Wingstop scores with former Dallas Cowboy quarterback
By Martin Desmarais
[font=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 [/font]
The Texas-based Wingstop Restaurants Inc. has seen its Wingstop franchise chain continue to rise since the addition of former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman as the company´s spokesman. Wingstop has 235 locations in 25 states.
GARLAND, Texas - The Wingstop concept has been around for over a decade, but the brand has really taken flight in the last several years.
In 2003, Wingstop's growth rate jumped over 50 percent compared to 2002 - and growth has continued on the rise every since.
The Texas-based Wingstop Restaurant Inc. has 235 locations in 25 states, predominantly in the Southern half of the United States, but also in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and New York. The company estimates it will have 300 stores by the end of the year.
Wingstop has just topped $100 million in system-wide sales over the last 12 months going back to June 15, 2004.
"Things are looking very, very good," said Andy Howard, Wingstop's executive vice president of marketing, purchasing, and research and development. "We are in a very good time right now. We have a lot of happy franchisees."
The chicken wing chain offers aviation-themed restaurants that feature wings in nine flavors: Original Hot, Cajun, Atomic, Mild, Teriyaki, Lemon Pepper, Hawaiian, Garlic Parmesan, and Hickory Smoked BBQ.
Wings are fresh, made-to-order and served hot. Customers can choose from a selection of domestic and imported beers, soft drinks and homemade side dishes, including fresh-cut seasoned fries, bourbon-baked beans, pearl potato salad, creamy cole slaw, vegetable sticks, rolls and assorted dipping sauces.
Wingstop's hours of operation vary but typically stores are open 4 p.m. to midnight during the most weekdays and 11 a.m. to midnight on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Most of Wingstop's business is take-out, therefore store sizes are small, but they do vary. Initial investment ranges from $200,000 to $300,000.
The first Wingstop was opened in 1994 by Antonio Swad. He incorporated the concept in 1996 and began offering franchises. The first Wingstop franchise opened in 1998.
However, the brand's rise can be traced back to its purchase by a newly formed Wingstop Holding Inc. in January 2003.
Wingstop Holding's chief executive James Flynn, a Harvard Business School graduate, set a new focus on growing the brand's name and revamping the concept of chicken wings from an appetizer to a meal.
"Wings may get lost on other people's menu," said Howard. "We have changed the perception of wings from a side dish and finger food, and made wings a meal time occasion."
Wingstop's orders range from 10 pieces to a 100 pieces.
Howard, who also joined Wingstop when the chain was bought out in 2003 and has worked with other chains such as R.J. Gators Restaurants, Wendy's and Kenny Rogers Roasters, said that Wingstop's emphasis on wings has made the difference.
"We are a very, very focused concept," he said. "We are still sometimes amazed about how well we do with one center-of-the-plate item being wings."
Because wings are the focus for Wingstop, Howard said that the chain cooks all its wings to order, which other restaurants that offer wings don't always do.
"We won't drop anything into the fryer until it is ordered," he said. For this reason, there is typically about a 15-minute wait for orders, but Wingstop encourages its customers to call ahead.
The end result, though, is a better wing product, Howard added. "It is not getting soggy or cold or rubbery."
Wingstop doesn't bread its wings, which is popular at many places. "It really does enhance the flavor," Howard said. "You really do taste the full flavor of the sauces."
Much of Wingstop's recent success can also be credited to Howard's signing a spokesperson deal with former Dallas Cowboy and three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Troy Aikman.
Aikman joined Wingstop in October 2003, for a three-year agreement, and has been featured in Wingstop print, radio and television ads across the country.
Wings are often associated with football gatherings in general. Howard said, for example, the National Football League's Super Bowl is the biggest sales event of the year. This year, Wingstop sold 1.5 million wings on Super Bowl Sunday.
For Wingstop, the pairing with Aikman has proven successful. Aikman had a clause in his contract that would give him a bonus if store sales increased 10 percent in his first year as spokesman - and Wingstop stores did just that.
Aside from his fame as a football player, Howard said choosing Aikman was easy because he had visited stores and liked the wings.
"It was really knowing he was a customer of Wingstop," Howard said. "We wanted someone who knows about the product and believed in the product."
Though a former Dallas football player, Howard said Aikman's exposure on national television as a football analyst for the Fox network, eased concerns that he wouldn't be accepted across the country.
"He plays well no matter where we advertise," said Howard.
"We felt he just covered so many of the basis we were looking for," Howard added. "If it was just Dallas, we probably wouldn't have signed him up."
Howard admitted that some franchisees were originally worried about Aikman's association with the Dallas Cowboys - particularly those in rival football regions. However, Wingstop told them to give it a try and feedback was positive.
According to Howard, the response has been that customers are recognizing Aikman and coming in to buy wings.
One such franchisee who was skeptical about Aikman at first was Samir Abou Diwan, who opened a store in Cleveland as part of the chain's continued expansion.
Home of the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland is a notoriously passionate football town and the Browns have had many tough games over the years with the Dallas Cowboys. Diwan said this made him shy away from Aikman at first, but he has since changed.
"Troy Aikman is a great athlete. Everybody loves Troy Aikman," he said. "People will see him and say let's give it a try."
"If he was at my store, people would be lining up to get his autograph," he added.
Diwan said Aikman's name and likeness has been a great help in bringing a new concept to Cleveland - and helping his store fight through the clutter of the competition.
"People love wings in this area. In every bar, on the corner, people sell wings," he said. "Once they try Wingstop they are hooked."