When Scott Florence purchased Rock Island-based Mama Bosso Pizza five years ago, he was looking for a small business that he could nurture and grow.
He also knew that like any other small-business owner, he would have to be “all-in” meaning that half-measures and short workdays would never keep Mama Bosso on the road to success and growth.
“There is no guarantee of success and you have to keep going, all-in, every day,” Florence said. “There is a guarantee of failure, and that's as soon as you stop going all-in, every day.”
With a careful, loving hand and with a lot of work and sweat, Florence is expanding the Mama Bosso name and products.
Always creating, always looking, always searching, and even writing down new ideas as he chats with people, Florence is taking a Quad-City signature pizza beyond the Quad-Cities.
“I’m trying to find the answer to this question: Can we make a great local brand a great regional brand and then a great national brand,” he said.
Florence said that when he purchased Mama Bosso, he was looking for a business in food manufacturing, his area of expertise and a good fit with his degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
“I wanted a small enough business where I could manage the process myself from the due diligence process through close,” he said.
What Florence, 51, has done is take a local, nascent brand and poised it for growth.
“Mama Bosso is building a business that will be capable of competing against larger firms in a very competitive market,” he said. “”We’re putting together an approach to our new items that’s based on consumer panels. We’re building a workforce that’s going to be flexible and knowledgeable about food manufacturing. We’re putting together a sales and marketing effort that includes great sales people, a targeted product demonstration team, and volume driving promotional programs with our stores. We’re working on affiliating our brand with events and causes that resonate with our fans.”
Florence has taken Mama Bosso well beyond the Quad-Cities, as far as Lincoln and Omaha on Nebraska, as well as into southwest Wisconsin. Hy-Vee, Fareway, Walmart, Jewel, Walgreens, Schnuck's, Sav-a-Lot, Slagles, TPC Cash and Carry and Cattleman’s Meat Market, are the local distributors and are supportive of the brand.
Local suppliers such as Thoms Preostler, Midwest Fibre Products, DFI, Miller Container and Creative Packaging also have been supportive of Mama Bosso, he added.
But the brand is not picked up by stores because it is a local business, Florence said.
“We are only picked because we're bringing great products to the shelves,” he said.
In order, the best sellers of Mama Bosso Pizza is their sausage, then the sausage and pepperoni, pepperoni, garlic and then the Mama Bosso Made from Scratch Trio.
The pizza is 80 percent of the company’s business. A nice slice of that business are the Bishop’s cream pies, most notably chocolate ambrosia, Mama Bosso makes. The company also makes taco meat, and Florence is always looking to expand the product line.
But pizza is the number one driver of the business, and there is a lot of frozen pizza on the market.
“I can't compete very long with large national or even medium regional pizza brands because these larger firms can always outspend me,” Florence said. “So, I have to operate in stealth mode and move fast. Here's how.
“Our market — the Quad City Metro area — isn’t tracked by major scan data firms like AC Nielsen, so we don't show up on a sales executive's radar," he said. “The only place where we might show up on someone's quarterly scan report is in Des Moines, where we aren't significant and therefore don't warrant any attention.
“We have to battle against the larger brands but only locally, where there's no significant upside for a large firm to invest heavily," he added. “So, we have to perform at par to the national brands on certain measures — service, quality, in stock.
“Where we have to outperform the larger firms is in speed,” Florence said. “We can launch new flavors or new lines much faster.
“Finally, we will slowly but consistently build our brand,” he said. “We hire high school students to demo the pizza in the stores because that's our key demographic and it's different than other demo staff. We're starting the work with the local bands and will use this affiliation in our social media.”
Changes and new flavors are selected based only on what Mama Bosso fans will appreciate and buy, Florence said. While the core set of sausage, pepperoni and other flavors is kept well stocked, the company tries to rotate different flavors such as cheeseburger — with ketchup, mustard and pickles — or a reuben made with Mama Bosso’s own ground corned beef, and Greek, with homemade creamy garlic sauce, spinach and feta cheese.
The new Mama Bosso Made from Scratch is focused on how the pizza is made, he added. On this pizza, all sauces are made from scratch. It has Mama Bosso’s own roasted garlic and premium all natural toppings such as uncured pepperoni and all natural sausage.
“This pizza will bake up like any pizza you would get in a pizzeria,” he said.
“We use a full slate of volunteer friends and families to screen all of our new products,” Florence said. But anything new must first pass muster with Mama Bosso’s own employees.
“So, it takes time, patience, work and proportional investment in our plant, such as manufacturing improvement, our brand demo team and events, sales promotions and our sales team,” Florence said.
“Since I bought this company, my admiration and respect for all of the other smaller business owners in our area has risen dramatically,” he said.
“I learned to never ask a small business owner ‘how's business,’ because it's never good,” he said. “It's hard, and you're always working to make it good and you never accept that it's good, because that's the day you let up and you're not all-in.
“However, there is a common denominator I see and that we all love and are driven by our work,” Florence said. “We're always playing whack-a-mole, but when I see a consumer open the freezer door and pick a Mama Bosso pizza, I want to break out into a yellow-flag touchdown celebration.
“But I can’t dance, so I just grin and go fight another day,” he said.