Executives of Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. touted to investors Wednesday the chain’s prospects for growth from its roughly 1,000 locations to a 3,000-unit enterprise spanning multiple restaurant concepts and countries.
The casual-dining brand’s leaders remained bullish for growth of the flagship Buffalo Wild Wings concept to 1,700 locations in the United States and Canada over the next decade or so, primarily through building out markets on the East Coast and West Coast. Much of that optimism is driven by the advancements Buffalo Wild Wings has been making to its prototype design, its “Guest Experience” service model and its adoption of technology.
But international development and a portfolio-growth approach also loomed large during the chain’s Investor Day event in New York. Here are four key takeaways from the brand’s investor presentation:
Revving up emerging brands
As seen in Buffalo Wild Wings’ minority investment in PizzaRev last year — as well as Wednesday’s announcement that a second tranche of capital had been invested in the fast-casual pizza chain — the company plans to extend its growth prospects by developing emerging brands.
Kathy Benning, Buffalo Wild Wings’ executive vice president of global brand and business development, said the chain is looking for fast-casual concepts that Buffalo Wild Wings can franchise and grow quickly. The long-term goal for building out the stable of emerging brands calls for approximately 900 locations.
“PizzaRev is just the beginning of our continual pursuit to identify and build a diversified portfolio of brands,” Benning said. “We’ll evaluate additional concepts, with the goal of investing in three to five, with the goal of growing at least one of them to become the next Buffalo Wild Wings.”
The company said its first owned location of PizzaRev will open in Minneapolis in May.
“We know that technology plays a huge role in the lives of our MVP [core customers],” said Lee Patterson, senior vice president of guest experience and innovation. “It also gives us new ways to customize their experience in a way that follows them inside and outside of the restaurants.”
He laid out an ambitious schedule for the adoption of several guest-facing platforms, including tableside tablets for playing trivia or poker or accessing exclusive content, currently in place in 190 company-owned restaurants and 40 franchised locations. Those tablets will roll out to all company-owned units by the end of this year and systemwide by the end of 2015.
Beginning in the second quarter, Buffalo Wild Wings will test a tableside payment and ordering function on those tablets. By the end of 2015, the brand hopes to have that function available at all its restaurants, which would also include the adoption of EMV card payment capability.
Online ordering, for both desktop and mobile, should be available systemwide by the end of 2014. Also, by the end of 2015, the chain hopes to equip all servers with hand-held systems for sending orders to the kitchen or accepting payments.
Buffalo Wild Wings will continue to develop its “B-Dubs TV” proprietary network for sports programming, which it hopes to eventually localize — by showcasing highlights from the local high school football league, for example. A fantasy sports platform that could be accessed in restaurants on tablets and mobile phones is also in development.
All of that leads up to what Patterson described as the ultimate platform for the user experience: a digital loyalty program.
“All these experiences give us a large amount of data for our guests, and we’re using this to build a loyalty program … that takes a unique approach,” he said. “There’s a lot to be excited about, and it’s all about social connections and bringing people together.”
Eye toward international
Chief operating officer Jim Schmidt said international expansion over the next decade could add 400 locations to Buffalo Wild Wings’ goal of a 3,000-unit enterprise.
“The timing is right for our brand internationally for several reasons,” Schmidt said. “International markets are primed for development due to the rapid growth of the middle class around the world, unlike even 10 years ago. Consumers around the world are tech-savvy and tech-hungry. Third, we can take advantage of the momentum of our domestic business, and potential partners around the world think our guest experience is transferrable to other countries.”
Currently, five franchisees have agreements for 45 locations in Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.
Buffalo Wild Wings is scouting locations for India, South Korea and Vietnam, Schmidt said, and while Brazil and China are on the radar, developing those markets might be a few years further out.
Making marketing more local
As executives have covered in prior earnings calls, the chain’s marketing around sports received a major boost from last year’s announcement to partner with PepsiCo. Along with a new beverage contract, the Pepsi deal also gave Buffalo Wild Wings access to some of the vendor’s marketing partners, notably the National Football League.
“The Pepsi partnership extends our presence with national sports, because while we don’t sponsor the NFL, Pepsi does,” said Judy Shoulak, executive vice president of North American operations. “Before the ink was even dry, the Pepsi partnership was adding value. … We’ll rely heavily on the use of Pepsi’s NFL assets.”
Through new ties to the NFL and its existing partnership with the NCAA, Buffalo Wild Wings also hopes to make its sports marketing more local, Shoulak added. Pepsi’s sponsorship of individual NFL teams might create in-store opportunities with popular local players, for instance, she said. Also, with championship tournaments for 89 sports every year that involve teams from around the country, the NCAA partnership could provide more such opportunities, she said.