If you’ve visited Delaware’s beaches during the summer, chances are you’ve been to Grotto Pizza. An institution that has grown to more than 20 locations in Delaware and Maryland, Grotto Pizza was born in 1960 when Dominick Pulieri opened the first location with his sister and brother-in-law at a boardwalk storefront in Rehoboth, Del. The company has grown exponentially since.
Grotto Pizza became a WSFS Bank Customer in 2004. The relationship has been mutually beneficial for nearly 20 years. When Executive Vice President Jeff Gosnear, then-CFO of Grotto, was looking for a new bank, one thing was top of mind.
“We’re big on relationships,” Gosnear recalled. “WSFS came in and wanted to understand our business, which we really took to heart. They became a good advisor and sounding board. I’ll call my relationship manager Scott [Baylis] anytime we’re thinking about any evaluation and he’s our partner in it. For as large as the bank has gotten, it’s still extremely personal.”
In working with WSFS for so many years and through various roles within the company, Gosnear has learned three critical lessons about maintaining a longstanding banking relationship:
1. Your Bank Should Be Ready to Grow with You
Grotto faced many challenges as it grew quickly and into new locations that took the brand further from the shoreline.
“It took us a while to figure out how we needed to grow and what to look at from a structural point that would allow us to grow,” said Gosnear. “We started at the beach and those stores are big because you really only have 90 days to make the bulk of your profit for the whole year. As we grew away from the beach, that wasn’t the case. We needed to formulate a store that made sense from a size and staff perspective with a dining experience vs. flipping tables at the beach.”
WSFS helped Grotto to analyze the cost of opening stores in different inland locations, understanding the land and leasing structure within different settings, and how the company could make that model work as it looked at broader expansion plans.
2. Your Bank Should Be Proactive in Thinking About Your Unique Needs
While you are an expert in your business, your banking partner is just that – they bring financial expertise to whatever business you are in. No matter the obstacles, your partner should always be thinking of solutions and bringing those to you before you’ve even asked.
“COVID is what really left a mark on me about the relationship with WSFS,” said Gosnear. The COVID-19 pandemic posed a huge unknown for many industries, but was especially impactful on tourist destinations.
“My big concern was ‘what’s going to happen? I have 1,400 employees, we were told we’d need to shut down our stores. But before I even reached out, I got a call from Scott acknowledging the challenges but – more importantly – giving me my options. It was one of the most comforting things that could happen in a very bleak time.”
3. Your Bank Should Be Open to Your Plans for the Future
A good partner is even open to ideas that they don’t bring to the table and has your long-term success at heart. The future of any company, especially a legacy institution, weighs heavily on all involved and that was not lost on Pulieri as he began considering options.
“Dominick is very focused on taking care of his employees, and a few years ago, we started thinking about what the business would look like as transition plans start to take shape,” Gosnear shared. “Scott was willing to listen to some of our ‘crazy’ ideas and help them to make sense in reality so that we really played a role in crafting the company’s future. We couldn’t have done it without WSFS. The guidance and recommendations have solidified our long-term plans.”
For a brand with a history like Grotto, the legacy is only as good as the story it remains to tell. Thanks to decades of a strong partnership WSFS and with both parties’ vested interest in the company’s future, there will be plenty of pizza to go around for years and years to come.
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