Wing Zone to Re-Brand as WZ Eats After Tough Year
Networking picks up between more than 55 franchisor presentations at the Franchise Times Finance & Growth Conference, which continues through Wednesday noon at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.
After a “brutal year in the wings business” in which product prices soared and Wing Zone closed 17 stores, the 25-year-old franchise born out of a Florida frat house is re-branding as WZ Eats, CEO and co-founder Matt Friedman announced at the Franchise Times Finance & Growth Conference today.
“The time has come for us to take a leap of faith,” he said, saying the company is also seeking an investor. “The fact is we have a limited amount of capital. We have no debt but ultimately we need capital to grow.” He and his business partner, who own 100 percent of the brand domestically, “are looking for a true partner, with equal board seats. We also believe that we must develop a corporate store market” with WZ Eats. “We’ve got to seed the … sub-tier markets where we can really do this right and that takes capital.”
The first re-branded WZ Eats store, set to open July 2, is slated for 923 West University Avenue in Gainesville, Florida, the same location as the original store. “It was founded in 1993 in Gainesville, Florida. Go Gators!” he said. “I was 21 years old. Wing Zone was started with a $500 investment,” and he never thought he would change the name. But more than two decades later, and all the wings concepts have “Wings” in their name, including the behemoth Wingstop. “In every other segment, the names are all different,” he said.
Two years ago, Friedman said, he opened a full-service restaurant in Georgia called WZ Tavern. “Our first year we did $2.8 million out of that unit. It opened our eyes to many things when it comes to menu innovation."
Wing Zone has 46 open domestic restaurants, 21 open international restaurants and 2017 average unit revenue of $744,000. Royalty revenue changed from $2.6 million in 2015, $2.7 million in 2016 and $2.3 million in 2017.
Friedman said he did not lay off members of the corporate team, which he calls "lean and mean," during the decline but rather funded the shortfall out of his pocket. He does not wish to repeat the experience of store closures. “Each and every one of our team understands that no store will close again. We will do everything we can to make sure that Wing Zone and WZ Eats becomes a thriving brand as it once was and will be again,” he said.
The Franchise Times Finance & Growth Conference features C-level executives from 55 franchises presenting their growth challenges and triumphs, and a gala awards luncheon today honoring the winners of the Franchise Times Dealmakers award winners.