Not Changing, but Just Getting Started
By Tom Kaiser
As the keynote speaker at this year’s Franchise Times Finance and Growth Conference in Las Vegas, Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison highlighted the brand’s adherence to core principles while simultaneously preparing for massive additional growth in the United States and abroad.
“We’re just getting started and you talk about brands and working with fun brands, this brand is a blast … it’s the way we engage with our customers,” Morrison said. “They speak a different language than I’m used to speaking, but that’s where the world is going and that’s where we’re going with our approach to marketing.”
After sharing some incredible numbers: $1.1 million average unit volumes, 12 years of consecutive same-store sales growth, now more than 840 restaurants open, Morrison added that the company has “one of the most coveted guest bases in the industry” that skews younger and more diverse than the typical fast-casual restaurant chain.
In an extended pre-keynote interview, Morrison went into greater depth about Wingstop’s strategy of entering new markets by focusing on urban cores and working its way out into the suburbs, rather than the more traditional approach of starting in the suburbs.
He said the brand will consider B- and sometimes even C-level locations, which aid the brand’s obsessive focus on efficient unit-level economics. As he put it, the wings are generally inexpensive, even high performing units can run full-tilt with only five or six staff members and most stores come in at approximately 1,700 square feet—all helping lower the overhead for new locations.
After my first-ever Wingstop experience last week, in anticipation of Morrison’s keynote, I was honestly impressed by the store’s cleanliness, the food itself—who doesn’t like wings?—and most specifically the friendliness of the staff.
Even more personal, half of my family is a long, proud line of Morrisons. Charlie immediately asked me where my people are from—the Upper Midwest—and he correctly noted that we’re the Morrison blood line connected to John Wayne, whose real name was Marion Morrison.
Anyway, random tidbit. Back to the farm, Morrison said the company’s fundamentals, status as a well capitalized public company, efficient store model and lack of direct competitors suggests Wingstop will have no trouble becoming a billion-dollar company with more than 2,500 locations in the United States.
I can’t wait to see how this unfolds, as he certainly made a plausible case for how the brand will get there. In the words of The Duke himself, “Slap some bacon on a biscuit and let's go!”