Restaurant ExperienceStaffSupply Chain

How Buffalo Wild Wings is Planning on Turning Around its Downward Spiral

They seem to have it all—a nationally recognized brand name that calls in sport’s enthusiasts and their family and friends for a game-day spent watching multiple sporting events while munching away on some awesome chicken wings and drinking ice-cold beers. What could go wrong? Apparently, plenty.

Last year, Arby’s bought Buffalo Wild Wings for the price tag of approximately $2.9 billion, creating a new company known as Inspire Brands. At year’s end, the same company also acquired Sonic for a mere $2.3 billion. Their goal is to acquire chains in need of “re-positioning” and make way for the come back kids.

One of the problems Buffalo Wild Wings faces is the volatility of their namesake—chicken wings. Last summer saw chicken wing prices at a seven-year low after they peaked in the fall of 2017. This is one commodity prone to massive price swings on a regular basis as supply and demand surges or wanes.

The Turnaround

Last fall, Lyle Tick, former managing director for Walgreens Boots Alliance beauty brands, took over the helm with the hopes of turning around sales for this brand that has faced several challenging years.

He recently shared with Restaurant Business Magazine what plans he has for Buffalo Wild Wings. He’s put his team together—big first step—and has laid the groundwork for redefining the brand’s essence and purpose, including its target market. Starting this month, he’ll be reintroducing folks to the new and improved Buffalo Wild Wings which includes a new marketing campaign as well as introducing some innovate food and beverage concepts. He was quick to point out that “When an iconic brand hits a rough spot, it’s because the brand got off essence or stopped delivering it in a relevant way.”

Tick believes that the brand was at its best when it remained true to its essence and understood where it fit into the world. It started as a great American sport’s bar—a place for friends and family to gather around a table and root for their favorite teams.

So, what does that mean for the future of BWW? From the sounds of it, they are taking a look at their offerings and adding some alternatives to the classic chicken wings. A new fresh burger, salsa and nachos, and an evolving chicken platform outside the scope of wings are a few items on the list.

Changes occurring to their bar program include evolving the craft beer program to include more regional favorites and rotating selections more frequently as well as spicing up their line of cocktails. In order to establish consistent and “best-in-class” service, they’ve developed a program called “Brand Champ.” This unique approach to developing staff concentrates on the cultural atmosphere and inspires employees to create an atmosphere where guests can create memorable experiences with friends and family.

They’ll also be focusing on engaging the customers during sporting events. Examples of this include introducing specials and activities throughout the game such as a two-minute drill, end of the first-half, and when the local team gets a touchdown or wins the game. It’s all about the guest experience.

He also points to some bad choices made in the past, such as when BWW chose to end its Tuesday wing promotion in hopes of preserving margins. The problem with these types of decisions is that what goes up usually comes down and making decisions based on the volatile chicken wing market can leave customers confused.

The turnaround strategy sounds familiar. Paul Brown, Inspire Brand’s CEO, spoke about similar plans following the acquisition. Brown told Business Insider that the major changes would include a new menu, new marketing strategies, and new guest experiences. He believed that the core issue was Buffalo Wild Wings inability to retain and focus on just what made it unique and set it apart from its competitors.

He has definitely done okay by Arby’s who has revamped their menu with limited-time offerings, developed a unique marketing strategy, and increased sales.

It’s hard to say if BWW will find its way back to their former glory days, but something seems to be working. Diversified Restaurant Holdings, one of the largest franchisees for Buffalo Wild Wings, found same-store sales rising at the end of 2018 for the first time in three years.


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