The restaurant industry has experienced drastic change since Buffalo Wings & Rings first opened its doors in 1984. Many competitors within the casual dining space have struggled in the past few years, including Buffalo Wild Wings, who has struggled with shake-ups from shareholders reacting to the changing tides in the industry.
However, it’s a long-term vision that has fueled success for Cincinnati-based 70-plus unit franchise Buffalo Wings & Rings. After purchasing the brand in 2005, the new ownership team set forth to create a more millennial-friendly experience than what was available at the time. This foreword thinking led to an improvement of the then two decades old brand in anticipation of the changing tides in the restaurant industry – which has helped the restaurant appeal to a younger demographic that competitors have been unable to woo, while also maintaining the loyalty of their core audience.
“Millennials are all about the flavors and taste,” said Masadeh. “They want bold. They want healthy alternatives. These are all things that we put in place a long time ago and are doing and improving on today, that are really paying off.”
However, while Buffalo Wings & Rings has elevated their menu, the competition has sacrificed quality and experience by trying for a quick fix based on discounting. That has only led to lower check averages and a cheapened brand promise.
"They focus on a completely different demographic than we do. A completely different experience than we do. Our brand promise talks about the club level experience. We're watching the same game, but we're sitting in two different zones,” said Masadeh. “For us, you're sitting in a suite in the club level having a much-elevated experience with much-elevated food. And that experience is different because I'm connecting with my family and my friends over sports - it's not 100% about the sports, it's about the experience of connecting with each other over sports."
Besides the menu, during the improvement efforts, Masadeh and his team reimagined the look and feel of the restaurant experience to cater to a generation that craves a more family and female-friendly environment. The company continues to invest time and capital in enhancing the experience.
“One of our core values is to do the right things for the right reasons,” said Schram. “Because we are privately held, we can take the time to make the right decisions for our franchisees. We have a long-term view on the success of our franchisee partners.”
Buffalo Wings & Rings has been able to maintain focus and weather the storm within the casual dining industry, in part due to the fact that they are not beholden to the whims of stockholders.
"We're looking for the long-term success. We're not looking for short term success, and those two may not always align,” said Nader Masadeh, CEO of Buffalo Wings & Rings. “That's where the risk comes in with a publicly traded company. They have to show continuous improvement on a quarterly basis because every quarter they have to go up and talk about their profits and their results. We don't have that problem. If one quarter we need to spend more on something, we don't have those pressures of Wall Street to worry about and we can do the right thing for the long term, and have a long-term vision than a short term quarterly vision."
That long-term view has set Buffalo Wings & Rings up for success as it continues to expand and enter new markets. The brand signed 12 new franchise agreements in 2016, opened four new locations in the first half of 2017, and has plans to open four to five more before the year’s end. The company has enjoyed a 12.5 percent average unit growth year-over-year for nine years.
In addition to the flexibility of being a privately held franchise company, the brand can also offer would-be franchisees extensive available territory that isn’t an option at competitors that have saturated many markets. The company’s size allows new franchisees unprecedented direct access to the corporate team too, access that the corporate team prides itself on providing.
“Our success depends on the franchisees, so we are set for franchising,” said Masadeh. “A prospective franchisee would have access to the ownership here at Buffalo Wings & Rings that they simply can’t get with some of our larger competitors. We’re flexible and adaptive. Franchisees with Buffalo Wings & Rings have more access to the leadership team and our direct support as they build out their restaurants and grow their footprint.”
The initial investment range for a free-standing Buffalo Wings & Rings location is $1,932,500 to $2,407,000, with a range of $1,292,500 to $1,707,000 for an in-line unit. Once build out is complete, a franchisee can expect to offer guests a club-level sports restaurant experience with bright, inviting dining rooms, 50+ TVs, elevated fan experiences, chef-inspired recipes and more to set themselves apart from the man caves in the sports restaurant segment of the franchise world.
“The business is about focusing on today and tomorrow. Today, we are focused on executing perfectly, every day and every customer, making sure they leave happier than they walked in. Tomorrow, it’s about the long-term view of making sure we understand market and consumer trends and anticipate change. We want to be at the leading edge of the category,” said Schram.