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‘Simple’ Wingstop opens 1,000th location


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Rick Ross (The Boss) and Charlie Morrison at the grand opening of the 1,000th Wingstop location.

Associated Press (courtesy of Wingstop)

Dallas-based Wingstop has opened location No. 1,000, a major milestone for a brand defined by its simplicity.

The location is a franchised location in Atlanta under the operation of franchisee and rapper and entrepreneur Rick Ross and his family.

The 23-year-old, Roark Capital-backed brand got to this by doing a few things really well: real estate and operational simplicity. Certainly a big focus on technology in the past few years has helped, but at the core, Wingstop is essentially a chicken-wing takeout restaurant with a few chairs and high-quality wings.

As of Q3 2016, 75 percent of orders were takeout. And it’s not just the stereotypical wing eater, illuminating another key attribute of the brand—more than half its customers are women.

“I think that’s one of the things that is so great bout the brand, when I tell people I sell chicken wings some things come to mind: it’s all about guys and sports, and beer, but what makes us a category of one and so unique is when I then tell them that 53 percent of our customer base are women,” said CMO Flynn Dekker. “Our No. 1 seller isn’t Original Hot, it’s Lemon Pepper and one of our biggest days of the year is actually Valentine’s Day; that gives people a different perspective.”

The brand also thrives among Hispanics, the fastest-growing population segment. According to Pew projections of U.S. Census data, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population will reach 28.6 percent by 2060.

Robert Emerson, author of The New Economics of Fast Food, wrote in a 2016 white paper that “the shift toward a much more heavily Hispanic population has implications for the kinds of restaurants that will prosper in coming years.”

Dekker said the pathway to that both Hispanics and women is through the brand’s high usage among a select group of women. 

“We appeal to more of a female audience is because one of our key constituents is Hispanic moms, so they come in and bring the family,” said Dekker. “So we see a lot of families coming in and it’s led by mom because all the different flavors we have we can really please everybody.”

Lemon Pepper wings happen to be Ross’ favorite too.

“As he tells the story, he was at the barber shop and someone came in with some wings, they happened to be Lemon Pepper,” said Dekker. “He went over to a Wingstop and tried them for himself and rest is history, he decided he wanted in just over five years ago.”

A more recent focus has been on technology, pushing to take the lead on other high-takeout concepts like pizza and other wing competitors. Through the internal technology team, partnerships with white-label ordering platform Olo and bot experts Conversable, Wingstop has been able to build inroads on just about any platform. Customers can order from Twitter and Facebook and text messages. The brand has also recently launched on Amazon’s Alexa platform, allowing voice ordering for Amazon super fans.

As they continue to open up new ordering paths, Dekker said they hope to grow the current 19 percent share of digital orders to match digital ordering giants in the pizza space.

“If you think about it, 50 percent of our orders still come in through the phone, 75 percent are carryout, when you put all those things together and that we cook everything to order so there is that time commitment, so we think that will continue to grow,” said Dekker, especially voice ordering. “We’ll see that continuing to grow and move to different channels as those become actionable.”

And then there’s the real estate, any industry watchers can see that Wingstop isn’t fighting everyone else for that 2,500 square-foot end cap at Main and Main.

“We can go into a development where it used to be the A center with a grocery store or bigger anchor like a target,” said Dekker. “We can go into those centers and be successful because we really have a small footprint and there’s a high return on investment with that small footprint because we have a very simple model so it doesn’t require a lot of labor either.”

The brand is also expanding internationally via master franchisor models in Saudi Arabia, Columbia and Panama. And look for the first national TV spot after the Super Bowl. A new yearlong program will push out branding—not promotional—messaging to a national audience for the first time in many markets. Deals and promos will stay mostly in social and digital marketing.  

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Tom KaiserTom Kaiser is associate editor of Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3209, or send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.
 
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Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
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Nancy WeingartnerNancy Weingartner is editor-at-large of Franchise Times magazine and the editor of the Food On Demand media project. You can reach her at 612-767-3200 or at nancyw@franchisetimes.com.
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