Originally published in Rutgers-Camden School of Business's newspaper, Minding Your Busine$$ Spring 2011 Issue 2.
Ever wonder about the people behind the local businesses you pass by every day? Many of us patronize these businesses without ever knowing anything about their history or owners. I had the pleasure of speaking with two such businesses that are located in our campus neighborhood, Slice of New York.
About the owner:
Pete Toso was born in New York City. He is a graduate of Manhattan College, with a double major in Marketing and Management Information Systems.
When did you open your business?
How many pizzas do you make per day?
On a slow day, I make about 50 pizzas. The highest number I've made in a single day is 180.
How did you wind up in Camden, New Jersey?
I started out working for a furniture company in New York. I started when I was 16 and worked my way up. Twelve years later, the company was planning to expand so I opted to build a new store. Shortly thereafter, the economy began to slip in 1988. My wife and I relocated to New Jersey. Fortunately, we had bought the location in Camden in the late 80's as an investment property, just before the downturn.
What inspired you to open a pizza shop?
Back in the late 80's and early 90's, there was a lot of opportunity. We knew college kids liked pizza and since we're right across the street we capitalized on that. At the time, there were about 5,500 students at Rutgers. We identified the major employers – General Electric and City Hall - and calculated that there were about 15,000 people in the city on any given day.
When you first started, how did you market your company?
Word of mouth drives the most traffic to us. We're at a convenient location so that's a great help. The only thing I've changed over time is that I do a lot of sponsoring for events now. I also donate food to charities.
What are your biggest challenges?
My observation has been since '92, the student population has grown by 1,000. However, disposable income of the average student has shrunk. Additionally, the population of the city in general is very transitional. I'm always seeing new faces when the semester begins. Unfortunately, there's a negative perception about Camden. If I was to try to sell my business, I'd have a difficult time because of the location. Last, we have few supply resources in the area. For example, there are only two hardware stores in Camden, neither of them are a Home Depot or Lowe's. If you need something you frequently have to travel outside of the city. If you're already outside of the city, then you won't make a special trip into Camden to get what you want.
Is there anything that you would have done differently?
Unfortunately, I was a bit shortsighted when I bought the location. It's a great spot, don't get me wrong, but if I wanted to expand and have someone manage this shop, it would be a very tough position to fill. People believe every area in Camden is unsafe. As inaccurate as that is, they still think that way.
What advice would you give to students looking to start their own businesses one day?
I would offer six thoughts.
1. The first rule of real estate – location, location, location.
2. Be aware of city politics.
3. Numbers don't lie – find out how they apply to you.
4. You need at least 12 to 18 months of monetary reserves until the business can sustain itself.
5. You have to pay yourself last. First you have to take care of the business – the rent, taxes, utilities, and then you have to pay your employees.
6. Your employees will reflect your management style. If you don't care about your own business, they certainly won't either.
What do you like most about owning your own business?
This is my life. I work 70 hours a week and I like being my own boss.