300px foxs pizza den logo svg Pizza and the ROI of Community

I’m sitting here after having shoveled about a foot of snow outside, knowing that I might have to shovel up to another foot later. It’s been that kind of winter around here. All the schools and many businesses are closed. I’ve been out on the roads twice and it’s like a ghost town here in Lancaster.

It’s during times like these that we learn what people are made of, in terms of how they reach out and help one another. It’s also a great time to discover what some businesses are made of. And as I peruse my Facebook feed I see quite a few random acts of kindness, both from individuals and businesses.

One particular local business has been on my radar for some time, and I recently sat down to talk to the owner to learn more about what he has been doing. Bill Brown is the owner of the local Fox’s Pizza Den in Willow Street, PA. While it is a franchise in a national chain, the individual owners have a lot of freedom to do a lot on their own, and are encouraged to become active in their local communities.

What first caught my attention from Bill was a post in early January that was getting shared around Facebook during one of our snow storms. It turns out Bill saw another Fox’s Pizza Den in Western PA do something like this, and he decided to follow suit. He figured he had drivers out on the road, why not let them deliver something other than just pizza, as a service to area residents.

While no one took him up on the offer, it generated a lot of good will, and as you can see, lots of likes, shares, and comments, all of which were positive. And his insights and other Facebook numbers began to skyrocket.

Then a month later, we had a big ice storm on the east coast, that caused a lot of power outages in the region, including more than 40,000 customers losing power right in our county. Brown woke up to no power in his house, so initially, he posted on Facebook that the restaurant would be closed. Then when he discovered there was power at the store, he made what he called a “no brainer” decision to open, and do something special: offer free meals, either in store or delivery, to those without power. While they had been just a delivery business for decades, he had just opened up a seating area with a pizza buffet.

Again, a great reaction, and he ended up feeding a lot of people for free, which of course means him losing money. At least in the short term. They had people calling asking them to help neighbors who were in need. And they served the members of their community until they ran out of food, and continued doing this for a few days.

What took Bill and his staff by surprise was what happened next. People started showing up in the days that followed, bringing in large groups of people to eat and pay. Business started to increase, as did the numbers on Facebook. One woman stopped in and asked to speak to Bill, saying:

“I’m not here to eat. I want to talk to you. I want to thank you for what you did.”

And with that, handed him $100 to help cover his losses. Others showed up with checks to help him out, and support him with their business. One of his vendors came into to thank him, saying:

“You might not know this, but you fed my parents last night.”

Did they lose money? Yes, but again in the short term. In the long run, Bill’s kindness has paid off, despite only owning this store for about two years

“We made the commitment several months ago to get really involved in the community.”

This has included feeding the entire H.S. football squad for free, feeding firefighters busy working through the ice storm, and more. But the social media part of this didn’t come easy. Bill is in that demographic that is the last to start thinking about Facebook: men over 50 years old. But with the help of some of his employees, and the guidance of other more seasoned Fox’s owners, he has muddled through, experimented, and is doing an admirable job. His Facebook page has become a monument to positivity and kindness.

In fact, while I was there sitting and chatting with Bill, a local businessman called up on the phone and told them that he wanted to pay for the meals of anyone who sitting there eating lunch at the time. All because of Bill’s kindness and contribution to the community.

And Bill’s Facebook page has become a community where people gather to support one another, and to thank Bill for all he does. The one thing that sort of took Bill by surprise was the need to really pay attention to your online presence and monitor it:

“You have to really be aware and monitor. And reply personally to people.”

Bill provides great customer service. He is building relationships with members of his community And he knows that while he might make mistakes, once you have a relationship, it’s easier to come back from those mistakes.

For Bill Brown, it’s simple:

“This is what we’re supposed to do.”

He says that as business owners we have a responsibility. First to our employees, to make sure they are safe in these situations, and then to our communities. In his words, this is “what were supposed to do.”

We can learn a lot from Bill and how he runs his business. He understands the ROI of being social and community minded, even though it might not be easily measurable. And a big part of that is having the right mindset, and doing these things because it’s the right thing to do, not because of any return on investment.

So if you’re ever in the Lancaster area, stop on by Fox’s Pizza Den down in Willow Street, and say, “Hi!” to Bill. And feel free to like his page and show your support.

Have you ever seen a small business go the extra mile and do this sort of thing?