Recession-proof may be an impossible state to attain during this downturn, but Buffalo Wild Wings is proving to be at least recession-resistant. Dedicated sports fans, plentiful local marketing and happy, engaged employees are helping the 588-unit casual-dining chain to keep sales positive and franchisees building new stores.
The numbers speak for themselves—a 30-percent increase in profit, a 6.4-percent jump in same-store corporate sales and a 35-percent increase in revenue for the first quarter—and all at a time when much of the casual-dining segment is struggling.
Still, it is the people that provide a socially engaging outlet for consumers that make this brand tick. Hiring the right people and providing a friendly and flexible atmosphere is a large part of Buffalo Wild Wings’ game plan.
“We try to find employees that, No. 1, genuinely love sports and love to be around people,” says Kevin O’Laughlin, a single-unit franchisee in Vincennes, Ind. “That sort of sets the tone for the restaurant.”
For Chris Olexa, a franchisee with four units in Texas and Louisiana, a fondness for sports is almost a job requirement.
“On game days, [if] you get a server or bartender in there that is not used to a football game or used to a game where everyone is shoulder to shoulder, and people are jumping up and dancing, they are not going to like it,” he says.
Sporting events such as the NCAA basketball tournament, or March Madness, which has mass appeal and can draw in noncore customers as well as Buffalo Wild Wings’ typically sports-crazed guests are a real boon to business.
“March Madness is kind of like the Super Bowl,” Portland, Ore., franchisee Wray Hutchinson says. “Even if you don’t have a team in it, everybody is still interested. People are pouring in here with their brackets and their highlighters, and they are not necessarily all your traditional sports fans.”
Hutchinson and his business partner, Chris Minoza, have a development deal for 10 locations in the Portland and Vancouver, Wash. area and three stores are open.
They have sponsor relationships with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League. Hutchinson also says the restaurants, especially the downtown location, are often engaged with Portland State University athletic teams.
“We really go out of our way to make it easy for big groups,” he says. “Our seating is flexible. Our servers and management team are well versed in handling big groups.BONUS POINT
“Hands down the best fundamental story in the casual-dining sector. From an objective standpoint, Buffalo Wild Wings  has delivered and will likely continue to deliver the best same-store sales, traffic and new unit productivity in the casual-dining sector.”—Jeff Farmer, Jefferies & Co., Boston
Buffalo Wild Wings franchisees also make sure they find ways to drive traffic with local high schools and sports leagues.
Hutchinson adds: “Given the social nature of our guests and our experience with sports and trivia, there is a little bit of something for everyone. There is a huge entertainment component to what we do.” — [email protected]