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WingHouse founder ready to tackle challenges of franchising

Crawford Ker, the president and founder of Largo, Fla.-based Ker’s WingHouse Bar & Grill, says he is tapping into a personal reservoir of confidence, courage and integrity derived from years in the trenches as both a professional athlete and businessman as he begins franchising his sports bar concept despite the slowed economy. Ker, who played professional football for 10 years as an offensive guard with the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions, opened the first WingHouse in 1994. In late 2004, WingHouse prevailed in a multiyear legal battle with Hooters of America Inc., in which Hooters claimed that WingHouse had copied several features of the Hooters brands, including the tight-fitting tank tops and shorts worn by female servers.

We’re in a tough economic slowdown, chains are closing units by the hundreds, investment capital has never been tighter, and you’re going to start franchising?

My thoughts are, I have 19 stores now, 14 years experience in which I’ve made some mistakes and learned from them, and we’re quite successful. I’m thinking if we have 19, why not more? We run very successful corporate stores, and I want our success to breed more success with others.

Does that mean you are going to stop corporate-store development?

Not at all. We will still open new company stores. In fact, I look forward to competing against our franchisees. I think being competitive with our franchisees will make everyone more successful.

Where does this confidence come from?

I’ve had an unusual life. I played one year of high school football, was a walk-on to the first squad in junior college, recruited by the University of Florida, and I had 10 good years in professional football. I had great mentors and teachers like Jimmy Johnson [former coach of the Dallas Cowboys] and a strong work ethic. So I have a lot of drive and passion.

So are you selling yourself or WingHouse?

Well, I think a franchisee has to look at the franchisor’s track record, and we have a good track record, where we came from, what we’ve been through, the trials and tribulations to reach this point. You know, most businesses fail because of internal stuff, not the competition.

Are there similarities between playing football and running a restaurant business?

Well, they both have ups and downs. But you can’t beat yourself. You have to execute. No fumbles, no missed blocks or interceptions. You can’t give your competition an unfair advantage. Keep your stores clean. Be kind to your guests. Listen to your partners and teammates.

Sign up anyone yet?

No. But lots of inquiries are coming our way.

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