Introducing a new product is always difficult especially when it is a new riff on an American favorite.
This has not stopped three Italian-Americans who are trying to re-invent pizza with a product one saw in Italy.
Carlo Ruggiero saw the Kono Pizza cone concept while on a trip to Italy and loved it. It wasn't a franchise in Italy and wasn't a quick-service restaurant, but he and his two partners instantly saw the vision of Kono Pizza as a franchise and knew it would do well in the U.S.
Raising private funding Ruggiero, David Ragosa, and Greg Kinlaw set about introducing a whole new pizza experience.
Kono Pizza is a cone-shaped crust filled with fresh, Italian ingredients, giving consumers an on-the-go alternative to their favorite food.
The trio believe their product will appeal to American palates because its thinner crust and low-moisture cheese cuts calories (450 calories vs. 250 calories) and reduces the amount of carbs and grease in the dish. This approach in turn allows customers to experience less of the guilt that comes as a result of satisfying a pizza craving.
The task is not an easy one.
Consumer education has been a part of the brand recognition challenge, people aren't used to seeing pizza in a cone and do not necessarily understand how to eat it.
Most consumers think it are a traditional pizza store and when they see a Kono Pizza cone they are taken aback, until they try it.
Currently, brand recognition is the biggest challenge for Kono Pizza. However, the three partners report they have had great success in developing the franchising of this new product.
Ruggiero says they currently have 15 units in the development pipeline including locations for Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, California and Nebraska. They are mainly focused on growth in the Northeast as well as Florida and California, but are interested in expanding in all areas nationwide.
Among the other challenges they face are:
- Growing a business from the ground up,
- Entering a new industry and creating a system for their franchisees.
- Finding funding for franchisees. Being a smaller company it’s hard to get the attention of financial institutions in order for partners to fund their new business.
They are attacking these challenges on a systematic basis. Each challenge requires a different solution. The good part is having three partners that work together, they aver. Each is focused on a particular part of the brand and devote 100 percent of their time to that element respectively.
Ruggiero says “We made the conscientious decision to regulate the growth of our business so that we aren’t stretching ourselves too thin.”
“Personality and positive attitude are key factors for us when finding both employees and franchise partners. We want to find the people who are passionate about the Kono Pizza brand coupled with a willingness and desire to learn and improve daily. The operations of the business can be taught, but a person’s personality and positive attitude cannot,” he adds.
The trio offers this this advice to other entrepreneurs:
- Never give up and never quit, once you do, you have lost.
- Starting a business is not a sprint, it’s an ultra-marathon. Because of this, perseverance and determination is what separates a person from dreaming about a better future, and
- A good, ethical, sound business acumen.
- Have the ability to tolerate risk, live with uncertainty and push through a crucible of obstacles for years on end.
- Don’t focus solely on making money, it can cloud your judgment and prevent you from achieving the success you want.