By Carrie Brenner
In the early 90s, Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck was a floundering restaurant chain with about 35 locations. Founded by a couple of Buffalo wings devotees who had a great concept but not a lot of restaurant experience, the business was losing money fast. Enter Sally Smith. Smith, an accountant, joined the company in 1994 and set to work, reorganizing the failing franchise and tackling its wayward bookkeeping. She established its HR, finance, and marketing departments, raised equity for expansion, and even renamed the chain Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar. Just two years in, Smith became the company’s CEO. And in 2004 — a decade after Smith started — the franchise opened its 300th store.
Each location is a casual restaurant and sports bar that features big-screen TVs, interactive trivia, and a full menu. “Over time, we’ve expanded the menu to include a wide range of offerings, including burgers, salads, wraps, and many other items, which has allowed us to appeal to a large [range] of guests,” says Smith. The menu is also more affordable than typical fare at other restaurants. Customers order at the counter and then the food is brought to their table.
“It’s a great time for a concept like Buffalo Wild Wings,” says John Foley, CEO of Niche Market Media and restaurant advisor for AllBusiness.com. When asked about the popularity of fast-casual concepts such as Buffalo Wild Wings, Foley says, “People are trying to make their dining dollars go further. The more reasonable menus are more popular.”
Franchise companies in particular tend to do well in a down economy, says Foley, and Buffalo Wild Wings is no exception. That’s because once people become unemployed, they often take the leap and go into business for themselves. Opening a restaurant franchise is attractive because it’s a proven system, and potential franchisees don’t necessarily need food-industry expertise. However, they do need to take the time to find out what to expect when operating a restaurant, cautions Foley. Otherwise they run the risk of neglecting basic tasks, like daily cleaning. Other factors potential franchisees should consider include location, menu development, advertising, and what kind of support they can expect from the franchisor.
Says Smith, “We work closely with our franchisees to provide them guidance.” Those thinking of joining the Buffalo Wild Wings team should have great customer service skills, as the company’s success hinges on giving guests what they want. Recently, the restaurants upgraded to HDTVs to provide customers with a better game time experience.
Foley says one area the wings restaurant could improve in is its advertising, on both the local and national level. Potential franchisees should also think about what makes the Buffalo Wild Wings brand valuable, as the Buffalo wings market is pretty saturated.
Saturated or not, Buffalo Wild Wings is striving to reach its goal of opening 1,000 stores nationwide. The wings giant has set its sights on California, which only has five stores so far. Smith sees a bright future for the company. “I’ve watched this brand grow as a concept across the country. It’s been very rewarding to watch our team members develop and provide [them with] an opportunity for a great career.”
Visit the Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar profile in our Franchise Directory.
Carrie Brenner is a writer and editor based in Southern California.
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