It’s hard to believe, but February will mark 13 years since my business partners and I decided to purchase an existing Cincinnati-based sports restaurant concept called Buffalo Wings & Rings. We all had a shared vision for what the sports restaurant experience of the future needed to look like to appeal to evolving tastes and consumer demand. So, for the last dozen years, we have invested heavily in creating what we refer to as an “elevated sports restaurant experience”. Today, we have more than 70 locations across the globe and have built a solid system of dedicated franchisees who continue to grow along with the brand.
But that didn’t happen overnight.
Recently, I was honored to be contacted by the International Franchise Association to speak at their Emerging Franchisor Conference in Phoenix. I am passionate about sharing my learnings and providing advice to franchisors that might benefit from my experience. However, the invitation was also a nod to the fact that our hard work over the years has put us in the category of an established brand.
It feels like just yesterday that our executive team was celebrating that we landed as the #1 restaurant chain on Restaurant Business’s “The Future 50” list in 2008. As we come up on the decade anniversary of that recognition, we are proud to be viewed as an “established” brand – however, we still approach every day as if we are an emerging concept. It’s important to stay hungry, continue to think innovatively, and not rest on your laurels.
It was with that in mind that I had time to reflect on the last decade of our growth to prepare for my presentation at the Emerging Franchisor Conference. What were the pitfalls we faced? What obstacles were we able to overcome? What were the best practices we’ve arrived at through trial and error that could save an emerging entrepreneur time, and maybe more importantly, money.
I have a huge passion for business, and the franchise industry in particular. From the moment that my wife supported my dream of owning a business in America and I made the decision to purchase Buffalo Wings & Rings, I have been consistently impressed by the franchise model and inspired by those hoping to achieve similar dreams of establishing a concept that can give people an opportunity at small business ownership and create jobs in communities across the country.
The leading theme of the two-day conference was how to grow in a quality manner – not how to sell more. That is a very important distinction. It's not about selling for sales sake - it's about building a sound organization that is going to be sustainable.
Most young emerging franchisors are obsessed with selling just to sell. But the first focus needs to be on creating solid unit-level economics and the right structure, support and marketing plan to set up the franchisees for success. Those first franchisees are so important to the long-term success of your concept. They will be the flag bearers and validators for the next waves of owners who enter your system. They’ll also set the bar for the way your culture and values are instilled at the local level.
When I took the stage at the Emerging Franchisor Conference, I asked each individual in the audience to take a selfie. I told them that the person they are looking at will be their worst enemy and biggest obstacle towards sound and strategic growth.
What leads you from 1 to 3 units is not what will lead you from 3 to 10.
The leaps between reaching 10 units, then 50 units, and then 200 or more units are enormously different. Everything that you do in building those first 10 units will impact your growth towards the next thresholds.
We crossed the 50 unit mark years ago, and it was through a sound strategy and by not getting impatient or greedy during the process. We focused our energy on creating a corporate team that was talented, experienced, and truly bought into our vision.
But we also made some mistakes.
Geographically we spread our wings a little too far. (Pun intended.) When we entered aggressive growth mode, the onset of the internet business-to-business channels made expansion in markets far beyond our Cincinnati headquarters possible. In retrospect, we should have focused on a more geographically sound business strategy. But that’s something we’ve accounted for and that I was happy to share with the entrepreneurs in the audience who were sitting at 10 or less unit systems.
It’s important to change and evolve because if you don't do that, you're going to be your worst enemy.
We constantly evolve at Buffalo Wings & Rings. That's the key word. Evolve. You need to evolve or else you plateau. As we enter 2018 and continue our mission to bring our elevated sports restaurant experience to more states, cities and communities, we continue to look at ourselves in the mirror and make sure that we aren’t turning into our worst enemy.
Hopefully those in attendance at the Emerging Franchisor Conference are doing the same, and hopefully in 5-10 years many of them will be standing where I was, providing the advice for a next generation of inspired and motivated franchisors.