After a 2017 that presented a variety of challenges to companies across the restaurant landscape, Cincinnati-based elevated sports restaurant franchise Buffalo Wings & Rings is heading into the half-year point of 2018 and their annual conference with a full head of steam. The company ended 2017 by surpassing the milestone $100-million in domestic systemwide sales and launched into an impressive spring in 2018.
In March, Buffalo Wings & Rings broke the company’s highest sales week record three weeks in a row. They followed up that strong month by ending the month of April with systemwide comp sales up by 8.5 percent.
As the company prepares for their annual conference at the end of June, the corporate team is excited to collaborate with franchisees in the system to discuss how to harness the momentum and a pathway towards a strong 2018.
“The success is being driven by the fact that we are reinforcing the same things we've done for a long time – making sure that the service that we're giving our guests is truly club level and that our menu offering is chef inspired, fresh and crave-worthy. So those two things are important in every guest experience and then it’s all about marketing that outside of our four walls. We just do a better job than anyone else in that regard and it’s paying off,” said Tom Jenkins, Director of Franchise Operations for Buffalo Wings & Rings.
March has historically been a strong month for the company, as the annual NCAA March Madness basketball tournament bring fans in to enjoy the games. The company also offered a special Lenten season menu featuring meatless options. Those two things helped drive some of the increased traffic that led to the three straight weeks of record sales, along with a variety of initiatives the BW&R marketing team continues to roll out and hone.
“It’s a lot of little things. We’re seeing a lot of growth and opportunity in off-premise dining. We continue to see traction in our launch of online ordering. Catering has continued to grow and take off. We launched the app in the first part of the year and that continues to grow. We added a separate carry-out area at several locations and have seen success there,” said Diane Matheson, Vice President of Marketing for Buffalo Wings & Rings. “We’ve added frequency campaigns like LTO’s to drive check average. With March Madness, we were driving to get people in the door with a Miller-Coors partnership, which we actually had two guests win.”
The three weeks in a row of record-setting sales was also simply a result of the fact that Buffalo Wings & Rings continues to expand and add new restaurants year-over-year. Jenkins noted that the brand has more stores than they’ve ever had, and as the brand sets to open several more before the end of 2018, that should add to the wave of success.
“Our growth is fueling the records first and foremost. We're having a great year. For that same time period, our comp sales were up 5.1 percent over last year. March is one of our busiest times of year - but to be up that much over last year is impressive. March Madness is a big driver for us. We broke company records last year during this same time, but to do it again is a great feeling,” said Jenkins.
However, the Buffalo Wings & Rings team is not just patting themselves on the collective back as they end Q2 and plan for the second half of the year – and the years ahead.
“Currently, we like to think that we give better service than our competitors. The X's and O's of that service are similar enough that we want to continue to find ways to further differentiate ourselves. As an executive team, we're taking a long hard work at how we can even elevate the service that we're providing guests. We think that is key to keeping our growth moving in the future,” said Jenkins.
Similarly, Matheson mentioned that the corporate team spent last year investing in a lot of things that are paying off in the first half of 2018. For instance, the company launched a refreshed and revamped menu in April, added two new roles in the marketing department at the beginning of the year, is doubling down on local store marketing guidance and support, and is also pushing out a campaign about being “the better Buffalo” focusing on the comparative quality of the company’s food versus similarly named competitors in the space.
“We are not taking our foot off the gas. We are going to understand what our guests want and deliver it by constantly doing consumer research and R&D. We are researching what is attracting Millennials and Gen Z. We’re keeping our eye on what other restaurants are doing to attract and keep those audiences, and what it is about our brand that is successful and can enhance that success,” said Matheson.
“We don’t want to be comfortable. We always want to be asking questions and challenging ourselves,” she added.