While keeping an eye firmly on growing the core brand in the highly competitive casual-dining segment, Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. president and CEO Sally Smith has also been pushing the company into newer segments of the foodservice industry.
That leadership has kept Smith in the Top 10 of NRN’s Power List, where she held the No. 6 position in 2014.
Last year, Smith oversaw the expansion of Buffalo Wild Wings’ holdings in the fast-casual segment with the addition of a majority investment in the nine-unit Dallas-based Rusty Taco chain. That followed 2013’s minority investment in Los Angeles-based PizzaRev, a fast-casual pizza concept that has grown to 21 units in four states.
But let’s not forget Smith is also running one of the casual-dining segment’s standout performers focused on beer, wings and sports.
In the 2014 Nation’s Restaurant News’ annual Top 100 report, Buffalo Wild Wings rose to No. 22 in total U.S. systemwide foodservice sales, to nearly $2.8 billion in fiscal 2013, up from No. 24 and $2.5 billion in sales the prior year. Estimated sales per unit rose 3 percent, to nearly $3 million.
The company’s performance in 2014 was not shabby either, even while facing surging chicken wing prices. As Smith said in late October: “We believe net earnings growth will exceed 28 percent for 2014.”
When Smith joined Buffalo Wild Wings in 1994 as chief financial officer, the company had 35 units, mostly in Ohio. The company by 2014 had grown to more than 1,045 Buffalo Wild Wings locations in the United States, Canada and Mexico, with development agreements in Puerto Rico and the Middle East.
Early in her tenure, Smith helped establish Buffalo Wild Wings’ human resources, finance and marketing departments and went on to lead the company through a successful initial public offering in November 2003. Since the brand’s IPO at $17 per share, its stock price has soared, closing at $185 per share in early January.
Growth and financial success have prompted industry organizations to recognize Smith’s stewardship, citing her collaborative leadership style for the core brand’s success. In 2010, she was recognized by NRN with its Operator of the Year Award.
A native of Grand Forks, N.D., Smith has led industry associations as well, serving in 2011 as chair of National Restaurant Association board. She serves as director on several corporate boards and the Minnesota Orchestra and also is a member of the World Presidents’ Organization and Women Corporate Directors.
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