Ishrat Mehdi probably gets asked more questions about Santa at this time of the year than any parent. The founder of a chain of fast food outlets across the North West of England called Santa’s Pizzas; it’s not surprising that his business tends to get a lot of brand recognition at Christmas time. The name of his business came about by accident but by purchasing the relevant domain names Ishrat has made it even more distinctive as he’s moved it online.
Q1. Ishrat, tell us a little bit about your business Santa’s Pizzas?
Santa’s Pizza is a small chain of fast food outlets in the North West of England. We make and sell pizzas, kebabs and burgers and each branch operates as a takeaway but also offers a delivery service.
Q2. The name is definitely an unusual one as it’s specific to the festive season. Is there a story behind it being called Santa’s Pizzas?
There definitely is a story. In 1990 I started part-time work as a delivery driver at a new pizza shop that had just opened in Burnley. The owner of the shop was a Jordanian man who had spent some years living in America. He’d just moved to Burnley and decided to set up a pizza takeaway. Unfortunately his spoken and written English wasn’t great. He would send me to the Cash and Carry with a shopping list that would say ‘browns’ for instance and when I couldn’t make any sense of it and rang him to clarify he told me he meant ‘prawns!’
He decided to order a large sign to go on the exterior of the shop and gave the details to the company over the telephone. When it arrived he was speechless. He had intended to call the business ‘Pizza Centre’ but there before him was a laughing Santa sitting proudly on a sign that said ‘Pizza Santa.’ As you can imagine there were a lot of raised voices and some ripe language! Nevertheless the shop was begrudgingly named ‘Pizza Santa’. (Try it in an American accent. It’s a mistake easily made.)
Q3. How did you end up running the business?
I studied Business and Finance at Burnley College and then graduated from the University of North London again having studied Business and Finance. Throughout my college and university years, to earn extra cash I worked part-time at the said Pizza Santa shop. As I was about to graduate the owner told me that the business had not worked out as he had hoped and that he was looking to sell. I had worked at Pizza Santa for several years and knew that it had potential – the food sector was a sector that was always going to be there. It was an opportunity for me to put the theory of what I had learned on my courses into practice, so I seized it and in October 1993 at the tender age of 21, I acquired Pizza Santa and started my own business. My father was not too happy. As a graduate he was expecting me to get a good office job and wear a shirt and tie and instead I was wearing an apron and serving kebabs to late night revellers.
Q4. Does the name help gain you extra publicity or orders at this time of the year?
As you can imagine a name like Pizza Santa is unique and once we purchased the business, we made the most of the name, from Pizza Santa, the shop became known as Santa’s. We received great publicity from the local papers and once the story about how we got the name was heard around town, it really helped the business prosper.
Although we do focus on extra marketing during this festive period to help boost business – and I’m sure the name plays its part – generally I feel that because our branches are in small towns, it’s more about building a community regular customers. Whereas in cities you get your regulars and a lot of visitors, we’ve managed to create a really loyal customer base.
Q5. As a chain of takeaways why did you decide you needed to be online and how did you set up your website? What were the important things you wanted to achieve?
Very early on, we decided we needed a website. We managed to acquire the domain name santaspizza.com. The website was done by a local designer and was very basic but it let potential customers know who we were, what we did and where they could find us.
Q6. How did you find out about Easyspace and why did you choose them to host your website?
After having issues with our original hosting company, we transferred our hosting to Easyspace. We felt we needed a more reliable and professional company to host our site, hence we chose Easyspace.
Q7. How has the website helped improve your business?
Initially our website was basic but times were changing and e-commerce was becoming a bigger part of our lives. We teamed up with a Manchester based company called Integer; they had provided epos systems for our branches. They had developed some software, where customers could order online and the order would integrate to our epos system at the branches. We knew that online ordering would become the most common way of ordering a pizza, so as Integer developed their software, we were one of the first ones to acquire it.
Q8. You offer reward points – how does that work and why do you think it’s important to offer the points?
Customer can order online and when they do, they receive loyalty points. Once they have collected enough points, they can exchange the points for free food. It’s a good way to encourage customer loyalty by giving them something back for being regulars.
Q9. How did you go about securing the domain names you needed and how did Easyspace help?
We have regular contact from Easyspace so we are notified quickly when new domains become available. Over the years we have acquired a number of domains such as .co.uk also .co and .uk.
Q10. You recently bought one of the new domains .pizza, why and how do you plan to use it?
Recently Easyspace notified us that .pizza had become available and we gave them the go ahead to acquire that for us. The .pizza name is an interesting domain as the name santas.pizza would be ideal for marketing and having this domain means customers can get to our website by just entering our actual business name.
Q11. You also get your web hosting from Easyspace.
Yes we’ve been with Easyspace for a while. We’ve got the Easyspace Starter Plus package which gives us 10GB of web space, 5 databases and 100 mailboxes. Now that we receive so many orders online through our website, it’s very important for us to have a hosting company which provides an excellent service and helps us avoid unnecessary downtime. Also, if there is the odd issue, the Easyspace support team is on hand to get it resolved quickly.
Q12. You play a big role in the local community – how important do you think that is for a business?
Playing a positive and active role in the local community where you live or work is paramount for me and my business. It can be used as a means of marketing but more than that it’s a means of putting something back into the community that you are a part of. We have always supported and will continue to support local events, organisations and charities. It doesn’t always have to be large amounts of money; it can be something as small as a free meal for a raffle.
We feel obliged to do our little bit locally, nationally and internationally.
Q13. You also use social media for the business – what social media do you use and why it is so important?
We have a Facebook page for our customers, on this we can interact and let them know about the latest news and offers. It’s a means of engaging with them not only at a business level but also at a social level. We have set up a Twitter account but have yet to promote or use it.
Q14. Who helps spread the Santa’s Pizza message over Christmas?
I don’t dress up as Santa but he always appears whenever we need him…
We close our branches three days a year, on the two Eid’s and on Christmas Day when, in the evening, we treat all the staff to a lovely meal at a restaurant in Manchester. As a family we may not celebrate Christmas Day but we certainly look forward to and make the most of it.
Q15. What are you plans for the future?
Being in the fast food business for over 20 years is amazing, it’s like I have worked in it for 40 years. Most businesses are challenging but the fast food sector is a challenge in itself. The amount of time, energy and effort required is unbelievable. For me it’s important to focus on the present and just glimpse at the future. The business has developed into a family affair with several of my relatives running the different branches. What we want to do now is consolidate what we have achieved and manage our time effectively so that there is work time, family time and personal time. If we can do that then the future will take care of itself.