how-to trade book for those in the pizza business.

A lot are. Pizzeria sales now amount to a nearly 13 percent slice of the more than $100 billion restaurant trade. According to the G.D.R. Crest Report, a restaurant research service, pizzeria traffic increased 13.8 percent in 1986 and 9.1 percent in 1987, while the overall restaurant figures were 2.1 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively, for the same period. Moreover, Recount, another industry survey tool, shows pizza outlets increasing nearly 15 percent to 41,000 from 1985 to 1987.

Pizza Today's existence is probably a testimonial to our industry's success, observes Roger Rydell, director of public relations for Wichita, Kan.-headquartered Pizza Hut, Inc. "There are more pizza outlets today than hamburger places.

"You could say that Pizza Today is a mainstay around here," adds Rydell. "Everyone reads it and subscribes to it. We also submit (industry-trend information) to it. There's a lot of value in a publication dedicated only to our industry."

Adds Indianapolis-based Noble Roman's vice president of marketing, Scott Mobley: "It's a good source of general industry information for us on vendors and trends in service and products. It also helps us keep tabs on the competition. They do a good job down there."

Durnell's slick, full-color monthly regularly runs well beyond 100 pages and averages a 60 percent-to-40 percent editorial-to-advertising ratio. It circulates, he says, to some 40,000 subscribers--from Pizza Hut franchises and Papa Gino's chains to neighborhood independents. Advertisers range from cheese, signage and display-cabinet companies to oven manufacturers, dough conditioners, topping makers and pizza cutters. For exposure that includes the United States and 28 other countries, they'll pay from $3,000 to nearly $4,000 for a four-color page; more than $5,000 for a color cover; and more than $9,000 for a color center spread.

"Pizza Today addresses a marketplace that no other publication does," states Michelle Wibel, manager of advertising and market research for Fort Wayne-based Lincoln Foodservice Products, Inc., a $43.5 million operation.

"They're really the only vehicle that reaches the pizza market. They fill that niche. That's why we advertise. We've also generated lots of good leads from their trade show."

Indeed, Pizza Today is not Durnell's only enterprise. It's merely the flagship and main profit center for what is now a synergistic $3.5 million operation.

In 1983, Durnell also founded--and still runs--the National Association of Pizza Operators, a fountainhead of facts and services, including special insurance, a "pizza hotline" and worker's compensation dividends. Each year since 1984, NAPO has sponsored a Pizza Expo, now an annual trade show-and-tell, Las Vegas, Nev. Starting this fall, NAPO will add a regional show in Orlando, Fla. Durnell hopes to do two or three such regionals a year in addition to the annual expo in Las Vegas, which is now booked through 2001.

"One reinforces the other," points out Durnell. The synergy is evident in the number of exhibitors who are also Pizza Today advertisers. Many of the attendees are also Pizza Today subscribers. "We're not just a club looking for members," underscores Durnell. "Ideas are the mainstay of what we sell."

Durnell also has been publishing Catering Today magazine since 1986. Aimed at a market considerably less well-defined than pizza, Catering Today is hardly the revenue source that Pizza Today is, Durnell acknowledges.

For three years, Durnell ran his fledgling Pizza Today magazine out of the Pizza Parlor's back room. In 1986, he moved the operation to its present location on a 13-acre, mostly wooded site.

Part of his recipe for success, he says, was his hands-on, workaholic way. "In the early going, you have to be willing--and capable--to do as many functions as possible yourself," he emphasizes.

But that approach, adds Durnell, also ensures frustration. "I'm happiest when I'm building and creating," he says, "whether it's a graphics concept or floor plans for expansion. I have a very high mechanical aptitude, and I get frustrated not spending more time fixing and building things."

As Pizza Today's big cheese, Durnell now presides over operations at the modest, 5,500-square-foot, cedar-wood headquarters of Protech Publishing and Communications, Inc. He has 35 full-time employees and the in-house capacity to do all preprinting production work. Some $400,000 worth of camera, scanner and computer equipment dots the cramped, two-floor facility. Plans now call for adding another 1,000 square feet for office space, says Durnell.

Although the old Pizza Parlor is now used for trade-show storage, the benefits of on-site, hands-on wherewithal are not gone for good, says Durnell. He plans to initiate a practice this spring whereby he and his key staff people--replete with aprons and hats--will visit cooperating pizza establishments, typically independents, to work and to learn.

The forays will also help keep Pizza Today in editorial fodder. Generating copy has not been a problem, says Durnell, but he vividly remembers a comment by a printer before Pizza Today's debut issue. "Looks good," observed the printer, "but now what? Can you keep writing about pizza every month?"

That was more than 60 issues ago.

"Oh, it's a challenge to say something new and different," concedes Durnell. "But like an onion, you keep finding more and more layers to this business."

Pizza Today readers are served a diet of regular features, such as "Pizza Maker of the Month," "Pizza Pacesetters," "Pizza Promotions," "Pasta Primer (often exotic)," "Pizza De Resistance" and even "Pizza Funnies." There are also surveys, marketing tips, news briefs, new products, regional resources and classified ads. Lists, such as the top 25 franchises and chains, are popular staples, as are charts and graphs and the "Hands on, How to" pieces spanning subjects from equipment troubleshooting to vinyl repair. Recent articles, roughly half of which are written by free-lancers, ranged from AIDS in the workplace, pizza in school-lunch programs and alcohol-serving pizzerias to pizza around the world, espressos and cappuccinos and seating-arrangement success stories.

"When they started, their editorial content was pretty ho-hum," recalls Dave Peters, vice president for sales and marketing at Pocino, Inc., the Los Angeles-based pizza-topping company. "And I still think it could be more sophisticated and their research could improve. But each year, they've gotten better. They're hitting their stride now," he thinks.

"It's a very focused publication, and that's its strength, but I'm even surprised sometimes to see it filled up each month," notes Burke Cueny, director of national advertising for Domino's Pizza in Ann Arbor, Mich. "But there's a lot happening in this business."

Today's pizza may be baked in a wood-burning oven and feature a whole-wheat crust. It may be laden with veggies or shrimp or chicken and delivered in special oven-equipped vehicles. It may be served restaurant-style or sold like fast food. Or frozen. Its appeal is to the purist as well as the halfbaked.

But it's all pragmatic pizza, too. "Pizza sales have shown double-digit growth through the `80s, with (similar) projections through the `90s," notes Durnell. "It's really the number one fun food in America."

And it really lends itself to some fun food for thought, reminds Durnell. He's also heard the reports about a Chicago pizza-trade slick slated to start publication early this year. A rapid growth industry inevitably becomes a beacon to would-be competitors. Publishing's major domo of dough isn't about to venerate the status quo.

"It's hard to imagine," says Durnell, "but maybe the world could do without pizza."

But don't expect to read about it in Pizza Today.

PHOTO : Gerry Durnell publishes Pizza Today magazine, America's pizza bible, from Santa Claus, a

PHOTO : town with no pizzerias.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Gerry Durnell of "Pizza Today" periodical
Author:O'Neill, Joe
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:company profile
Date:Mar 1, 1989
Words:1557
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