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In 2021, Buffalo Wings & Rings rebranded as Wings & Rings to alleviate customer confusion and differentiate from competitor Buffalo Wild Wings. While it was a small change, the branding update also signaled a new direction for the chain, which has since implemented off-premise-focused store designs and a new point-of-sales system.
Wings & Rings has been pushing for more franchise development as well. After introducing its franchise incentive program in 2020, which waives its franchise fee and offers 0% royalties for the first six months, the chain has extended the offer into 2023. This initiative, which Wings & Rings Chief Development Officer Thomas Flaherty suggested when he joined the company about three years ago, was designed to lower franchisees' barrier to entry. The program can improve franchisee performance since they can put money that would typically go toward fees toward building their business, Flaherty said.
The restaurant chain also allows operators to remodel on a spectrum, depending on what they can afford. A store update can be as minor as changing the restaurant's color scheme and upholstery to match Wings & Rings' new logo and design. Comparatively, the company is giving a corporate-owned standalone location a full remodel by reconstructing the bar and adding a valet pickup lane. Wings & Rings could eventually offer a remodel incentive in the future, Flaherty said.
“We’re not going to ask you to invest X dollars if stores are struggling,” Flaherty said. “So we give people choices. Even if you’re a challenged store … a remodel is a way for you to get attention and get people excited about coming into the store again, but doing that with more paint and upholstery [instead of a full remodel].”
Under Flaherty’s leadership, the company improved communication with franchisees. Wings & Rings started hosting weekly calls starting in 2018 as marketing calls. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the calls became a way to help franchisees through the economic uncertainty. Now, they are used to provide updates and benchmark best practices. The company instituted a franchise advisory council in 2018, but when Flaherty started, he teamed up with Bob Bafundo, chief operating officer, to shape it into what it is today: a forum where franchise representatives discuss and help test initiatives, such as helping the company pick its new point-of-sales system. The restaurant also offers webcasts to give franchisees strategic market updates.
This year, Wings & Rings is implementing a point-of-sales system with GEM POS to improve functionality and customer experience with quicker order entry. The system can also provide transaction reports to help staff, Flaherty said. Wings & Rings is testing Miso Robotics Flippy 2 to cook wings at the corporate store it’s remodeling. Franchisees are excited about potentially adding this technology to their restaurants in the future, Flaherty said.
Development plans: Flaherty expects Wings & Rings to reach 100 units globally in the next few years, and the chain has expanded into new countries in recent years. The restaurant opened its second store in Mexico in December, and one of the original owners of Wings & Rings plans to open stores in the Middle East and Europe, he said. Domestically, Wings & Rings is targeting areas close to existing locations by building out its current markets in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. It’s also extended into Florida and Texas. The company will consider new markets, however, if franchisees plan to develop several units to create density, Flaherty said.
Ideal franchisees: Wings & Rings will prioritize operators with existing franchises or restaurants, but experience isn’t required. The company uses a 30-point qualification process where it does background checks and looks at credit scores and financial statements to ensure prospective operators are financially prepared to run a restaurant, he said. Wings & Rings will provide prospective operators with all of the information they would need to move forward with a Wings & Rings restaurant, as well, Flaherty said.
Franchise quick facts
- Liquidity requirement: $500,000
- Net worth: $1.5 million
- Franchise fee: $0 as part of Wings & Rings’ development incentive program if franchisees meet qualifying metrics
- Royalty fee: 0% for first six months then 5%
- Marketing fee: 3% (2% marketing and 1% local store marketing)
Clarification: This article has been update with additional information about the company’s marketing requirements.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, a description of Wings & Rings’ franchise fee was incorrect. The chain’s Development Incentive Program waives a franchising fee indefinitely so long as certain metrics are achieved.