In the competitive world of restaurant franchises, one pizzeria stands out from the rest. Seattle-based MOD Pizza has claimed the title of the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the United States. With a stunning 80% year-over-year growth, one of the key factors behind its meteoric rise is MOD’s unique approach to bringing on new employees, known as “impact hiring.”
Impact hiring emphasizes providing opportunities for individuals who face barriers to employment, such as those with autism, or people with intellectual or physical disabilities. This strategy has not only created a more inclusive work environment and loyal workforce but also played a significant role in positioning MOD Pizza as an industry leader. “These individuals became so committed. Their work ethic was incredible, and this translated into pretty tremendous customer service,” co-founder Ally Svenson told Business Insider.
MOD Pizza further sets itself apart from the competition with its unique one-price model. Customers appreciate the simplicity and transparency of paying a single price for their custom pizzas, regardless of the number of toppings they choose — taking away any of the frustration associated with calculating the final cost of a pizza. Then the final piece of MOD’s competitive advantage is something that is especially relevant when high inflation is driving up the cost of living: Affordability.
Making a Difference
MOD Pizza was founded right in the middle of the great recession in Seattle by Ally and Scott Svenson in 2008. The couple leveraged their background in the food and beverage industry after founding the Seattle Coffee Company in the UK, which was later acquired by Starbucks for about $90 million.
“It’s not a logical time to open a restaurant or to launch a business. But we used it to our advantage,” Ally Svenson said. Their vision for MOD Pizza was to create a fast-casual dining experience where customers could enjoy customized, artisan-style pizzas at an affordable price. The focus on affordability was designed to meet the needs of recession-era customers looking for both value and socially conscious companies to support.
That meant the company’s mission extended beyond just serving good food — they wanted to build a brand that valued its employees and made a positive impact on the community. MOD’s dedication to impact hiring, among other initiatives, has played a significant role in its growth. At last count, MOD Pizza had 561 stores, over 2,500 employees, and system-wide sales of $398 million.
The Impact Hiring Approach
One crucial aspect of impact hiring is recruiting employees with disabilities. A more inclusive work environment fosters a positive and diverse company culture, and paves the way for innovation. Employees with different abilities can bring fresh perspectives and ideas to help drive the company forward.
Hiring employees with autism has strengthened the MOD team and expanded its talent pool. These employees often possess unique skill sets, such as attention to detail and expertise in specific areas, that can be valuable assets to MOD Pizza.
The company provides all employees, known as “MOD squaders,” with competitive wages and a comprehensive benefits packages: A starting pay of at least $13.51 per hour, full healthcare insurance, paid time off, and access to an emergency fund. MOD Pizza’s focus on employee enfranchisement — along with addressing unemployment and underemployment among marginalized groups — is a key plank of its mission of creating social impact.
It offers meaningful job opportunities to individuals facing barriers to employment, such as people with a history of incarceration, mental illness, or homelessness. Importantly, this mission aligns with the values of customers who prioritize social responsibility in their spending decisions.
Community Initiatives and Partnerships
One of MOD Pizza’s community initiatives, Spreading MODness, involves donating a portion of proceeds to local and national nonprofit organizations that strive to make positive changes in their communities. MOD Pizza aims to create a “ripple effect” that promotes a sense of giving and generosity among its customers and within its communities.
Another key partnership is its collaboration with Generosity Feeds, an organization dedicated to providing meals for children facing food insecurity. Together, they conduct meal-packing events at various locations in the United States. Volunteers come together to create nutritious and easy-to-prepare meals that are then distributed to local food pantries and schools.
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Innovations and Future Growth
MOD Pizza has consistently focused on embracing new technology, both in their kitchens and on their online platforms to ensure a seamless customer experience. This was notably demonstrated when the chain quickly adapted its digital strategy during the disruption of the pandemic.
The company experienced substantial growth in digital sales during 2020, with digital revenue responsible for 40% of sales in 2020, as curbside ordering and pick-up was brought on board as part of enhanced in-app features. The MOD Rewards loyalty program also experienced a boom as a result of the company’s pandemic response. That has continued to rise with the chain celebrating 3 million members last year.
It is another example of how the combination of a transparent one-price model and a focus on top-notch customer service has made MOD Pizza an industry leader in customer satisfaction and loyalty. Meanwhile, the company’s approach to creating socioeconomic value cultivates a work environment in which everyone thrives.
“Like a great team, a great business wants to put ‘points on the board’ — i.e., profit — but it should also make sure everyone shares in the win,” says Scott Svenson. Through its efforts towards inclusivity and affordability, MOD has established a strong foundation for continued growth in the highly competitive world of quick-service restaurants.