What's the story behind the pizza demo queen?

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Marcia Neleson
Saturday, January 2, 2010
— Her business card says she is a master marketing demonstrator.

But you might know her as the Pizza Queen.

Marilyn Piper is the top seller and demonstrator for Bernatello's, a frozen pizza maker that markets a variety of products. She hands out samples on napkin squares at grocery stores within a 50-mile radius.

She attached the title "Pizza Queen" to a crown of rhinestones and pearls that she nestles in her pile of hair.

"I did that just because I wanted a promotion, and I didn't get one," Piper said. "So I promoted myself."

The Beloit resident has a college degree in accounting and marketing. She became a full-time demonstrator after her husband died in 1987.

Piper figures she bakes 12,000 pizzas a year, and each serves 22 people. That means she could be the most-recognized face in Rock County.

She works because she has no pension from her husband, and she said living on Social Security is a joke.

"I've been a widow for a long time," she said. "I do need the interaction emotionally, as well."

Piper is a character and a straight-talker.

She's got the gift of gab, which serves her well in keeping up a constant chatter about her product. She wears lipstick and oversized glasses and draws on dramatic eyebrows.

She's got to have a hat on, whether it's her crown or bunny ears.

"You never know what you might see perched on my head," Piper said.

She has a photo of herself dancing with Mr. Pig at a Piggly Wiggly store.

Piper doesn't just talk at her customers. She interacts with them.

"That's why my sales are good, better than anyone else's," she said.

For instance, she might advise someone on the best way to bake naturally rising pizza or the best pie to avoid acid reflux. She'll urge her customers to come back and tell her how it all worked out.

"If I go into a store and can't sell over 100 pizzas a day, I get very upset," Piper said.

She's especially proud of some numbers she racked up recently over four days at Stinebrink's Piggly Wiggly store in Delavan. She sold 279 pizzas the first day, 312 the second, 392 the third and 412 the fourth. A good sale price helped those numbers, she said.

After her many years in sales, Piper recognizes all types of customers.

"Most of the people are wonderful people," she said.

There are those whom demo people know as "grazers," for instance. They snatch a piece of pizza with no intention of buying. There are the frequent fliers. Piper might say, 'Oh, back to see me again?" just to let them know she knows they're on their second helpings.

"Once in a great, great while, I have to say, 'You know, you've been back four times. That's enough.'"

Piper insists that parents serve anyone under the age of 18 because she worries about food allergies.

"It isn't that I don't want children to have it," she said. "They're the best salesperson we have. They get their folks to buy it."

Piper, too, eats the pizza all day, and she tells people who catch her snacking that that's the best testimony for the product.

Piper has a cute little story, though. A few years ago, she told a lady friend that a male friend had asked her out for dinner. Her lady friend asked if he was taking her to Pizza Hut.

"Not if he wants to live to see the light of day," she answered.

After all these years, how does she keep the prattle fresh?

Piper pointed to her head.

"I psych myself up all the time," she said.

"And smile, smile, smile."

Last updated: 12:46 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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